Japan Unravelled

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

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 module

At the end of the module 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.


The module is taught in the form of one weekly 2-hour seminar.

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 one essay of 1,500 words worth 30%, and one essay of 3,500 words worth 70%.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules