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Course and Year Abroad

The BA in Japanese Studies

The BA in Japanese Studies at Cambridge is a single-subject course and may not normally be taken in combination with another subject. Much of the first year focuses on the detailed study of modern spoken and written Japanese.This attention to language study continues throughout your four years. The learning curve here is steep and we deliberately set a fast pace. As a result, by the end of your first year you will be able to read some short stories in Japanese. Using Japanese for primary research during your year abroad will also increase your fluency markedly. By the end of four years you will have the satisfaction of being able to manage Japanese reading and writing at a high level. You will be able to read Japanese novels and newspapers, hold conversations on both everyday and specialised topics, and write your own compositions in Japanese.

Admission Requirements
students Ollie Preston and Zoe Lin

Both Japanese and Chinese are taught from scratch at Cambridge, so the course requires no prior knowledge of either language. A GCSE or A-level in an East Asian language will give a good indication of your motivation and commitment to the subject, but it is not a requirement. We have found that scientists and mathematicians often do well at the subject, as language learning requires a logical mind. The course comprises a wide range of cultural, historical, and literary papers that require analytical skills beyond basic language training.

We advise applicants wishing to take Japanese at A-level to do so only as one out of four A-level subjects, bearing in mind that the balance of admission is likely to depend on performance in the other three A-level examinations. It is more important to do some exploratory reading about Japan, which will make it much easier for you to assimilate the enormous amount of information with which you will be presented in your first year.

If your application is successful, do be aware that you will be expected to have already mastered both the hiragana and the katakana writing systems before the start of your first term in Cambridge.

Please note that the BA in Japanese Studies is not suitable for native speakers.

The Tripos System

The course is four years in duration, and is divided into two parts.  Part I, lasting two years, will provide you with a thorough grounding in reading, writing, and speaking modern Japanese and in Japanese and East Asian history from ancient to modern times.

You may only study Japanese as a single subject for the first two years of your degree course (Part I). In years three and four, you may continue to study it as a single subject, or in combination with Chinese (see ‘Combining Japanese with another language’ below).

The Tripos system also allows you to change subject after completing Part I. In recent years, some of our undergraduates have changed to Modern Languages, Archaeology, Law, and Social and Political Sciences.

The Supervision System

One of the distinctive strengths of Cambridge teaching is the supervision system, in which you have the opportunity to test out your ideas with a member of academic staff. We see this as a critical part of the pedagogical process, and expect you to participate in a genuine dialogue in which you should feel free to challenge us as much as we, inevitably, will challenge you. In the first year you will have supervisions for your language and history papers, usually in pairs or small groups.

First Year (Part IA)

During your first year, you will take the following compulsory language modules: Modern Japanese 1, Japanese Grammar and Translation, and Modern Japanese texts. You will also follow the Introduction to East Asian History, a course taken by all students studying Japanese and Chinese, which covers the history of China, Japan and Korea. Finally, you will prepare for an examination in spoken Japanese.

The course consists of lectures, seminars, workshop sessions, plus visits to the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Needham Research Centre. 

Second Year (Part IB)

In the second year, you have the flexibility to focus your studies in a particular direction, when you select two out of four specialised courses: the options are chosen from courses in politics, sociology, literature and culture, classical Japanese and the cinema of East Asia. Language training continues throughout this year, but at a less intensive level than in the first year. You will also be reading Japanese texts and raising your level of reading ability as well as following a course on the modern history of Japan.

During the second year, you will take the following compulsory modules: Modern Japanese 2, Modern Japanese Texts 2, Japanese History; plus two of the following: Literary Japanese*, Japanese Literary Modernity*, Japanese Society*, Japanese Politics*, Cinema East, Structure and Meanings (from the Modern and Medieval Languages Tripos).

* Denotes papers where at least one must be chosen.

Please note that the Faculty reserves the right to suspend any elective paper in a given academic year. Core papers will not be suspended.

Third Year (Part II: Year Abroad)The Sanriku Coast of Iwate, Japan, photo by Brigitte Steger

If you read Japanese as a single subject you will be required to spend at least eight months in Japan during your third year, usually at Doshisha University in Kyoto. Students who wish to make their own arrangements for the year abroad need to ensure that there is a structured language-learning component and will need to get Faculty Board approval for their plans.

The object of the year abroad is to increase fluency and understanding of the language, and to provide the opportunity to start work on a dissertation, which must show evidence of a substantial use of Japanese language sources, whether oral or textual.

For more information about the year abroad click here

If you opt to combine Japanese and Chinese Studies in your third and fourth years (Part II), you must be resident in Cambridge throughout and, therefore, do not have a year abroad.

Fourth Year (Part II: Dissertation and Finals)

Your final year comprises further advanced-level language work, two special papers in fields of your interest, and writing a dissertation in close consultation with your supervisor. The range of special papers available varies from year to year, but they usually include options in the modern politics and international relations of East Asia, Korean language, and Japanese society.

The annual dissertation workshop is one of the highlights of the year for our undergraduates. It is usually held towards the end of February and it gives the graduating fourth year students a chance to present the research they have been doing for their dissertations. It also gives first and second year students an opportunity to find out about this important part of their course.

In 2013 graduating students presented in a range of topics. Students talked about humour and wit in the Kokon chomonjû, the tea ceremony in the 16th century, and jazz in wartime Japan. Others discussed film, popular culture, dieting and body image in contemporary Japan, as well as political issues related to rural depopulation and the dispute over the Senkaku islands.

Combining Japanese with another language

It is possible to study both Japanese and Chinese at Cambridge, but only by taking Part I Japanese followed by Part I Chinese or vice-versa. You cannot study the two languages concurrently. If you take this option, you will not have a year abroad. Instead, you will be resident in Cambridge in your third year, studying basic Chinese.

You are advised to put only one language as the subject on your application form, irrespective of whether you plan to do the combination in your third and fourth years at Cambridge. As you might expect, mastering two demanding Asian languages is no small achievement and we generally recommend this option only for students with particularly strong linguistic aptitude or those who may have had extensive prior exposure to one of the two languages before arriving at Cambridge.

Japanese Studies students who are interested in the Korean language can take a paper in Korean in their fourth year.