SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Politics, Economy, Society: Japan

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 1

Japan offers numerous puzzles to explore the ways in which political, economic, and social interests collude and collide in addressing complex problems. This course will provide an introduction to the central institutional arrangements in Japan, the challenges they have faced, and how they have changed as a way to examine Japanese prospects in the 21st century. It begins by introducing the basic structures and configurations that define the political landscape, and then examines different explanations for stasis and change within the system. Next, we will look at the country’s economic arrangements and transformations with an eye to assessing just how “Japanese” they are, as well as the impact of deregulation on lifecourses. To explore social formations, we will take up the vibrant examples of culture industries and the Tokyo’s cityscape. Connecting the triad of politics-economy-society are questions of Japan as a nation and its position within the world at large, and the course will conclude with sessions on nationalism and the international scene.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  1. Understand key political, economic, and social institutional configurations in Japan
  2. Critically appraise contemporary political and social issues now facing Japan.
  3.  Apply social scientific concepts to the the analysis of Japan
  4. Conceptualise and prepare in written form arguments based on a critical analysis of these structures and contemporary issues in Japan.

Scope and syllabus

Main topics will include:

  • Political Structures and Conjunctures
  • Accounting for Change and Continuity in Politics
  • Capitalism in Japan, Japanese Capitalism, Neoliberal Transformations?
  • After the Bubble: Workers, Welfare, Women, Youth
  • Culture Industries
  • Megacity Tokyo
  • Nationalism and Neo-Nationalism
  • Abe’s Pets and the Call for Constitutional Revision
  • The International Scene and Current Controversies

Method of assessment

One 1500 word essay which makes up 35% of the total module mark.

One 3500 word esssay which makes up 65% of the total module mark.

Suggested reading

Miyoshi, Masao. “Japan is not Interesting” in Trespasses: Selected Writings. Duke: Duke University Press. Pages 189-204.

Surak, Kristin. 2013. Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Pracitce. Stanford: Stanford University Press.  

Curtis, Gerald. 1999. “Transformation of the Japanese Political Party System.”   Logic of Japanese Politics.1-37 only.  

R. Taggart Murphy. 2011. “A Loyal Retainer? Japan, capitalism, and the perpetuation of American hegemony. “ Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus [online journal].

Vogel, Steven. 1999. “Can Japan Disengage? Winners and Losers in Japan’ Political Economy, and the Ties that Bind Them.” Social Science Japan Journal. 2(1): 3-21.  

Esping-Andersen, Gosta. 1997. “Hybrid or Unique?: The Japanese Welfare State between Europe and America.” Journal of European Social Policy (7): 179-89

Allison, Anne. 2009. “The Cool Brand, Affective Activism and Japanese Youth.” Theory Culture Society. 26(2-3): 89-111

Dower, John. 2014. “The San Francisco System: Past, Present, and Future in US-Japan-China Relations. Asia-Pacific Journal. 8(2).

Waley, Paul. 2007. “Tokyo-as-World-City” Reassessing the Role of Capital and the State in Urban Restructuring.” Urban Studies. 44: 1465.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules