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The PhD in Japanese Studies

Cambridge has superb resources for research in Japanese Studies, from unrivalled collections in the University Library and the Fitzwilliam Museum to research staff with global reputations. Over the decades since Japanese Studies started at Cambridge in 1947 there has been a growing number of PhD students and many have gone on to publish their dissertations and to secure academic posts.

Current students are researching topics that range from seasonal labour migration in Japan to the Shingon temple complex Kyasan in the medieval period, from political satire in 18th-century Japan to proletarian women's writing from the period of the Japanese occupation of Korea, and from Japanese foreign policy in Central Asia to the history of medicine in Japan.


As a minimum requirement, if you are hoping to do PhD work at Cambridge you will need to satisfy the Faculty that you have a strong foundation in the Japanese language and a clear idea of the research you propose to undertake. The doctorate is not a taught course. The topic should be in a subject area which a member of staff can realistically supervise, but all enquiries are welcome and students are advised to write to a potential supervisor in the first instance to discuss their research proposal. Formal application is made to the Board of Graduate Studies, and the Faculty’s Degree Committee makes recommendations. Students who are accepted are assigned to one of the Cambridge colleges, which can usually provide some accommodation. Colleges also offer a place to socialize, and exchange ideas with graduate students in other disciplines.

The PhD degree involves writing a thesis which should not exceed 80,000 words exclusive of footnotes and bibliography. The overall word limit is 100,000 words, exclusive of bibliography. PhD students must meet a residence requirement of no fewer than three terms at Cambridge and are expected to meet the cost of nine terms of study irrespective of where they reside. 

As a graduate student you are allocated a supervisor, who will meet regularly with you and monitor your progress. At the end of your first year of research you are required to submit a PhD Progress Examination. This usually consists of two long essays, one of a bibliographical nature and the other a substantial piece of work based on the first year's research. Once you have passed the PhD Progress Examination you are formally registered for the PhD degree.

The second and third years are spent in research and writing. It is expected that the dissertation will be completed by the end of your third year. It should be emphasized that there is no course work at any stage: you are expected to devote your time to research in your chosen field. It is for this reason that the period of time spent acquiring a PhD at Cambridge is comparatively short. In addition to your supervisor, the various members of staff are available for conversation, exchanging ideas, and advice.