The "Rebirth" of Japanese Studies: Round 2 Responses

This page compiles the second round of responses to the Association for Asian Studies virtual roundtable, The “Rebirth” of Japanese Studies. Participants responded to statements by four discussants and the roundtable chair as well as a variety of comments from Round 1 on the current state and future of the Japanese Studies field. Job market data from the 2019-2020 academic season was also consulted.

There were eleven submissions from Japanese Studies specialists in Round 2 (May 17-May 30, 2020). By request of participants, a final Round 3 (June 1-14, deadline June 14, 2020, 12pm EST) is being held and is now open for submissions. This will be the last virtual roundtable session. Roundtable discussants, previous participants, and those who have not yet responded are welcome to submit replies. The comments provided here should not be reproduced in formal or informal publications without the express permission of authors. 

Links have been added to some comments below for easier navigation to resources mentioned or specific discussant statements, and responses have been grouped roughly thematically. Click a name in the list to jump to an individual of interest or simply scroll down to begin reading in the order provided.

We sincerely thank those who contributed in the first and second roundtable response periods and hope that many more will consider participating in the final Round 3 to close out our this virtual event with final thoughts. Please contact me via email with any questions.


  • Brian Dowdle (University of Montana, US)
  • Ioannis Gaitanidis (Chiba University, JP)
  • Grace En-Yi Ting (Waseda University, JP)
  • Tristan R. Grunow (Yale University, US)
  • PhD Candidate (Private R1, US)
  • Philip C. Brown (The Ohio State University, US)
  • Morgan Pitelka (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, US)
  • Jenny Hall (Monash University, AU)
  • Postdoctoral Researcher (US)
  • PhD Student (Russell Group University, UK)
  • Simon Kaner (University of East Anglia, UK)

  • Brian Dowdle
    Co-Chair, World Languages and Cultures, Director East Asian Studies, Associate Professor of Japanese
    University of Montana, United States

    As a guilty participant on the “Death of Japan Studies” panel at AAS 2019, I feel I should add a few words to clarify and refine my comments. Truth be told, I intended to be the optimist on that morbidly titled panel. And, generally, I am optimistic and think Japan studies has a place in the university of the future. I am happy that focus of the panel this year seems brighter, even as Covid 19 looms larger over every university and field of study.

    Let me state for the record: Japan Studies faculty provide exceptionally high value to universities and are at the center of efforts to achieve the global competence that most institutions wants to offer to students. The question is how to change administrators’ thinking so that they once again learn to acknowledge the contributions of small-but-mighty programs.

    In my comments, I tend to focus on Japan studies in its institutional embodiment in majors, minor, and certificates. In other words, Japan studies as programs of higher education, not its theory, methodologies, or content, per se. Nevertheless, beyond the programmatic level, the ways of advocating Japan studies, which I will introduce in my conclusion, perhaps would also be useful for individuals advocating to be hired, promoted, or retained.

    In 2018, my home university completed its latest round of “program prioritization” planning. Despite the happy rhetoric of “helping” programs, such prioritization exercises are at their core efforts to cut programs, eliminate faculty members, and curtail disciplines all in the name of efficiencies (saving money). Covid 19 likely will make all universities more interested in increasing efficiencies, adding pressure to Japan studies programs.

    One of the most popular models for thinking about academic restructuring is outlined in the book Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance by Robert Dickeson. As Dickeson notes, such a process should take several years and require the input of campus and community stakeholders. (This is why the types of PR that Laura Miller stresses in this panel are so important—we need to educate and recruit allies.) With budgetary woes this restructuring process is often rushed, and Covid 19 will only accelerate the process.

    But more than just public opinion, Dickenson argues that universities must rely on “hard numbers.” This is the numbers game that is stacked against Japan studies. He asks, “How many students are being served? How many faculty and staff are assigned? What other resources are committed? What are the number of credit hours generated? Degrees or certificates rewarded? ... How productive is the program?”1

    The answers to these questions will take us into the Kafkaesque world of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).

    At the Death of Japan studies, I introduced one common metric from this criterion: student credit hours or SCH. This is calculated by multiplying the number of students in a class by the number of credits. So for instance, a 4-credit language class with 15 students equals 60 SCH, while a 3-credit literature lecture with 30 students is 90 SCH. What is your SCH for the past year? How have you been asked to restructure curriculum to maximize your SCH? This maximization is your dean’s or chair’s goal of making your courses more “popular.”

    Again, Laura Miller’s post honestly acknowledges the reality that today we are beholden to the marketplace of SCH: For those who “teach at a public state university, [our] primary teaching duty, even as a senior faculty member, is to put bodies in classroom seats.” Or, in more mercantile terms you are an SCH production unit for your university.

    But how efficient are you? The next step after SCH is the faculty to student ratios (FSR). (An audience member at the 2019 panel from a university in California (?) brought this up in Q&A.) In this model, the FSR is calculated by dividing a program’s total SCH by 30 credits. The number 30 is derived from an assumption that students take 15 credits each semester, for a total of 30 for the academic year. FSR= SCH/30. So, what is your F/S ratio?

    Here is the rub. Under this model a faculty member with four 3-credit classes with 25 students in each only has an FSR of 10. (4 classes * 3cr * 25 students = 300 SCH. 300 SCH/30cr = 10 FSR). What would this faculty member have to do to increase his or her FSR to 15? Teach more classes or bigger ones.

    As you can see, unless your program is extraordinarily efficient, SCH and FSR are often a losing proposition for niche fields like Japan studies, even though they may be better positioned than the other areas studies and language-based programs. Gone are the days when Japan studies may have been protected as a token “exotic” other, a talisman used by administration to demonstrate the extensiveness or diversity of offerings. Now Japan studies is only one of many in an ever crowded marketplace and diversity of programs. More nefarious is the harsh reality that xenophobes may be happy to use bean counting as a smokescreen to cut all such programs.

    Moreover, being small in size and even (relatively) low cost alone is not enough. Dickeson, in fact, argues just the opposite about small programs. One could well imagine he has a Japan studies program or Asian studies program in mind when he asks administration, “Taken as a whole, is there sufficient critical mass? Is the program of sufficient size and scope to affirm that it can be conducted effectively?” Where the answer is no, then he suggests cutting and redirecting resources.

    Is he describing Japan studies programs when he comments, “I have seen one or two people try to constitute an entire department, valiantly attempting to offer majors and multiple specialties and stretched too thin to do so effectively. Students become seriously short changed as a result and quality suffers.” Then he rhetorically asks, “Would it not be better to reduce this presence to a few service courses or eliminate it all together, reallocating those resources to programs of higher priority?”2

    My answer, of course, is “No, it wouldn’t be. In fact, it would be better to protect small programs and even expand them. Especially those that enrich campus perspectives and keep universities relevant to the 21st century should be protected.”

    So, how are we to defend Japan studies? That was the question I asked at the end of the death panel last year. I really hope others will continue to provide better answers than I can, but here I would point us to two vocabularies that highlight the academic success and learning outcomes of Japan studies programing.

    First, Japan Studies is HIP. Japan Studies is High Impact Practices.

    In his book, High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter, George D. Kuh points to several practices that contribute to “students’ cumulative learning.”3 These include: First-Year Seminars and Experiences; Common Intellectual Experiences; Learning Communities; Writing-Intensive Courses; Collaborative Assignments and Projects; Undergraduate Research; Diversity/Global Learning; ePortfolios; Service Learning, Community-Based Learning; Internships; and Capstone Courses and Projects.

    How many of these can you identify in your program? Are they expensive? Yes. But, their learning outcomes and student retention value are high.

    Japan studies programs do nearly all of these by default. Rather than having to build a new program to help students, Japan studies can therefore be sold as a ready-made avenue to HIP. HIP is greater than SCH and more important than FSR for student success. We may lose the numbers game but we have an advantage when it comes to HIP.

    Finally, Japan studies teaches what the Asia Society calls “Global Competence.” Although originally developed as learning outcomes from K-12, it is relevant to the college level as well. More importantly it provides a means of differentiating and defining the types of critical thinking Japan studies helps foster.4

    The Asia Society explains that:

    “Globally competent students have the knowledge and skills to:
    Investigate the World

    Globally competent students are aware, curious, and interested in learning about the world and how it works.
    Recognize Perspectives

    Globally competent students recognize that they have a particular perspective, and that others may or may not share it. Communicate Ideas

    Globally competent students can effectively communicate, verbally and non-verbally, with diverse audiences.
    Take Action

    Globally competent students have the skills and knowledge to not just learn about the world, but also to make a difference in the world.”5

    How would you modify these competencies to highlight the strengths your classes and program, your research, or student skill sets? You may also find them useful for presenting what Japan studies contributes to students.

    These four areas are simple enough for administrators and stakeholders (parents and donors) to understand and appreciate. I have memorized them and employ them frequently in my conversations to I narrate the impact of the program on students, as they investigate the world, appreciate perspectives, communicate in Japanese and English, and then find ways to take action. So, something like this: “An alienated young person from rural Montana found comfort in anime, so they went to college to study Japanese. After participating in study abroad, learning a new language, reading great books, presenting their ideas in seminar classes they’ve grown into an active, independent human being who works for an international company, connecting people from that small town to Tokyo and beyond, making a direct impact on the world. That is not an abnormal outcome, but it’s one that would be impossible without the advantages of our small HIP program.”

    In conclusion, Japan studies is not dead (yet) or dying but it may need a rebirth. Perhaps highlighting how “HIP” it is and how its contributions to student becoming “Globally Competent” will allow us to get ahead of the numbers game.


    Ioannis Gaitanidis
    Chiba University, Japan

    I would like to thank those who spared a moment during these quite difficult and busy times (of online teaching) to react to this panel and share their ideas.

    As I was reading through the comments last weekend, I realized how much the problem of Japanese Studies seems to be for many a problem of job training and job opportunities.

    On acquiring my PhD from the University of Leeds (UK), like many others, I too looked for jobs everywhere on the globe before settling down in Japan, the land of “career suicide” as some would perhaps consider it still today. Unlike the majority of the respondents to this panel, however, I am not a native English speaker, which made my prospects to acquire a permanent job perhaps even thinner. Yet, what I have since realized (and this is definitely not news for many of us in academia) is that, in reality, there are more elements involved in getting an academic job than just the label of the position one applies to or the title of a PhD. On top of that, an academic life does not need to fit the standards set up by the authoritative (some would say obsolete) model offered by the most vocally prominent universities around the globe. This is not a defeatist argument. Of course, who would not want to have more time for research, more focused and challenging students and a great work-life balance? Yet, the academic context counts, and everyone does not need to aim for the same mid to late 20th century ideal of professoriate life. In this sense, if the field ought to be more inclusive it is really in terms of imagining how to bring together and allow for collaboration among researchers who have chosen to work and live in different institutional settings, taking into account all the constrains and advantages of those settings.

    Still to me, however, this does not really say much about what the future of the specific field of Japanese Studies could be about. In strict terms, increasing the number of opportunities for collaboration, including scholars from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines and widening the focus of our research and teaching are ultimately concerns every scholarly community is facing today. But, how about the concerns of Japanese Studies? Perhaps there is nothing about Japanese Studies that ought essentially to change, or at least change more than any other field. Perhaps everything that had to be said has already been said: we need to acknowledge in our class and in our research the contingency of “areas”, a concept that remains an inherently political categorization of the globe.

    But what is next then? How can we go beyond this “liquid area studies”-framework? I do not think there is a single answer to this question. I think, however, that the answer can be found in our audiences; in framing our research and teaching not to convince the world that there is a field of Japanese Studies that still matters, but to foster curiosity into how the breaking of this old system carries within it seeds of knowledge that are relevant not necessarily to us but to our audiences’ own interests, whatever these may be.


    Grace En-Yi Ting
    Waseda University, Japan

    I read the original contributions and submissions in Round One with great interest; I am genuinely grateful that there are colleagues addressing issues of job-hunting and teaching from many practical standpoints. When I myself thought of the word “rebirth,” only some of these issues came to mind for me; my most immediate concerns about Japanese studies have more to do with pushing the field towards more radical queer and feminist perspectives. In the face of realities of the job market, my critique might seem frivolous and/or overly critical.

    But I would like to ask the following: How do you want to see Japanese studies transform? What do you think would make Japanese studies a better field, one which contributes to helping a world threatened by—for example—extreme forms of discrimination, fascism, and environmental disaster? I am not saying that perfect visions of a field or one’s scholarly contributions are achievable, but I would argue that it is necessary to have them. What does it matter if a field survives if it somehow feels empty and meaningless? What is going to help you keep on going when economic precarity is a factor? It is a luxury to try to craft a vision of “what matters,” but this is also what has kept me going. I do not find the academy an easy place and am unwilling to continue working within it without holding on to such ideals.

    For example, Mark Pendleton generously cites a recent piece of mine broadly to make other important points, but my own main intent was to discuss building solidarity among gender studies scholars. I think about how to collaborate with queer/feminist studies scholars outside of Japanese studies in order to shed light on discrimination and solidarity through a different lens. Also, I try to figure out how to use my queer/feminist training to help students cope with the world today, even in small ways. My background in Japanese studies is key to what I contribute; I know that my contributions could not be easily replaced by those of someone from a different field. Even if I myself am easily replaceable as a cog within the system, my conviction in my work gives me a better sense of direction. Japanese studies might be pulled in various directions, but academics should recall what they believe about what the academy and students actually need from Japanese studies scholars and instructors.

    My other point is that the uncertain state of Japanese studies—or the humanities and so on—should not serve as an excuse to ignore questions of difference and identity tied to precarity, not when we are trying to create a better field. Queer and feminist studies scholars understand that speaking from one’s positionality is valuable and necessary in the academy; it is a political move emphasizing that we cannot gloss over questions of “where we speak from” in knowledge production, which should not invalidate the intellectual nature of our work. In his comments on my work, Pendleton mentions that I write from my experiences as a (no hyphen, please) Taiwanese American queer woman. However, my embodiment as a minority is not the only important point—I write from my experiences as a queer and feminist studies scholar, critiquing Japanese studies from a perspective built on intellectual expertise as well. A better field would be one where such modes of speaking are legible and seen as integral to the academy, where there is no need to qualify that minorities’ voices might be widely applicable in the lessons they have to share.


    Tristan R. Grunow
    Associate Research Scholar, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States

    First, many thanks to Paula Curtis and the other participants for taking the initiative to hold these vital conversations at this moment of great change and uncertainty in academia as a whole, let alone Japanese studies. The virtual roundtable format is a model for making academic discussions more open, inclusive, and accessible in the future, especially as the field transitions to more and more online productivity and digital scholarship.

    I very much appreciated each of the genuine, heartfelt, and in some cases brutally honest, perspectives in both the original roundtable and Round 1 of responses. Over the course of my itinerant career to date, I have been privileged to spend time in different roles at institutions of varying size, mission, and standing. As a result, I identify with many of the issues raised so far: how the different teaching missions between R1 and small liberal arts colleges impacts faculty resources and curriculum design; how the neoliberal demands of administrators concerned with enrollments inevitably prioritizes those courses that will draw large numbers; and how the "Asian fusion" syndrome bedevils those of us who have to make a case for our individual country of focus within otherwise sizable departments who nonetheless assume a single "Asianist" is adequate for teaching the history of the majority of the world's population and 2 of the 3 largest economies in the world. Surely, our colleagues in "African" history, for one, would share our frustrations at being asked to cover impossibly large swaths of people, time, and space.

    To sustain a rebirth in Japanese studies, we must make a case for why the study of Japan is important to skeptical colleagues outside the field who vote on departmental hiring priorities, new hires, tenure and promotion cases, and funding applications. To me, it seems there are two impediments to this. On the one hand, it is no longer the 1990s when external financial resources for promoting Japanese studies were flush and institutions everywhere wanted one, if not multiple, historians of Japan as part of a comprehensive set of Japanese cultural studies including language, literature, and history. What funding was left after the decline of the Japanese economy has now been diverted to Cool Japan "soft power" programs, which cash-strapped cultural studies departments everywhere were understandably eager to accept in the name of funding new tenure lines. On the other hand, history as a discipline is slow to innovate and is stuck in traditional modes of nation-based historical expertise. I do not mean to suggest that we in history, or in the humanities more broadly, should think of ourselves as methodological practitioners first and area studies specialists only second, as with many in the social science fields. To be sure, I identify as a "historian of modern Japan," but I would not say that I use Japan as a case-study to test or build new models or frameworks. Nevertheless, we are left with the daunting task of convincing colleagues disinterested in Japan why the study of Japan continues to matter in its own right.

    In my own experience, I have most effectively convinced skeptical colleagues that Japan matters by showing how Japanese experiences can add to ongoing global discussions in which they were more invested. Whether it is large round-number anniversaries that appear arbitrary to historians but attract the attention of the public (and funding agencies!), or asking how Japan might fit into ongoing debates, Japan as a field of study is most relevant when we can show that the Japanese case meaningfully adds to prevailing topics and trends.

    In this regard, the recent turn to "transnational" Japanese studies, as just one example, might prove beneficial in reinserting Japan into global conversations. To be sure, Japan does indeed have much to add to transnational history, not least because some of the most influential work in the entire field interrogated Japanese and American relations! What's more, historians of Japan have long been doing "transnational history" even if we didn't call it that. Not since the "Nihonjinron" heyday of "Japanese uniqueness," "Japanese isolation," or "independent development" in the 1980-1990s, it seems, have historians of Japan limited their studies to the archipelago proper, regardless of the time period in focus. We have long emphasized transregional interactions and movements of language and peoples in prehistoric Japan, commodities and cultures in classical Japan, and monks and medicines in medieval Japan, just to name a few, while directly challenging the very idea of Japanese isolation during the early modern period. In short, Japanese history has long been "transcending" the nation-state and state actors to emphasize transregional flows and the activities of non-elite actors. In other words, Japanese history was "transnational" even before it was fashionable.

    While the "transnational" label might indeed suggest expanded, and inevitably thinner, coverage of other Asian countries, I think we should instead think about how our fields of study can add to ongoing conversations -- including "transnational history" -- in the name of encouraging our non-Japanist colleagues to share our deep interests in Japan. At the end of the day, the "rebirth" of Japanese studies will require the acknowledgment and acceptance of colleagues as much outside the field as in.


    PhD Candidate
    Private R1, United States

    I was grateful to see that the discussion surrounding the rebirth – that is, the future – of Japanese studies has focused so much on graduate training; what is the future of the field, after all, if not the people who will compose it? As one of the graduate students under discussion, I wanted to add my experiences to the mix in hopes of not only discussing the promises of the proposals made by so many discussants, but also their challenges from the perspective of one just now emerging from (one version of) the system.

    The prescription offered by most of the very thoughtful contributions to this round of comments boils down to some version of breadth: breadth of research region, breadth of theoretical underpinnings to our research questions, breadth of disciplinary methods used in answering those questions, breadth of (especially student) audiences to whom we teach, and breadth of career paths we consider post-graduation. As I understand it, most of the discussants in this round feel that we are simply too cloistered, too niche as a field. The old Japanese studies was a hikikomori that needs to be brought back out into the world and made legible.

    I applaud the spirit of these recommendations, for there is indeed quite a lot that could be done to breathe new life into our sense of our own positionality as a field, but I also want to encourage thoughtfulness as we go about setting these changes in motion. The old chestnut of “depth vs. breadth” in graduate education has been the subject of much discussion in my own program for the past few years as we consider whether and how we should restructure the degree. Our particular iteration has hinged on discussions of single-country specialization vs. transregional training. Are we “Japanologists” or “East Asianists”? One of the sticky issues this debate encounters is the question of language training. At present, we have a graduate language requirement of “at least 2 years in a secondary East Asian language” beyond our primary research language; we all seem to agree that this level of proficiency doesn’t do much good for anyone, and it certainly doesn’t make one research-ready in one’s secondary language. Those that want to pursue transregional research questions will naturally take additional language training, while those whose interests are more contained to a single country view it more or less as a meaningless hoop to be jumped through.

    What could be done? We largely agreed that the market is currently trending toward the “transregional” end of the pendulum, so wouldn’t it make the most sense to require 3 or even 4 years of a second language, along with expanded course requirements in seminars with a regional focus, or at least a focus on a culture beyond one’s primary specialty? The issue is one of funding and time: upper administration has been increasingly strident in their mission to reduce time to degree, and our department was seen as a grievous offender on that front. To require additional years of language proficiency without being able to offer the logistical support to pursue it would likely mean that our graduate cohorts would by necessity come to be composed of native speakers of an East Asian language on the one hand, and those with the resources to pursue a preparatory master’s degree elsewhere on the other. For a department that strives to accept as diverse a cohort of graduate students as possible, this seemed like an unacceptable winnowing of options.

    The idealistic answer to, “How much and what type of breadth should Japanese studies strive to achieve?” is of course, “All of it.” In an ideal world, no matter what flavor of Japanese studies you want to pursue – regional or transregional, academic or alt-ac bound, on highly theoretical or highly specific sociohistorical topics – there should be a program where you can do so, and jobs waiting for you at the other end. I hope that, as we consider the way forward for our field, we can consider ways that we can bring that ideal to pass. As many commentators have rightfully pointed out, the R1 model overdetermines the shape of graduate education and career goals at present, and we need to begin thinking outside of it. Those of us in charge of graduate programs of Japanese studies and journals that publish Japanese studies research need to begin their thinking from the question of diversity: what niche within Japanese studies is yet unfilled? Who is still underserved? How can this journal, this graduate program, fill that gap, even if doing so takes it outside the prestige economies of the R1 institution and the types of research it values?

    Answering these questions requires communication and solidarity between our entire field, including our colleagues in library and alt-ac positions in both Japan and the rest of the world. And perhaps some of it is outside our control. Administrative roadblocks to achieving our ideal field are a fact of life, wrapped up in hidebound ideas of institutional prestige and US News and World Report rankings. But I hope, to whatever extent possible, we can make changes with the understanding that there is no one correct model for training in Japanese studies, no one answer to, “How do we broaden our field?” Leaning into that multifarious diversity is, in my mind, the best way to ensure a healthy field and to train cohorts of graduate students that are best able to answer the pressing need for breadth of all types.


    Philip C. Brown
    Professor, The Ohio State University, United States

    Let me begin by thanking Paula for putting together a stimulating project and apologizing for my late entry into the discussion. Initial presentations and reader responses provoked considerable reflection on my own experiences.

    I’d like to think that our field already possesses core elements of our project but that they might be made more productive with some modest adjustment. In my reflections on sources of progress, I sense that the internal tensions in the field have been a source of progress. Embodied in the intellectual and institutional interactions that create and house programs, research and outreach efforts, past academic debates have resulted from and contributed to expanding the range of interests, methodologies, and conceptual – theoretical frameworks on which we draw to understand Japan and convey our findings. I don’t sense that any one perspective has held dominance to the exclusion of some other perspective.

    The array of perspectives in our field provides multiple approaches that can be adapted to a broad array of institutional and personal predispositions. I believe we will truly be in trouble only if these tensions cease leading to innovative research, teaching and communication with those multiple audiences who possess differently felt needs and capacities for benefitting from our field. The expansion and vigor of our amorphous multi-disciplinary subject depends on the development of multiple solutions that reflect the institutional – disciplinary contexts and individual characteristics of the Japanese Studies specialists involved. All of the perspectives introduced in round one will help shape the field over the next decade or two unless tensions among them lead to circular or stale outcomes. If that happens, someone creative will develop a new approach OR the field will languish.

    Diversity can be very healthy, provided we don’t let keywords act as triggers for our acceptance/rejection of one or another approach. People use the same words with different intent and hear the same words but understand the author/speaker differently. Trans-national, interdisciplinary and similar conceptions are not new or inherently or determinatively tilted in one direction or another. As contributions to this forum hinted, these terms have different meanings and uses depending on the context in which a speaker employs or learned them. Some people have experienced them in positive contexts and emphasize the new light such ideas can shed on understanding Japan, while others have experienced them in contexts which use them to negate the need for area studies.6

    Even if internally vibrant, Japanese Studies will bear little fruit in broader academic contexts if it tries to function largely on its own. Inside or outside Japan, with Japanese or non-Japanese, we act as translators between multiple worlds. No one hires a translator just because they have a good knowledge of languages: translators are hired to fill an objective of which the user/employer is aware. How do they become “aware”?

    Without learning about Japan and Japanese Studies, those outside our field will not become our allies in anything other than logrolling exercises of limited duration and scope. Specialists in Japanese Studies will always be minority populations in a typical disciplinary department, college or university. To maintain, much less expand within such contexts, people in the field, as individuals or collectively, will need to make consistent efforts to identify for those who lack our understanding, what is gained by having Japan specialists present and do so in language that appeals to their interests. In bearing this burden, we in Japanese/area studies are often subjected to a double standard. That’s unfair. Unfortunately, that is also professional life -- to which we adapt, or we make our own lives unhappy.

    Perhaps, in the job market and on the job, we should ask, “What is possible in this particular setting?” “What forms of bridge-building can I foster?” Doing this helps build collegial relationships and salves our own mental health. But it does involve becoming familiar with the language and interests of other disciplines and fields: critical theory, political and sociological theory, feminist theory, Marxism, etc. (Smaller institutions typically require job applicants and faculty to extend broader reaches than R1 programs.)

    There are opportunities that come with this position. To be sure, I found teaching outside my field quite challenging, but also very broadening, expanding my perspectives on Japanese history and studies. My field’s limited departmental presence created opportunities on which I capitalized. As the only Asian historian at one university, my colleagues embraced my offer to develop a course on Vietnamese history as a chance to explore new subjects, here stimulated by my engagement with SE Asian refugee communities. In other contexts, I used the need to teach outside my field to heighten my self-awareness of how I taught myself new areas of history, the nature and methods of historical study, social science, or other disciplines and built lessons on self-education into the courses that I taught or, I openly admitted my ignorance and invited students to explore a subject with me rather than to learn from me. Those exercises fed back into courses in my specialty.

    Opportunities exist to expand Japanese Studies in American education. Funding from NSF, NEH and US Department of Education international programs all promote institutional development various efforts. Funded proposals encompass not only standard language/area programs but also introduction of Japan-related units in non-area studies courses based on input from area specialists like us. These are available to schools all the way from R1 institutions down to primary school education. Typically agencies also encourage institutions to develop area studies components outside the traditional disciplinary fields but require guidance from area specialists. One component of USDOE programs promotes area studies in majority minority institutions and/or education for the helping professions. These are not just traditional area studies or humanities programs, yet they provide ways to expand recognition of what Japanese Studies might contribute to and beyond the humanities.

    From the perspective of securing academic jobs or institution building, outreach beyond our specialties is critical. The exact configuration of that effort will depend on individual interests and training as well as institutional contexts. Parallel efforts will be needed for non-academic positions as well, and I invite others to consider how they might begin engaging those options in their mentorship and graduate education.


    Morgan Pitelka
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, United States

    Thank you to all of the roundtable participants and to the various commenters from the first round. This has really been a remarkable intervention in the field, and I don't want us to take it for granted in any way. It represents a huge amount of work, especially by Paula Curtis, to carry on with this intellectual project of "Rebirth" after the cancellation of AAS. It also represents a special form of bravery on the part of all the participants and commenters to be so honest, clear, and forthright about the ways in which our field does and doesn't achieve its (often unstated) goals.

    I find myself feeling a kind of embarrassment that this vital intellectual labor is happening here, in a cancelled-roundtable-turned-virtual-website built by a lone but brilliant postdoc rather than at one of the wealthy and privileged institutions that ostensibly anchor the field. Shouldn't this work be happening at Princeton or Stanford or Michigan?

    But perhaps this is another piece of evidence that something is broken. Japanese studies is not above or separate from the injustices and inequities of 21st-century higher education. Rather, it is part of the same social and culture system that fails to support the most precarious among us--graduate students abused as a form of labor and inadequately prepared for the reality of the "job market"; students and faculty of color who face systemic racism that is rarely called out or addressed by those with the power to do so; and gender- and sex-based harassment of women, queer, and trans members of our community, as was brutally revealed by the Crimson's recent exposé of the long history of such behavior in the Anthropology department at Harvard, where one of the leaders of the American Japanese studies community has long worked and influenced the field. The heartfelt and personal answers of the roundtable participants and the comments on this site illustrate that we must address these and other issues if we want to see our field survive, let alone thrive.

    I believe that some progress is being made: the AAS is reforming itself step by step, and new leaders, like Christine R. Yano, will hopefully help the organization to find its voice. Online communities like PMJS are, under the leadership of a new wave of scholars, developing protocols to allow the vital intellectual community to continue and grow and the unpleasant traditions of dependence on pedigree and hierarchy to hopefully fade away. But we still need to see the big graduate programs address the needs of graduate students more directly and transparently.

    Perhaps the fact that this remarkable Rebirth project is happening on Paula's website shows us that the vibrancy of our field can be found in its diversity, its breadth, and in new and experimental forms of scholarly production and association rather than only in the traditional modes of publishing. The Bodies and Structures project that David Ambaras and Kate McDonald have produced is an example of the kind of work that moves our field forward in incredibly exciting ways, but we need to ensure that our institutions recognize and reward these emerging forms of scholarly production.

    I'm one of the coeditors of The Journal of Japanese Studies, and we have been discussing many of these issues in the last year and trying to figure out how we can embrace the kind of work and discussion that the Rebirth and the Bodies and Structures projects represent while still providing the core service to the field of a traditional, independent journal. I'm not sure what the result will be, but I will say that we are all following the discussions here, and that this labor, this bravery, is not just being noted but is changing the way many of us think about our work and our responsibilities.


    Jenny Hall
    Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

    In considering the rebirth of Japanese Studies I think that technology needs to feature in the discussion, in terms of both teaching and research i.e. the current mad scramble to turn face-to-face courses into fully online ones, and also through research using remotely accessible resources and other media. My background is in anthropology (with a focus on the Japanese textile industry) but I have both teaching and instructional design experience in the tertiary sector. Last month I completed an online course on how to adapt classes for the online environment. This course not only enabled me to update my teaching/instructional design skills, but it also allowed me to experience a fully online course as a student which gave me useful insights into what students might be experiencing right now. Discussion posts from other educators undertaking the course also gave me a good indication of the existing teaching approaches across all disciplines, and from K12 through to the tertiary sector.

    It’s evident that by being forced to teach online, many educators are having to rethink their pedagogical approaches, and this must be taken into consideration in discussing the future of Japanese studies. Some educators are no doubt feeling the ground shift under them as they are forced to change their teaching approach. In particular, Takeshi Watanabe’s comment that "the rebirth of Japanese studies lies ... in empowering students to think about Asia through their own experiences” resonated with me because learning analytics shows that empowering students to use their own experiences is a very effective teaching strategy, and this becomes more apparent in the online context. I’m sure that many courses were already being taught with a student-centred approach, as Melinda Landeck mentioned was the case at her private liberal arts college, but I think the pandemic has caused a disruption in terms of teaching methodology that is going to endure. Those working at tertiary institutions in learning analytics and learning design are predicting that teaching will not return to what it was pre-pandemic, and that educators need to prepare for, at the very least, a blended learning environment. To survive, Japanese Studies needs to embrace these pedagogical changes and the technologies that are emerging with them. Obviously some courses lend themselves to the online environment more easily than others, but if some of these methods are adopted by Japanese Studies educators, not only do they make the courses more relevant for students but they can also help them develop additional, and possibly unexpected, skills – the ‘diverse training’ that Landeck mentioned that makes ‘a compelling case for studying Asia’. An example from the online course I took: a US educator teaching history and Constitutional Convention wanted students to know the key players and concepts of the course, but let students choose what they wanted to submit to demonstrate this knowledge e.g. videos, claymation, graphic novels, newspaper layouts, reports etc (of course he had a marking rubric that accommodated this approach). This flexibility enables students to work with the technology and digital access they have – vital considerations because of unequal access and/or geographical constraints – as well as follow their creative interests and add to their skills in a variety of ways. It also would allow for the evolution of Japanese Studies alongside the constantly evolving technology and job market.

    In regard to research, with the current travel restrictions in place at the moment (and for the foreseeable future), educators and graduate students need to look for alternative ways to conduct research. As Haruko Nakamura discussed in Round 1, librarians have been working to improve remote access to Japanese research materials. Collaborations such as the ones she mentions will be vital for future research but also for scholars and students to gain digital scholarship skills such as coding, text mining and data management. We are fortunate that Japanese culture is one in which documentation has always been deemed important, and that so much documentation exists. In order to pursue digital projects we need to create more interdisciplinary collaborations – literature and digital humanities scholar Stephen Osadetz states that, 'It’s in the intersection between the skill sets of the librarians and my own scholarly interests that [I] can have the most productive, the most useful interaction in terms of creating the conditions of possibility for creating radically new tools’. Digital scholarship through collaborative frameworks can instigate new ways to examine existing research questions, generate new questions, and expand scholarship to new media and audiences. This approach also transfers to undergraduate courses – we need to consider offering courses that embed Japanese Studies in the digital humanities. Again, such courses would offer 'transferable job skills’ that can be linked to career outcomes, as Landeck mentions. Obviously, it is hard to predict what the job market will look like in the future but digital skills, such as being able to use computational tools, are highly likely to feature. And a further research avenue is that of conducting digital ethnography using social media. This is a developing field but one which will no doubt continue to grow, especially while we cannot conduct overseas research.


    Postdoctoral Researcher
    United States

    Thank you very much to Paula for all of her efforts, and to all the other respondents for a lively and engaging conversation.

    Mark Ravina asks, “What if there are no Japan Studies jobs, but only jobs in world history or modern literature?”

    Then we have already lost. If that is the case, or if we allow it to become the case, then Japanese Studies will no longer be meaningful as a field, but merely a regional sub-specialty within disparate disciplines (if even that).

    Of course, given the horrific state of the job market (and who knows what it will be like in the wake of the current pandemic crisis) we each must do what we need to do to succeed individually. But I think we must be actively aware of how certain choices of actions and rhetoric contribute to shaping the field in ways that make one complicit in devaluing forms of “Japan Studies” that don’t suit particular trends or approaches. Addressing “the broader questions of comparative literature and world history” is of course important, intriguing, and potentially extremely fruitful, but not universally more so than certain other kinds of questions.

    Using Japan as a case example to speak to scholars in other geographical/cultural specialties within our disciplines is a wonderful thing; but are we really so eager to sacrifice the rest of what we do as Japanese Studies scholars? The push to orient the field along certain axes and not others may be a successful survival tactic in the short-term, but what does “Japanese Studies” become when it only contains, or promotes, or accepts certain kinds of research – e.g. transnational approaches – and not others? What conversations, topics, themes, and expertises are lost in the process?

    The study of Japan is meaningful and valid because the people who live there are our fellow human beings, people of our world. For some of us, they are our relatives; for others, our friends or neighbors. As with any of the peoples of the world whose history, culture, and society we might study, teach, and discuss, knowing more about Japan means better understanding members of our own community; a country we might visit; the origin of the pop culture media or other products we consume; business partners and others we might interact with; and a country regularly pertinent to the news.

    Why should we concede ground on this point? Why should we surrender the value and importance of Area Studies as a subject unto itself, abdicating to the idea that the only things worth knowing about Japan are those things of obvious value to particular interpretive contexts or “realist” agendas? I agree wholeheartedly with the anonymous PhD Student’s sentiment that “if we in North American universities are not able to reform institutional governance structures and faculty/grad student bargaining power, that rebirth will be stillborn.”

    Can we really speak of Japanese Studies as being “reborn” if it is still subject to the mercies of the same whims that threaten(ed) the “death” of Japanese Studies to begin with? If we are endlessly twisting ourselves around to suit the fickle demands or expectations of the job market or administrators?

    To my mind, the rebirth of Japanese Studies (and of the Humanities) will come about when institutions and the larger academic/university ecosystem (re)turn to actually supporting the Humanities, and Japanese Studies, from the top. With their support, leaders in the field of Japanese Studies (by which I mean all of us) can be just that: leaders, leading the field ourselves, taking it in the directions we as scholars, as experts, find to be most promising, interesting, or important, rather than leaving the field to be shaped by others.

    I would also like to respond briefly to Rebecca Corbett’s excellent suggestions regarding “alternatives to traditional TAships within the department which help prepare students for a multiplicity of career options.”

    Many campuses already have various opportunities available for those who seek them out, and who can figure out for themselves how to fit them into their X-year plan. But what about taking it further, integrating these options into grad school programs such that they become true alternatives? – not positions that seem like distractions or extra work on top of the “typical” coursework + research + teaching path, but ones that are presented to students as a normal option, right alongside the “traditional” classroom TAships.

    Each quarter of my graduate career, I was either presented with a list of courses I might TA, and asked to indicate my preference, or else I was encouraged to apply to a limited set of standard alternatives that other students had done before, such as teaching Freshman Composition. When I inquired about curating an exhibit, I was told it would take up too much time, would distract from completing my diss on time, and would be on the side, unfunded. But what if positions in Special Collections or elsewhere in the library, in the on-campus or local art museum, in the university’s musical instruments collection, or in one of the journals based on-campus, among others, were included in the standard list of “what are your preferences for which TAship you would like,” and were integrated into the grad student funding structure & union contract, so students could be assured they wouldn’t present logistical difficulties?

    Of course, students in MLIS, Archives, or Museum Studies programs, or in art history or ethnomusicology, have a right to resent others, such as Historians, impinging upon their domain and taking away what might be their otherwise all-but-guaranteed “turn” to have that position in Special Collections, the campus museum, or the musical instrument collection. And Historians and others who have long been interested in museum or archive work have a right to resent feeling excluded, and denied the opportunity to explore those interests and broaden their opportunities, because those positions are dominated by those within particular programs or circles. I’m not sure there will ever be a solution to this tension. Nevertheless, there are my thoughts.


    PhD Student
    Russell Group University, United Kingdom

    Thank you to everyone who has responded so far; it's given me a lot to think about as a UK-based PhD Student, including lots of new US-specific terminology. I can, though, only speak from a UK perspective. My background has always been in area studies. Reading Katy Simpson's response reminded me of the struggle to explain to my secondary school teachers that I wanted to study Japan and Japanese at university, who had no idea what to suggest. I then found myself, as an undergraduate, surrounded by many students from a small number of private schools with the money and connections to fund Japanese studies at secondary level. Katy's response reminded me of the responsibility that we should all feel to fight for these kids to get access to even the basic awareness that you CAN study Japan at university. Otherwise, how are we supposed to even think about the inclusion that the Anonymous PhD Student respondent in the previous round rightly champions? And how are we supposed to fight against the departmental closures that Mark Pendleton mentions?

    Many will have seen a tweet doing the rounds this week about the supposed terror of an Anthropologist at teaching a class full of Japanese popular culture fans. Though it is a funny image, the responses to that tweet remind me that another barrier to more participation in the study of Japan is the impression, accurate or otherwise, of snobbery that surrounds Japanese studies. Why can't we incorporate teaching of and references to popular culture in a critical manner into teaching and learning? I started out as a fan of Japanese popular culture, and as I continue to research it, I become more convinced that it should not be discounted as a way to "reach" those students who see higher education as a whole as beyond their own reach. The outreach work that I have done on behalf of both my undergraduate and current institution has shown this to be the case.

    Finally (although this might be an issue with academia as a whole), perhaps these issues of the perception stem from the way that academics don't have the time they need to develop the kind of teaching they want to do; the kind of teaching that makes students think that they CAN use the study of Japan through which to discover so much else, as Ioannis Gaitanidis advocates for. I research, but I also really want to teach. Because I want to teach, and because the opportunities to teach about Japan at non-research-intensive universities are so few and far between, I find myself drifting towards the (inter)disciplinary.


    Simon Kaner
    University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom

    Wonderful and inspiring to read the contributions and responses to date. We are in the process of launching a new MA in Interdisciplinary Japanese Studies at the University of East Anglia - all a bit touch and go as our late-stage promotion campaign clashed with the Covid-19 pandemic and the summer programmes we have been using to raise our profile have been cancelled this year. But we have great support from within our institution and everyone wants to see it succeed - even though, despite still working towards a planned start in Sept 2020 we don’t know what the pandemic still has to throw at us. We have an amazing group of early career lecturers and researchers who are all contributing to what we think is the first new specifically Japanese themed MA at a U.K. university for some years (decades?) and on top of putting together programmes that makes sense from every School of Study in the Faculty we are now having to make the leap to ‘blended learning’ to include both online and unpredictable face-to-face provision.

    One particularly pleasing aspect of developing new Japan programmes over the last decade has been the response from researchers of all ages across the university - with Japan now the preferred place to take research visits etc even among non-japan specialists (according to surveys undertaken by our Careers Services). Interest levels are high among students too - measured by applications from around the world for our summer programmes and sustained strength in recruiting for the language degree modules. It would indeed be good to find more ways to engage with Japanese studies beyond the Anglophone world - notably in Asia, Africa and the other Americas. My own experiences in central and Eastern Europe have been really eye-opening with some exceptional pools of talent and long-standing traditions of excellence there.

    Lastly, we could do so much more with schools - the Dartford Grammar School for Boys is a beacon that we could all learn from - I was bowled over when we visited thanks to the Japan Foundation Sakura Network and our own www.orjach.org, developed with CSR funds from Hitachi (thank you). Getting our students involved in such initiatives (we call them Language Ambassadors) is hugely popular - and so much better for next generations to benefit from the best experiences and enthusiasm of their younger senpai than those of us at the crustier end of the spectrum - I am sure there is more we could do in terms of facilitation. Apologies for the flow-of-consciousness approach - will endeavour to be more thorough in future.


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    1. p. 80.

    2. p. 80.

    3. A summary can be found at: https://www.aacu.org/node/4084.

    4. For a longer explanation see: https://asiasociety.org/files/book-globalcompetence.pdf.

    5. https://asiasociety.org/education/what-global-competence.

    6. Ignorance – a failure to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge – can also play a role, apart from ill intent. One example: In the early 1980s, the history department at the University of South Carolina advertised a search for an Asian historian, with primary focus on modern Japan and ability to teach Indian history. The search obvi-ously failed, and later, the position was re-advertised as a Japanese history position filled by Dean Kinzley.