• Megan Michael

What is it like studying Japanese Studies in NUS

What is Japanese Studies?

As a Japanese Studies major myself, my first year studying at NUS has been an interesting and fun one. The small and welcoming student community of Japanese Studies majors has also helped me to find fellow classmates with a similar interest in the field. They definitely have made my NUS journey so far enjoyable given all the support available.


Joining club activities such as the Japanese Music Club and writing for the Japanese Studies Society has helped me to gain a greater appreciation for Japan and culture as well.


To give some context, the department of Japanese Studies was first considered by the then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1979 with his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi.


This proposal grew out of a wider initiative at the time to “learn from Japan” given Japan’s reputation as Asia’s first economic superpower. Two years later the department was formed with monetary support from the Japan Foundation.


More information on the history of the department can be found here:

https://fass.nus.edu.sg/jps/history/


In this article, we will be interviewing some Japanese Studies majors and get them to answer a few questions (I will give my own answers to some of the questions too!) on what studying Japanese Studies is like and why they chose this as their major!


Japanese Studies students interviewed

Rhys Sanjay Thiagarajan is a 3rd year Japanese Studies major


Kieran is a 1st year Japanese Studies major


Matin is a 2nd year Japanese Studies major


Crystal Lee is a 3rd year Japanese Studies major




1. Why did you choose Japanese studies as a major?

For myself, I grew up with trips to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea and would pour my time into studying the maps of the theme park and studying the souvenirs (おみやげ)(omiyage). From there, I started purchasing magazines from the theme park as mementoes and would look at the pictures of the Disney mascots, food and rides for hours.



From there I got curious about Japan because I wondered just why I was so interested in this tourist attraction and how it managed to win my heart. I began purchasing books on Japan from Kinokuniya and would read up on Japanese culture and food.


I was fascinated by the country, from its landscape to its attractions. When I saw that NUS offered a major in Japanese Studies I knew it was something I wanted to pursue because I want to deep dive into the subject I loved so much.


(I am still just as addicted to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea. Just ask me about it and I can talk about it for hours!)


Rhys

I came to the realization that I should really just pursue something that I actually enjoy studying.

Before deciding on Japanese studies, I actually wanted to major in either History or Linguistics, but after taking a GEH-related JS mod, I found myself more interested in the study of Japan instead.


Before starting my first year in semester one, I purposely prioritized taking GEH1015 and LAJ1201 in ModReg because I wanted to study both Japanese and learn about Japan in some form, so you could say that subconsciously I had already decided to major in Japanese Studies before I realized it! I’m glad I made that decision now!


Matin

Growing up I always had a fascination with Japanese culture. This was due in part to the influence of my uncle who was an avid fan of Manga (albeit in Chinese), and I would remember constantly flipping through panels of Naruto throughout the day. My first ever overseas trip was in fact to Japan when I was a wee little baby at 3 years old.



I ended up choosing Japanese Studies as my major after much deliberation during my years in National Service after not really knowing what to major in. My interest in Japanese culture has been the one and only thing that has stuck with me throughout the course of my life so far.


Having self-studied the language in my spare time during National Service, I believed that I would not only have a competitive edge in the course but it also offers me a platform to deepen my knowledge of Japanese culture and language to a point in which I would be competent and confident enough, allowing me to pursue a career related to, or even in, Japan.


Crystal

I was really interested in Japan in general, and after trying out the introduction to Political Science module and other introductory modules, Japanese Studies really struck me as something that I wanted to do and was genuinely interested in. Have not looked back ever since!


2. What are some modules you have taken under Japanese Studies?

Disclaimer: Modules offered in a given semester may vary and may not be offered or may be recoded depending on each new semester so do a search up the module on NUSmods beforehand!


And another disclaimer: Japanese Studies 4k modules have a prerequisite. You must have taken either LAJ321 or LAJ3203 or a pass in JLPT levels 2 or 1 or a pass in GCE O or A level Japnese or a placement test. You also must have completed 80 MCS in your course of study in university, including 28MCs in Japanese Studies modules with a minimum CAP of 3.20 or be on the Honours track.


For myself, I have taken:

JS1101E Introduction to Japan (No prerequisite)

JS2233 Idols and Celebrities in Japan and Korea (No prerequisite)

JS2880A Field Exposure Japan: Fashion Business (No prerequisite)


Rhys

GEH1015 Cultural Borrowing: Japan and China (No prerequisite)

GES1015 Singapore and Japan: Historical and Contemporary Relationships (No prerequisite)

JS1101E Introduction to Japan (No prerequisite)

JS2101 Approaches to Japanese Studies I (Needs JS1101E)

JS3101 Approaches to Japanese Studies II (Needs JS2101 and LAJ2202)

HY2208 Pre-Modern Japan: History and Culture (Not offered next AY)

JS3213 Alternative Lives in Contemporary Japan (Not offered next AY)

JS3216 Japanese Film and Literature (No prerequisite)

JS3217 Japanese Art and Aesthetics (No prerequisite)

JS4230 Advanced Readings in Popular Culture (Has a prerequisite, see disclaimer)

JS4216 Tales and Performance in Premodern Japan (Has a prerequisite, see disclaimer)

JS4217 Selected Topics in Japanese Studies (Has a prerequisite, see disclaimer)


Kieran

JS1101E Introduction to Japanese Studies (No prerequisite)

JS2233 Idols and Celebrities in Japan and Korea (No prerequisite)


Matin

JS1101E Introduction to Japanese Studies (No prerequisite)

JS2213 Popular Culture in Contemporary Japan (Not offered next AY)

JS2101 Approaches to Japanese Studies I (Needs JS1101E)

JS2216 Postwar Japanese Film and Anime (No prerequisite)

JS3101 Approaches to Japanese Studies II (Needs JS2101 and LAJ2202)

JS3226 Japan: the Green Nation? (No prerequisite)

JS3230 Men and Women in Modern Japanese Literature (No prerequisite)

GEH1014 Samurai, Geisha, Yakuza as Self or Other (No prerequisite)


Crystal

(Disclaimer: This is not the full list of modules she has taken)

JS4230 Advanced Readings in Popular Culture (Has a prerequisite, see disclaimer)

JS1101E Introduction to Japanese Studies(No prerequisite)

JS2230 Itadakimasu Food in Japan (No prerequisite)

JS4213 Approaches to Modern Japanese History (Has a prerequisite, see disclaimer)


3. What has been your favourite Japanese Studies module so far and why?

Personally, I think Field Exposure Japan: Fashion Business JS2880A will have to be my favourite module so far.


It was a module I took during the winter holidays for two module credits but the module was held in person with fieldwork around Singapore. We went down to several fashion stores and studied their layout and products, focusing our study on the topic of sustainability asking questions such as whether sustainable fashion is feasible and accessible. Afterwhich we studied the similarities and differences between Singapore’s fashion stores and Japan’s fashion stores based on the talks we attended.



We listened to talks from speakers from Japan such as the CEO of Patagonia Japan and learnt about what initiatives and struggles their fashion companies have when it comes to sustainability. We also had zoom calls with Japanese university students and discussed fashion in Japan. It was a really refreshing and fun module to take during the holidays.

(Disclaimer: Pre-covid, it was a module with fieldwork in Japan!)


Rhys

I wouldn’t say that I have an obvious favourite module. Each module I’ve taken in the JS department has been fun and interesting in its own specific ways. I would say that the 3k level modules have been the more enjoyable ones for me, allowing me to explore topics that I was personally interested in within the scope of the module.


One that comes to mind particularly is Alternative Lives in Contemporary Japan JS3213, in which we had to focus on a prominent figure in Japanese history and write a biography about them. That was a pretty unique and interesting set of assignments that I never saw myself ever doing in university.


Kieran

Idols and Celebrities in Japan and Korea JS2233 because the module touched a lot on gender concepts which I enjoyed very much. I was also able to use my prior knowledge of Japanese culture to a great extent, which felt very rewarding.



Matin

My favourite Japanese Studies module so far would definitely be Men and Women in Japanese Literature JS3230 by a long shot. Personally, I am someone who has a terribly short attention span and very much loathes the idea of reading anything. Yet surprisingly despite the fact that this module had me reading new novels every week over the whole semester, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and even ended up buying some of the works we read in the original Japanese text after the module ended to read over the winter break.


This module opened my eyes to not only the variety of Japanese literary styles but also the multiplicity in how gender concepts, ranging from masculine-feminine ideas to homosexuality, have been tackled in Japanese literary works from the past.


Crystal

This is hard to pick, but my absolute favourites are Advanced Readings in Popular Culture JS4230 and Approaches to Modern Japanese History JS4213. Popular culture in Japan (anime specifically) is my speciality of sorts since I used to write about it. I also play plenty of gacha games and I'm really interested to see how popular culture has its place in academia.



On the other hand, JS4213 ignites my love for history and Dr. Amos is really great at bringing out the nuances within Tokugawa history. So that was great, literally looked forward to all of the lessons!


4. What do you hope to gain after graduating with a major in Japanese Studies?

Rhys

To be honest, I myself don’t quite know exactly what it is that I hope to gain at this point in time… I’m just enjoying myself and learning along the way in my university life. If I had to pinpoint something, it probably would be something along the lines of being a good communicator and bridge between Japan and Singapore.


Matin

In terms of what I hope to gain upon graduation, personally, I would like to be able to find a platform where I will be able to put the knowledge of the language and culture, I have learned so far to good use. And honestly, there are many opportunities to do so from working in Japanese offices of MNCs or even in local offices of Japanese corporations in Singapore.


Currently, I do not have any plans solidified and I am also considering furthering my education at a Masters level in Japan sometime as well. Overall, I would really appreciate it if I could continue being involved with the Japanese culture in my daily life as I have done so far in Japanese Studies, even after I graduate.


Crystal

Vague question you're asking really, but I think it's just a bigger appreciation, awareness, and perspective of Japan that I want to gain. Not to put Japan under a monolithic concept that the government is trying to push.


5. Any notable experiences you enjoyed under the Japanese studies society/department?

Rhys

Unfortunately, quite a lot of my university life has been marred by Covid-19, so I can’t say that I’ve been able to enjoy many physical events and festivals thus far. However, I have had quite a lot of fun being able to connect with Japan in the various online programs and activities by the Japanese Studies department and the Japanese Studies Society.


Academically, being able to participate in the online summer school program during the summer of 2021 was a lot more enjoyable than I had initially thought. I was able to make quite a lot of friends over in Japan through this one-month program and even improve my Japanese speaking ability through it.


Through the Japanese Studies Society, I have been able to participate in many different online exchange sessions with other Japanese universities and high schools, even being able to connect with the Japanese community here in Singapore through our Brothers and Sisters program.


Personally, I think the best experience that the department has to offer is my upcoming exchange program to Japan. I am really looking forward to finally being able to study in Japan! I will be studying at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto!


Kieran

I really enjoy taking mods under Dr Yuen! (such as JS2233) I enjoy her lectures very much.


Matin

Personally, the most memorable experience I had as a major isn’t really anything to do with any event, in particular, rather it is just how closely knit and supportive the entire student body is.


One of the perks of having a small cohort for your major is that you can very easily make friends along the way as you will find yourselves often in the same few classes (especially for the core modules) and having a shared interest in Japanese culture, to begin with, would make breaking the ice a lot easier.


Everyone from my batch mates, and seniors to the teaching staff has been extremely friendly and knowledgeable and has aided me greatly, especially in my studying of the Japanese Language.

The fondest of memories was back in my first year in semester two when I took JS2101 and the class would often have dinner together after each session. The tradition took a step further when we all went for dinner together with our professor at the end of the module to celebrate the end of the semester and get to know each other better.


Crystal

I think it was the Tea Ceremony session during the Itadakimasu Food in Japan JS2230 physical sessions pre-COVID. Freshmen Orientation Camps from 2019 as a participant, and have been part of the organising team for FOC 2020-2022, so woohoo! I love seeing new people coming in really, so that checks out.


6. Why do you think others should try studying and taking on Japanese Studies?


Rhys

If you really have a passion for Japan and want to pursue something that is something quite different from the other majors, I think Japanese Studies as a major is something that might pleasantly surprise you.


Obviously, there is an academic side to everything. However, the major itself offers a lot of leeway for individuals to really pursue whatever topics about Japan that they are interested in. Furthermore, the department offers so many opportunities and scholarships for students to study abroad and participate in different types of programs.


A lot of people question the career paths and the practicality of the major, but I really don’t think that that is something to really worry about. There really are lots of things you can do as a Japanese Studies major once you graduate, especially if you intend to work for a Japanese company or work in Japan.


If you’re on the fence about it, I’d say just go for it! If not, there are tons of Japanese Studies majors that are more than happy to talk with you about Japanese Studies as a major!


Kieran

I think Japanese Studies is something that's truly multi-disciplinary. Seeing everything I've learned converge is very rewarding to me.


Also, I personally enjoy the content and I think a lot of other people would too! It's something very different that I feel everyone should definitely try at least once.

Matin

I would recommend Japanese Studies to anyone who is interested in Japanese culture and has an open mind to new concepts and ideas about Japan beyond the typical stereotypes and anime representations which has flooded the media. (Spoiler alert: most of what you know to be “Japanese” is probably a sham😉).


Ultimately like any major or specialization, you should pursue what you not only enjoy but also what you envision yourself doing in the near future and beyond. For me, having been involved with the Japanese culture from a young age I have never once looked back on my decision to major in Japanese Studies and it has been a fruitful and highly educational journey thus far.

You can also check out some of our mods as most don’t require any prerequisites to begin with and might help if you are looking for an interesting UE.

Crystal

Japan is a LOT more nuanced than people think. A lot of what you see today in Japan is very constructed; once you go into Japanese Studies you'll realize how various agents try to construct everything painstakingly so things seem natural, as if "it was always like that".Yet really once you try and pick apart it, you realize there's more to Japan's landscape.


I think finding more nuance that complicates our existing view, and more perspective makes me excited as if I'm finding more treasure. It's really important for people to understand that these nuances and perspectives exist anywhere, and once you keep in mind that, it becomes easier to listen to others too.


Conclusion

Do consider Japanese Studies modules in the coming academic semester as it is sure to be an interesting experience for those interested in Japanese culture.


In short, don’t be afraid to take the first step toward something you are interested in and you just might surprise yourself with the opportunities that come your way. Try something new and outside of your comfort zone because I sure had an interesting and fruitful learning experience in the past academic year :)


And with that, until the next article!!


Useful links if you are interested to find out more!

Department of Japanese Studies official page: https://fass.nus.edu.sg/jps/

NUS Japanese Studies Society: https://jss.sg/

Japanese Studies video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h29SEZn7UGY


P.S. Anyone from any course of study in NUS can join the Japanese Studies Society and its sub-clubs and take part in them!!!



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