Cool Japan: Manga, Anime, Sushi

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1 or Year 2
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

Japanese manga and anime, as well other popular products, have firmly taken hold of global popular culture.

In addition, Japanese food, such as sushi and bento have become a staple for many busy people in London and elsewhere in the world, leading to the image of Japan as a cool country with great food. The Japanese government has therefore proclaimed the Cool Japan initiative in the effort to brand Japan and lift it to the public consciousness around the world.

However, many of these images are formed by the media, some within Japan, some outside of Japan. Looking at Japan via the various channels of its consumption – manga, anime, media and food – this module aims to analyse how the various aspects of our ‘imagination of Japan’ come together, working out how some of our stereotypes are formed. It will enable student to understand how the concept of ‘Japan’ came about.

Students thinking of writing an ISP on popular culture/media or any other topic in relation to the topic of the module in their final year are strongly encouraged to enrol on this module.

This module is a available as an open option on other programmes within SOAS but priority will be given to students on those programmes listed.  There is no language requirement for this module.

Objectives and learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • question and analyse processes of the creative industries
  • demonstrate an enhanced media literacy by understanding workings behind the creation of popular culture
  • critically look at at stereotypes about other countries and how they contribute to ‘our’ supposed understanding of those countries
  • demonstrate an enhanced understanding of processes of Othering in media and to critically question them
  • have an advanced understanding of nation branding processes and to critically analyse them
  • sharpen their analytical skills by questioning the processes guiding media and politics
  • demonstrate enhanced research skills through the engagement with their research project


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor:

  1. Introduction: What is Japan? Nation branding and consumption of other cultures
  2. Japan appears on the world map – Japonisme in 19th century
  3. Post-war reappearance and the European filter: watching anime on television: Heidi, AstroBoy, Sailor Moon
  4. Framing Japan on mainstream television: Documentaries on Japan on mainstream television
  5. The question of agency – excursion to British Museum Japan exhibition
  6. The Disneyfication of Japan: Miyazaki Hayao and remaking anime for a Western audience
  7. The industry filter: Manga and anime in translation
  8. The Quest for Authenticity: Japanese manga and anime on the internet as a way out?
  9. Intangible Cultural Heritage? The quest for authentic Japanese cuisine abroad
  10. Branding the nation: Cool Japan and its limitations

Method of assessment

  • A 5-minute video essay OR an 800-word written fieldwork report (25%);
  • A 2500-word essay (75%)

Dates of submission will be published on Moodle.

Suggested reading

Core Reading

  • Said, Edward (1979): Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Said, Edward (1994): Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Lambourne, Lionel (2005): Japonisme: Cultural Crossings between Japan and the West. London, New York: Phaidon.
  • Iwabuchi, Koichi (2002): Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism. Durham: Duke UP:
  • MacWilliams, Mark W. (2008): Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Valaskivi, Katja (2013): “A Brand New Future? Cool Japan and the Social Imaginary of the Branded Nation.” Japan Forum 25:4 (Winter 2013), pp. 485-504.
  • Hu, Tze-yue G. (2010): Frames of Anime: Culture and Image-Building. Hong Kong. Hong Kong UP.
  • Hall, Stuart (ed.) (1997): Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices. London, Thousand Oaks/California: Sage.
  • Napier, Susan J. (2007): From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West. New York: Palgrave.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules