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Department of Politics and International Studies

Japan Unravelled

Course Code:
15PPOH033
Unit value:
0.5
Taught in:
Term 2

From economic miracle to economic doldrums, from the birthplace of “Japan Cool” to a “Galapagos” in East Asia, from an aging society on a demographic precipice to a dynamic youth culture driving soft power, Japan in the twenty-first century is hard to place.  Yet there is little – to take up the provocation of Masao Miyoshi – that is not interesting. This course will explore the key contours of Japan today by focusing on contemporary debates and critical junctures it now faces.  Simultaneously, the class aims to unravel the image of Japan as home to a well-oiled, isolated, groupist society by drawing out the tensions and frictions transforming it.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course the student should be able to:

  • Explain, critically analyse, and appraise contemporary political and social issues now facing Japan.
  • Apply social scientific concepts and theories to analyse the transformation of contemporary Japanese society.
  • Conceptualise and prepare in written form arguments based on a critical analysis of contemporary social and political issues in Japan.

Scope and syllabus

Topics in the syllabus:

1.  Contemporary Japan?

2.  Nationalism and its discontents: war memories, textbooks, shrines

3.  Contested geography: small islands, big problems

4.  Economic outsiders?  Class, inequality, and youth prospects

5. Passive Japanese? Civil society, social movements, and the triple disaster

6. The myth of the homogeneous nation: ethnic minorities

7. Crossing borders: international migration

8. Going global:  Japan Cool and soft power

9.  Japan in the neighborhood: between the US and China

10. Japan this year  

Method of assessment

Assessment is 10% in-class presentation (the normal regulations for resubmission do not apply for the presentation), 30% essay of 1500 words and 60% essay of 3000 words.