The "Rebirth" of Japanese Studies: Round 3 Responses
This page compiles the third and final 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 and Round 2 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 3 (June 1-June 14, 2020). 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 to the virtual roundtable and made it a success. I have added my own reflections on the roundtable as a whole to close out the event, which can be found here as well as the bottom of the page.
Clinical Assistant Professor (NTT)
University at Buffalo, United States Throughout this roundtable, participants have acknowledged that many of the issues facing Japanese Studies are in fact facing academia overall. For this last iteration of the panel, I would like to consider how we might answer some of these industry-wide issues. We have to deal with the wider reality directly if we want to maintain a vibrant field. In some cases, those wider realities benefit Japanese Studies. For example, the pandemic’s international origin has encouraged people to see themselves as part of a global order and to compare their nation (and its response to COVID-19) to other nations in a way that many have not previously. Underlying many of the challenges facing Japanese Studies is the shrinking pool of money available for higher education (cf. Laura Miller and Mark Ravina). There are a variety of actions that scholars can take to encourage public support for higher education, but how do we/our institutions support those who strive to build public support? As Morgan Pitelka suggested, early career scholars increasingly need to build the structure supporting their work in addition to doing the work itself. However, we do not yet value this additional work on the same level as the traditional metrics of peer-reviewed research/teaching/service. Japanese Studies could lead the way here: our field’s interdisciplinary nature has prepared us better than most scholars to speak to different publics. Why shouldn’t we encourage each other to do so by concretely valuing that work during hiring, promotion, and peer review? While we value public-facing work, we should also de-value forms of work that are over-complicated and/or unnecessary. The job market has extended to effectively cover the entire year, and applications call for increasing amounts of – and increasingly specialized – materials. I recall spending an absurd amount of my final year in graduate school reworking my writing sample into three different specified page lengths for a trio of jobs, all of which ultimately went to people who already completed postdocs and had years of full-time teaching experience. Revising that writing sample was a complete waste of time. I feel that waste particularly strongly now because I abandoned a Japanese-language op-ed about African-Americans’ portrayal in Japanese films to work on job applications. My little op-ed did not seem to be a priority at the time, but in the wake of the NHK’s recent Black Lives Matter animation, it is clear that I misjudged. Now that I have been part of a few hiring committees, I know how the growth in application package requirements happened: someone believes that the committee should require, say, teaching evaluations, because the position is teaching-focused. The proponent thus pushes to include teaching evaluations in the application requirements. Other professors do not feel strongly about it, so let the new requirement stand, or they argue against the amount of work that it creates and end up negotiating a middle ground (such as a page limit for writing samples). The net result is that professionals who should be focused on research, teaching, public outreach, and other forms of service end up working themselves sick crafting documents that go unread. Why should we be surprised that the public does not want to pay for more permanent job lines when this is what we are paying for? I am reminded of the wildly popular Ask a Manager advice blog, whose author once compared trying to become a tenure-track professor to trying to become a movie star. Why not require a standard application package of cover letter, CV, and list of references for the first round of applications? Forcing hundreds of applicants to put together fifty page dossiers that you really just want from ten to twenty folks compounds the “new and pressing challenges” facing Japanese Studies and academia as a whole.
Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture
University of British Columbia, Canada As a white scholar with a nationally-funded research chair in Canada’s largest Asian Studies program writing during a pandemic from the attic of my family home on the unceded traditional territory of the K’òmoks First Nation, I have been reflecting on how Japanese studies and my own work is complicit in in the cultural production of anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, ableism, heteronormativity, and elitism. Canadian universities “continue to be powerful sites where race knowledge is produced, organized, and regulated,” writes Frances Henry. We have failed to “address racism, racial harassment, and bullying, or the inhospitable climate faced by racialized and Indigenous scholars…In universities, as in other societal institutions, discourses of liberalism, meritocracy, neutrality, and objectivity, and the presence of employment equity or affirmative action policies, mask the stubborn persistence of inequity and unacknowledged biases.”1 The “polite racism” of Canadian institutions like my own means we publicly acknowledge that we work on land stolen from the Musqueam, Tseil-Waututh, and Squamish nations, but fail to protest the ongoing extraction of resources from nations such as the Wet'suwet'en and West Moberly. We write statements of anti-racism and support for Black Lives Matter; days later, a campus security officer racially profiles MA student Savoy Williams (a Black scholar), refusing him access to a research office. This took place a year after the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences held a conference at UBC and two white people falsely accused MA student and conference presenter Shelby McPhee (who is Black) of stealing a laptop and called the RCMP. Clearly we are not learning from even the most well publicized incidents of racism on our campus. Thanks to student pressure, there is currently an effort to change the university policies enabling white supremacist speakers to spout hate speech on campus, but the onus is on faculty members to ensure that more Black, Indigenous, and people of color are hired, and that our teaching exemplifies anti-racism and decolonization. Mark Pendleton invites us to consider the potential for rebirthing Japanese studies through a reenvisioning of area studies, following Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s notion of liquid area studies and Grace En-Yi Ting’s rethinking of gender, queer, and feminist studies within Japanese studies (as noted in Ting’s response). In "Negativity and Hope, or Addressing Gender and Race in Japanese Studies,” Ting points out the danger of romanticizing notions of “female/feminist solidarity that serve to perpetuate hierarchical violence through denial of how experiences are inflected by race, sexuality, class, and other forms of difference” and calls on us to better recognize gendered, racialized dynamics of power. Ting’s critique references a symposium I co-organized in 2019, but it can also be applied to the broader institutional structures we occupy. By design, university initiatives that claim to support equity, diversity, and inclusion have primarily benefitted white women and resulted in more of us being promoted into leadership positions. As someone who has failed to call out whiteness in my field in a consistent manner, despite spending too many hours writing to organizers of manels, it is worth noting that twenty-five of the twenty-seven identified panelists or respondents in this virtual AAS panel and first two sets of responses are white people. We should be concerned that this conversation on the future of Japanese studies was dominated by white scholars, with just three scholars of East Asian descent and no other people of color contributing (unless anonymously). This points to our own failures in addressing the forms of systemic racism and marginalization we see at our institutions, as noted by Morgan Pitelka. I have seen how gender has been prioritized over other forms of social identity through “diversity” initiatives; 43% of UBC instructors are “women” (a term undefined in the UBC Employment Equity Report 2019) yet only 5% are “visible minority” women. At my institution, there are no racialized women in “Senior Executive” positions of deans and above. In analyses of student admissions, we track gender, age, citizenship, and Indigeneity in annual enrolment reports, but not race, even though 51.6% of Vancouver residents identify as a “visible minority” and nearly half of our students come from the Vancouver region. The financial underpinnings of our graduate programs also create inequities. Based on an informal, anonymously reported survey of forty-three current PhD students and recent graduates in Japanese studies, current funding (including fellowships, stipends, TAships, and RAships) ranges from a high of 35,000 USD annually for five years to a low of 12,500 USD with no guarantee of future support. The difference between private and public funding is vast: scholars at private institutions receive a median annual salary of 30,000 USD as opposed to a median of 18,500 USD at public universities. These results are skewed by a focus on US institutions, the richest of which reportedly offer funding for up to six years of study. The economic disparity between a graduate student, midrank professor, and top administrator is vast. A PhD student on a stipend at a public institution in Canada or the US receives about 50 USD per day, which is perhaps one seventh of what their supervisor (often an associate professor or above) is paid at the same institution. Stipends at private institutions are higher, and thus a student might receive around 80 USD or so per day, but the disparity is similar, with their advisor likely being paid upwards of 200,000 USD per year, according to salary reports. At UBC, a graduate student stipend is a mere 4% of the income of our university president. A search through a decade of dissertations in Japanese literature (143 scholars, 153 supervisors, 33 institutions) reveals that the vast majority of these PhD holders are in tenure-track jobs. It is encouraging to see such posts in Japanese literature, film, and popular culture, and it is important to remind ourselves, as Justine Wiesinger notes, that hires in these fields may be closely tied to student interest in Japanese language study. The “rebirth” of Japanese studies will require us to restructure fields in equitable and just ways, and carry out structural transformation within and outside our institutions, including the Association for Asian Studies. We must ask ourselves why there are few Black and Indigenous scholars in our fields, ensure we are hiring and promoting colleagues of color, and invite criticisms and uncomfortable conversations which will enable us to teach better.
Colby College, Waterville, Maine, United States I have been truly impressed by the level of thought and engagement in this panel. Thank you Paula, discussants, and all participants. I hope that my contribution helps keep the conversation going and maybe even helps in some concrete way, even if my comments are a bit general. A consensus seems to be emerging that in addition to pre-existing field-defining questions, the impact of Covid on top of the ongoing hollowing out of the humanities means Japanese Studies is in for some challenging times. Budget cuts. Hiring freezes. Furloughs. I hope I am being overly pessimistic here. However, I think the one of the main problems Japanese Studies faces is that there will simply be less scholars who study Japan, in whatever capacity. Certainly, whether the job losses hit Asian Studies, Japanese Studies, History, or other departments certainly matters, and will impact institutions differently. But one overall impact on Japanese studies is likely to be that it will become a smaller field, or will at least not grow. That being said, most of us involved in Japanese studies are, at least for the moment, in some position to make concrete contributions to the “rebirth” of the field. In the short and medium term, please do what you can in whatever position you are in, for as long as you can, to help promote the field and to possibly even secure job slots for up-and-coming scholars of Japan. This will necessarily look differently depending on your institution, as well as your position. Of course, senior faculty, tenured faculty, as well as those in administrative and editorial positions can do the most, and many participants in this panel have already contributed useful suggestions. I will not try to reinvent the wheel in this post. I would like to emphasize, however, the powerful role of teaching in the “rebirth of Japanese studies,” which Drs. Miller, McCarty, and others have also examined. I believe that undergraduate teaching is one means of supporting Japanese studies that many of us, across different positions and institutions, can utilize. This is our biggest chance to make an impression on students, to convince them that studying Japan matters, and their opinions carry a lot of weight. We do this best when we make our courses relevant, when they convey authenticity and passion. Grace En-Yi Ting asks in her round 2 response “How do you want to see Japanese studies transform?” Teaching allows us the perfect opportunity to wrestle with this question. Being an immigrant (technically a refugee, but more privileged than many), one of my goals is to use my teaching on Japanese history to help give students the tools to understand and resist xenophobia. I am happy to say that many of my students are quite eager to do this, and many are international students themselves. All of us can draw on our backgrounds and training to help make studying Japan a meaningful experience for our students in some unique way. We can do this in Japan-focused courses, Asia-focused courses, or World History courses.
Tenure Track Assistant Professor
Furman University (Small Liberal Arts College), South Carolina I want to thank Paula for organizing this engaging forum. Reading these submissions has made me feel more connected to the global Japanese Studies community. In the spirit of advancing calls for positive change in this final round, my thoughts focus not on global but on local ways to promote Japanese Studies. I want to argue that far more important than the content of the case for Japanese -- how many millions of speakers, how many billions of trade dollars, how many thousands of jobs to snag -- is how and when we make this case locally to our students. Part of what makes program recruitment challenging at universities is the way in which enrollments can seem predetermined before students have even arrived on campus. It can feel hopeless to realize that students are deciding not to take Japanese before they know anything about the culture or our programs. But we can make an effective case for Japanese by participating enthusiastically in the work of pre-freshman orientation outreach, and getting to know students before they have even arrived on campus or enrolled in a course. Making that case means “selling” programs through aggressive social media campaigns directed at pre-freshmen and even prospective students. It also means cultivating a reputation of both learning and enjoyment at our institutions; in my experience, word of mouth matters, whether it’s from orientation advisors and leaders or (heaven forbid) ratemyprofessors (which, however biased, is a resource that new students use). Making the case for Japanese means bringing a high level of energy to every day of class, showing genuine excitement for every student as they acquire linguistic fundamentals, and having the creativity to develop a program that turns language practice into fun but practical activities. Part of the case that we make should be rooted in facts about economics or global security, but equally should be the message that students will have a great experience. Students want to be engaged by their instructors; this year, I sent a personal email to every single incoming student, showcasing our program and highlighting the engaging nature of our classes. The first-year curriculum is critical to this endeavor. A first-year Japanese course that does not excite and inspire students will cause needless attrition of students who otherwise might continue. The loss of a student who might have continued to take Japanese but is not inspired to do so after the first year represents a lost enrollment for every subsequent course in the sequence. Rather than imposing stiff standards for students to either sink or swim, a first-year curriculum should encourage and lift up all students, regardless of their intrinsic ability. That can entail much tedious work and investment into individuals without a guaranteed payoff. Because the first year of language is critical to recruitment, it means rethinking the long-standing practice of assigning experienced faculty to upper-level courses and the least experienced teachers to first-year language. A language program where the first-year course is not directly taught by experienced professors is not taking language pedagogy seriously enough. In my own experience, some of the Japanese language programs I have observed have cultivated a reputation of disciplined rigor in their institutions, but not necessarily of excitement or fun. Hosting a cultural event or two every year is not a substitute for creating an engaging and light-hearted classroom environment in which students work hard and take risks but nevertheless have fun in a dynamic setting every day. Stiff dialogues and jargon-filled grammar lectures are not the only prescription for students learning Japanese, and it is a dire mistake to think that raucous fun and academic rigor are mutually exclusive. Just one example -- if students are practicing interrogative questions, make it a Clue-style murder mystery that they have to solve. These are positive steps that we can take without the need to change the global culture. Since our languages departments began aggressively marketing lesser taught languages to incoming freshmen, enrollment in all levels of Japanese language has increased at our university in the past 5 years, in some cases by more than 50%. This increase is virtually all coming from domestic students who decide to take Japanese because they were exposed to orientation and advertising, not international students. If students are flocking to a language program other than Japanese at your school, this should provoke an honest discussion about how to improve enrollment in Japanese. It may be that proficiency in French or German truly fits the educational goals of students, and that Japanese happens to not fit their goals. But it may be that faculty of other languages are more effectively advocating for their programs, and it may be that Japanese courses are not attracting or retaining students at the level that they should for reasons within our control. I think that there is still much for us to do at home to promote a rebirth of Japanese Studies. Some of the discourse around this topic has created a misleading impression that the death of Japanese Studies is an inevitable outcome that no amount of hard work can overcome. Aggressive promotion can work, and while I certainly wish that we did not have to go to such lengths, when the issue is the survival of our programs, we owe it to our students to do everything we can.
Private R1, United States I want to thank all the participants in this roundtable for providing such a nuanced examination of Japanese studies, as well as Paula for organizing it and executing it so smoothly. This has been an invaluable service to our field, and I hope the spirit of these conversations can continue well into the future as we bend, twist, and stretch Japanese studies into its ideal shapes. I’m greatly inspired by this roundtable, as well as by the (as of writing) currently circulating petition to AAS put together by some of our colleagues calling for support of black scholars of Asian studies. At the same time, I recognize that, as critical as these projects and others like them are, they don’t generally fall within the bounds of what is recognized as “valuable” for the purposes of hiring and tenure. That is to say, at the risk of sounding like a Luddite, that the digital realities of our field as it is currently practiced – with viral Twitter threads gaining more engagement than any ten conferences and digital resources like this roundtable run entirely on unpaid individual initiative – have long since left the canonical patterns of academic life in the dust. And yet, like the Japanese game show segment in which contestants try to contort themselves to fit through an oddly-shaped hole in a rapidly approaching wall, we still must try to conform to notions of scholarly value quantified in journal publications rather than data visualizations if we want to climb the ladder. This isn’t to say that we should burn peer review to the ground and send our Twitter handles in place of a CV, nor that the only humanities worth doing are digital humanities, but I think it does point toward impasses of visibility, audibility, and legibility that are demanding a reckoning within the humanities at large. We’ve heard a number of calls for more inclusivity within our field in this roundtable, and I want to add that a project of inclusivity must concern itself not only with who is making themselves heard, but also with how they are choosing to enunciate their positions. Labor like that which has gone into this roundtable is scholarly and valuable to a degree that is equal to, but a way that is different than a research article in a top-tier journal. I hope as we continue to push the field forward into brave new worlds, we won’t shrink from the sometimes alien shapes that greet us there, but will embrace them. Changes in professional practice and evaluation are ones that also must be negotiated with deans and university presidents, however, and so it is of course not simply a matter of all of us agreeing that our field can henceforth operate under radically different and more ethically inclusive standards. It requires advocacy within a monstrously unbalanced power dynamic, with potentially disastrous consequences for being too out of line. But initiatives like this one bring to light the organizing power we have outside of those institutional hierarchies, as well. This roundtable has sustained lively conversation for a month during some of the most chaotic and precarious times in recent memory. The petition to AAS is currently nearing 1,200 signatures.2 We are a much more nimble field than the pace of journal publication and conference planning thanks to the tools at our disposal. I hope we can continue to grow our capacity to organize ourselves as a field, and that we use that capacity to put pressure on (and if necessary tear down) existing institutional models and enact all the changes we envision here and more for Japanese studies.
Senior Lecturer in Japanese Studies
University of Sheffield, United Kingdom It’s been wonderful to be able to read along with the discussion, and hear great ideas from familiar folk as well as people I’ve yet to meet in person. Like many of us, I really appreciate the efforts of the organisers to make this happen, and all Paula’s hard work hosting and moderating. I’m wondering how we can share the load as we develop this kind of great online interaction for a post-COVID 19 era Japanese Studies. While I agree that it’s important to keep thinking about what defines and shapes the field - who and what is Japanese Studies? - it also seems key to question where the field exists at present, as we move conferencing, networking, and even fieldwork online. In particular, I wonder if certain platforms and their operations are shaping how our discussions unfold more than we would like. For example, is Facebook the best fit platform for the encounters that we want to have? Is Twitter? Are there conventions of communication styles embedded in certain platforms that can harm our efforts to build and sustain a collegiate and welcoming atmosphere for our field? Dedicated areas like this one, and subscriber email lists, have fostered productive and sustaining conversations, while creating a sense of community for many of us. At the same time, it takes some courage to write to these spaces! (Especially for early career scholars and people who feel a bit on the outside of things) Pre-existing friendships formed at conferences and through shared fieldwork really help to build that courage, and this makes me wonder whether there are particular online spaces that we can build to re-create similar opportunities for friendship, mentoring, and networking for early career scholars and others who have not yet had the opportunity to take regular advantage of conferencing and fieldwork. For example, could we create a basic database of researchers who are willing to advise on certain subjects - job hunting in Japan, for example, or passing probation in the UK University system? Could we build an online space for scholars to use to set up smaller interest groups, either with a collaborative output in mind, or simply to chat about a specific issue? The original panel members, and the contributors to the previous rounds of responses raised a lot of really interesting problems and areas of difference across the geographical and disciplinary spread of our field. I’d love to hear their thoughts on where we can keep this discussion going, as well as how we can match the expertise of our colleagues with other colleagues who could use advice and support.
Assistant Professor of Japanese
University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada In keeping with this round’s call to positively re-envision our field, I offer below my hopes and dreams, my gripes, and my poor attempts at jokes, in no particular order. In my reborn field of Japanese Studies... 1) ...job candidates at campus visits will not consist largely of sets of interchangeable white men (like myself), seemingly plucked from the academic man catalogue. There will, instead, be visible and meaningful representation for ethno-racial and sexual minorities, as well as those who find themselves marginalized from academia in other equally profound ways. 2) ...those hired for TT jobs will not exclusively be folks from Ivy League or other “name" schools. I received my BA from Stanford, but there may be a grad student absolutely killing it at Ohio State who is being overlooked in hiring pools. 3) ...after an academic talk, colleagues will ask questions of me without needing the preamble, “Now, I don’t play video games, but...” Instead, they’ll all pull out their Switches and we’ll play Animal Crossing together, and then I’ll write an article about it in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 4) ...we won’t have to read expose articles about how senior academics in various fields, including ours, allegedly sexually harassed and/or sexually abused grad students and faculty members. 5) ...there will be strategies and support networks in place to ensure the emotional and psychological wellbeing of graduate students, as well as departmental mechanisms to evaluate whether a supervisory relationship is working well for both parties. 6) ...there will be less of an exploitative over-reliance on sessional (adjunct) instructors. And there will be a meaningful path for these scholars to become continuing faculty members at the same institutions where they have served, in some cases, for decades. 7) ...organizers will hand you party favors after each conference meeting. No matter the venue, these will always be boxes of Goma Tamago, unquestionably the greatest Japanese sweet - I’m looking at YOU Tokyo Banana! 8) ...there will be less of a divide and therefore more collaboration and dialogue between “modernists” and “premodernists.” I’m sure there’s someone out there working in hentaigana who has a passing interest in Tezuka Osamu, and I even took a waka class once (three times), honestly! 9) ...we will better include our non-North American and Asian colleagues and their research in our conferences, publications, and keynote lecture invitations. 10) ...we will continue to question, challenge, and reimagine what it means to be in our field. And, colleagues won’t retire, one day they’ll simply be sucked down a giant green warp pipe, waiting to take them on their next adventure.
Southern Arkansas University
Magnolia, AR, United States First off, I am delighted to see this topic being discussed and am thrilled to see so many vibrant responses that offer new perspectives for readers. In my case, gradually I had come to think that Japanese Studies would eventually die on the vine, but my pessimism is ebbing now. My perception of the issue has been that within Asian Studies, at least in the United States, that resources by institutions are linked to the “importance” of the Asian country to the current political and economic standing of America. With China’s ascension to the world’s 2nd largest economy and Japan’s economic slippage over roughly the same time period, the economic threat to American interests and, therefore, importance of Japan as an area of urgent study in the US has similarly slipped. I am a modern Japanese historian, but I was hired at a small, rural university to teach predominantly world history surveys with Asian history on the side. My perspective, then, is from a member of the Japanese Studies community trying to grow the field from within an institution that does not already have it as an educational focus. From that standpoint, I think it is important that we show that knowledge of Japan has practical applications for students outside of the field. It may be fruitful to reach beyond academic boundaries to integrate at least some Japanese content into existing programs, especially in STEM. Japan’s economic slippage does not mean they are not a major segment of a robust global economy as it ranks as the fourth largest exporter and fifth largest importer of foreign goods. Business majors, economics majors, and software design, for example, would all be strengthened by adding or enhancing content on Japanese history and culture and reaching across the academic may be fruitful in growing faculty support for a greater Japanese Studies presence. I have also found that there is a wide gap between student interest in Japan and resources provided to meet that interest. Obviously, Japanese pop culture has much to do with this as anime clubs, manga clubs, Japanese film clubs, and e-sports all have students who have an interest in Japan, its history, or its culture (at least pop culture). When I speak to these students at my current institution as well as previous ones, they voice a desire for more class offerings and on-campus events that deal with Japan. “Cool Japan,” though a somewhat dated concept, does still garner interest in the country and that desire among college students may be leverageable to grow a stronger Japanese Studies presence on campus. If students show vocal support for more Japanese Studies, perhaps the chairs, deans, and provosts will follow suit. It may just take a scholar of Japanese Studies to help guide those voices. I recognize that there is no single panacea for ensuring the survival and even growth of Japanese Studies. However, I am hoping that while many are working outside of institutions of higher ed, these and other practical approaches may help to strengthen the field from within them.
Small Liberal Arts College, United States I want to preface my comments by stating that I am writing from the edges of burnout. I know this colors my response. If the field of Japanese Studies is dying, what actually is dying? In my more hopeful moments, what seems to me is happening, in terms of questions and focus of the field writ large, is actually the death of certain forms of gatekeeping of knowledge and received practices. I do not mourn that. This giving way allows more of us to be included in notions of what “the field” is and thus to be able to articulate the importance of our approaches and how Japan “as method” is urgent and necessary. As Dr. Miller notes, and others including Drs. Landeck and Wiesinger note, outside of R1s, the field already demands and has had people who engage with cross- or multi-disciplinary practices. I think the fear of “Asian fusion” is overstated to a certain degree — as other respondents have noted, depending upon where you teach, you may be the only East Asianist (never mind Japanese Studies scholar) in your department, and one of only a handful on your campus. Disciplinary boundaries ought to be respected but many of us (as grad students and faculty) already work at the edges, both of our institutions and of the knowledge we cultivate. I find in this an opportunity, not a reason for fear. And, to me, this suggests we might do well to examine what the actual history of the field is in the first place. We might seek to revisit received narratives and work to uncover buried histories and genealogies that would allow us to reimagine our present and our futures. But, as the PhD student in Round 1 notes, the field encompasses both ideas (disciplinary questions), and the practical, day-to-day work of teaching and the job (institutional or existential questions). I want to think through the latter via two issues which are not only Japanese Studies issues, but are key to the conversation this roundtable is having: the first is the job market, and the second is the more troubling question of even if institutions are hiring in tenure track lines, are these jobs worth having? Many responses have discussed the ways in which training at an R1 in the US privileges and reproduces a very narrow kind of research and practice that is not necessarily a good match for the jobs that exist. But even if one works to address this in one’s training, the reality is that there’s no one normative way through our training, and there’s no way to “hack” the job market. We come up against the undefinable question of “fit.” What, exactly, is a school looking to hire for? In reading both required and preferred qualifications for jobs, one would come away with the impression that we are asked to be an impossible candidate who needs at least two PhDs, one in whatever primary content courses the school wants taught and one usually in second language acquisition. And I’m not certain some search committees can answer the question of what it is they want despite the abundance of highly qualified applicants. By informal count, there were at least three failed TT searches at prestigious institutions in this last cycle. These would have been jobs which likely drew close to a hundred applicants. That not one person could be hired speaks to deeper issues within the institution that no one individual applicant could hope to hack or address. But, even if the jobs exist, and we are, indeed, a good “fit” for the position, I want to raise the troubling question of are these jobs worth doing? When I read Untenured but TT’s response, I nodded along vigorously. While the financial situation of my current institution is not as dire as the one Untenured describes, it is the financial reality of many institutions, especially SLACs. All the more worrying is a projected demographic time bomb coming in 2030 where the number of traditional (18-22 year old) students seeking four-year degrees will drop precipitously, and unless SLACs are making plans now to expand their revenue bases, and really, if they aren’t already financially healthy, the grim reality is that many may have to shutter. COVID-19 seems to be hastening some of these outcomes already. Leaving COVID and time bombs aside, it seems more the rule than the exception that pre-tenure (or especially contingent) faculty are tasked with heavy teaching loads, expectations around research and publishing that the faculty assessing you may not have had to meet, and onerous service obligations particularly around program and curriculum building. Since you might be the only person in your department who works on Japan, or one of only a handful of Asian Studies people on your campus, I’ve noted anecdotally a reluctance to take time owed to you, if your institution even provides pre-tenure or post-tenure release, because who would teach your classes and maintain your program if you're not there? Departments might hire you, but especially in a kind of catch-all department many of us might find ourselves in, much needs to be done to support and retain faculty and provide protections for them. I think the field in terms of research and ideas is headed in exciting directions. Many of the most needful conversations, though, seem to be taking place in spaces on the edges of or outside of established institutions and organizations. As a recent example, I think we need to consider the institutional conditions that made it necessary for four of our colleagues to author a public petition to AAS in order to urge support and protections for Black scholars in Asian Studies. We might think about the number of voices that have been able to be a part of this roundtable that otherwise might not have been if it were held in-person. We might look to the example of organizations and conferences that actively work from a framework of new and experimental, cross-disciplinary and comparative approaches, or that actively work to facilitate those kinds of conversations. In regards to the deeper issues of the crisis of institutions where our work ostensibly takes place, I think it is incumbent upon senior scholars, tenured faculty, to be fighting for the field, their grad students, and their contingent colleagues. They are the ones best positioned to secure funding and full-throatedly advocate to their chairs, deans and provosts, presidents and chancellors. It cannot continue to fall on the most vulnerable among us to be the gadflies that provoke pause and change.
Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan Like my research colleague Philip Brown, I apologize for being late to the conversation—embarrassingly, I learned of it only two days ago when Paula contacted me after reading my contribution to a Japanese publication on “The Decline of Japanese Studies Overseas.” Thank you, Paula, for the invitation and for creating this wonderful forum for discussion. The following remarks are based on my experience working in Japan for over thirty years as a university faculty member and administrator. First of all, I would like to echo the important point made by Ioannis Gaitanidis: one place where Japanese studies is definitely not in decline is Japan itself. Back in the day, it was extremely difficult for non-Japanese individuals to obtain teaching or research positions in their field—unless that field was TESOL—at Japanese universities. But that is no longer the case, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to globalize Japanese higher education. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the committee that selected and evaluates MEXT’s “Type A Top Global Universities.”) True, there are many problems—many positions are not tenure-track and many universities are clueless about how to recruit and retain foreign researchers—but the number of jobs has certainly increased. Of course, jobs alone do not make an academic field such as Japanese studies, but they certainly help. Another glimmer of light comes in the area of language education. My current job is with the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies (IUC) in Yokohama. Over the half-century since it was founded, the IUC has provided language training for well over two thousand individuals, including many of the key figures in Japanese studies today. Enrollments at the IUC have not declined—quite the opposite, even now, when we are providing remote, online instruction to students unable to come to Japan because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Everyone reading this knows why the demand for Japanese language instruction remains high—Japanese popular culture, which virtually 100% of language students cite as the initial reason for their interest. This interest is not going to go away soon. These language students represent a pool of talent that will be central to any “rebirth” of Japanese studies. At the same, I would be remiss not to note that the composition of IUC students is gradually changing. The number and percentage of PhD students are going down and of those students, a growing minority are pursuing transnational or comparative research as opposed to "old school" Japanese studies. Meanwhile, the number and percentage of master’s students are increasing. While a significant portion of MA students at the IUC later enroll in PhD programs, the majority pursue careers outside academia. Irrespective of level of academic achievement, IUC students are increasingly diverse in terms of national background and also come from a larger pool of universities than in the past. All in all, these trends support the notion that traditional Japanese studies is in decline, but also argue strongly for robust, and perhaps even increased, interest in Japan and Japanese language not just in the US, but throughout the world. This bodes well for the “rebirth” of Japanese studies, although the form it takes may be—and probably should be—less rigid and more broadly defined than in the past. Finally, a few words about COVID-19. It seems somehow wrong to be talking about the future of something as narrow as Japanese studies amidst a tragedy of such global proportions, one counted in lives, not numbers of tenured teaching positions or academic publications. That said, it is not immediately clear that the pandemic has been any worse to Japanese studies than it has to other academic fields or to higher education as a whole. On the one hand, the international response to the pandemic has given national borders, and the nation-state, a prominence not seen in a very long while, offering a perverse new argument for the resurrection of Japanese studies, or Chinese studies, or other nation-state-centered constructs. On the other, the loss of opportunities for foreign high school or university students to go to Japan on study abroad will have a major negative impact, if only because such experiences often motivate participants to pursue Japanese or East Asian studies in graduate school. We can hope that travel restrictions will be temporary and overseas study will soon rebound. Until that happens, we do what we can, mostly online. We choose Internet-friendly research topics, we teach our students on Zoom, we communicate with our colleagues on Zoom, and we post our thoughts on online roundtables such as this.
The Ohio State University, United States Again, very nice, wide-ranging Round 2 contributions. I have two, somewhat related comments. It may be worth remembering that social sciences cannot all be characterized as homogenized. A focus on testing or modeling only would exclude many works of sociology, anthropology, geography, political science, and even economics – including works within Japanese studies. We have a rich tradition of studies in geography, history (some universities classify it as such), political science, sociology and anthropology characterized by qualitative, critical a-theoretical emphases to varying degrees. The discipline-based criticism of area studies’ a-theoretical approach to social science research was clearly evident by the mid-1970s and reached a peak worthy of Chronicle of Higher Education reporting in the late 1990s. One point of emphasis in many largely qualitative studies was a focus on what Japan area studies perspectives implicitly showed about the limitations of existing Western theories and methods simply by exploring distinctive trajectories displayed in Japan. Perhaps I am wrong, but this is how I interpret Tristan Grunow’s comment that we “think about how our fields of study can add to ongoing conversations” of colleagues outside our field. However sympathetic we, as Japan specialists, may be to the idea that “The study of Japan is meaningful and valid because the people who live there are our fellow human beings, people of our world,” (Post-doctoral researcher), the same can be said for any region, society or culture. How can we justify to those outside our fields the value of expenditures to hire Japan – related faculty rather than some other area of the world? People in all academic settings from Harvard to historically black Miles College (Alabama) fight for “scarce” resources. There are always ways to spend more money than one has, justified by claims of great benefit. Brian Dowdle provides a leg up on justifications for area studies programs, through his discussion of common “efficiency” calculations and the attractiveness of linking a field to many pedagogic objectives (“high impact”) and therefore worth adding to the curriculum. He concludes, “[I]t would be better to protect small programs and even expand them, [e]specially those that enrich campus perspectives and keep universities relevant to the 21st century.” As part of preparing students for the 21st century, I suggest the role that social adaptability is also important. Spanning the nature of resilience as seen in biology, psychiatry, and other fields, one constant characteristic resilience is that of maintaining capacities that foster adaptability. In social terms that may mean maintaining a capacity even when it is not economically rational from some common perspective. Just as we know the risks of monocropping, there is a good argument to make for a country (and maybe even states) to maintain a body of specialists who understand other languages, societies and cultures. Given the history of area studies in the U.S., I am loathe to use a national security issue as an example, but in my experience such a case most dramatically illustrates my point: The scurrying for specialists and Arab-speaking staff in the wake of 9-11 was initially frustrated by the dearth of Arabic speakers and specialists. This shortage resulted from the widespread atrophy of Middle Eastern Studies since the 1970s because the field was small and “uneconomical.” At smaller scales, there may be similar, good, readily understandable ways to argue for short-term economic irrationality! I would like to comment on the suggestion of Katy Simpson and Simon Kaner to explore opportunities in pre-collegiate programs. This may be more of an objective for undergraduate and master’s degree students, although some privately endowed schools may be interested in hiring Ph.D. holders. The Dartford program is indeed impressive (check its web site) and I am delighted to Katy and Simon’s enthusiastic endorsement. The Dartford program is demanding and rigorous, and the development of similar programs should be encouraged but is unlikely to be adopted for mass education. Pre-collegiate programs are unlikely to employ lots of Ph.D. Japan specialists; however, in the long run, they provide a potential source of employment for our students trained in undergraduate Japanese Studies programs. Although I am aware of university departments of East Asian Studies that have sought to work with local secondary schools to develop language and literature units, I have more on-the-job experience with and licensing as a social studies instructor. I limit my discussion to this field. Recent decades witnessed the growth of world history as a replacement for European history. The emphasis varies by state in the U.S. and will require advocacy and support from university faculty, since requirements for diplomas and entry into state collegiate institutions are typically the same. For example, North Carolina now requires one unit of World History, up from zero years ago. Ohio requires is implementing a program that decreases the requirement to ½ unit of World History. While none of these structures includes Japan-focused courses, instructors with Japan training have opportunities to expand the Japan elements in the course, sometime in a structured way, and sometimes through unscripted comparison with non-Japanese parts of the course. Additionally, there may well be opportunities to add elective courses that do focus on Japan. In these programs the presence of Japan specialists can, I believe, make a real difference. Why? Because the people who now instruct in these courses are highly likely to have had preparation based on American history and society or (less commonly?) European history. Previous forum responses expressed concerns about author’s competence to teach outside their own fields, but this stretch for pre-collegiate instructors goes beyond anything we have discussed so far. Japan specialists at least bring a heightened sensitivity to how differently other peoples can be from Americans. Further, and to put it a bit crudely, can we expect current staff to shill for Japanese Studies? To my mind, encouraging pre-collegiate education requirements such as World History and better training of teachers in elements of area studies represents one prospect to expand awareness of Japan and increase demands for our college level courses, however gradually the results may come.
As of 9:30PM EDT on June 14, 2020, the petition had 1,410 signatures. ↩