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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


Dissertation (50 per cent of the grade) 

In their dissertation, students will be required to demonstrate research competence using Japanese-language sources, and to conduct research that addresses contemporary and/or historical issues of relevance to Japan. Prospective students are asked to contact potential supervisors before applying to Cambridge to ensure that an appropriate supervisor is available.

One-on-one supervisions will be held by the main supervisors and will take place typically at the beginning of the academic year and in the Easter term. In addition, the required Researcher Development Seminar (JM.1) will help to guide students through the research process.

Three papers (50 per cent of the grade)

Each of the three papers (a paper is an exam for which teaching is provided) is assessed either by a research essay of maximum 5,000 words or an alternative exercise agreed by the Degree Committee and counts for one sixth of the total grade (ie 16.67 per cent).

Please note that papers are usually only offered if there are at least two takers. Modules offered vary according to the staff available each academic year and the interests of students. Additional papers may be introduced. Please consult your potential supervisor to discuss the options available.

Theories and Methodologies in Japanese Studies JM.1 (required)

This is held by all the supervisors of the MPhil pathway and external teachers, and is convened by Professor Barak Kushner.

The theory and methodology seminar meets throughout the first two terms, connecting Japanese studies to various disciplinary approaches and theories. Students will also receive training on sources and resources, library searches, academic writing, analysis and presentation skills, writing a research proposal or grant application, career planning etc, and will have opportunities to engage in peer review as they present their dissertation proposals.

Two from the following four groups of papers (A–D):

A: Graduate papers in Japanese Studies

Teaching provision: 16 sessions of two hours per academic year.

Historical Narratives of Ancient and Medieval Japan

This paper offers graduate students an opportunity to critique and analyse Japanese narratives of the pre-1600 era and to work directly with primary sources. Students will initially be introduced to sources, methods, approaches and tools used by scholars in the field of pre-modern Japanese history and will subsequently read and interpret a variety of pre-modern Japanese sources, working towards an independent translation and analysis.

New Approaches in Early-modern Japanese Literature

This paper explores Japanese early-modern literature by taking graduate students beyond the limited canon normally discussed in literary histories to date. Students will be trained in how to access, decode, describe and analyse a wide range of primary sources in their original format. This will allow reflections on publishing genres, themes and issues in the field of early-modern Japanese literature that remain under-researched to date. The paper is taught in seminar format over two terms. The assessment takes the form of an essay where the student analyses and contextualises a set of sources chosen by the student.

Asia in Theory (This course has limited enrolment)

This paper consists of weekly seminars in Michaelmas and Lent terms, each of which focuses on a particular type of theory and its relevance to the study of East Asia. Topics covered include Michel Foucault, the nation, gender, modernity and recent developments in historiography.

B: Advanced research seminar papers in Japanese Studies (maximum one of these papers)

Supervision for all papers in group B: one short one-on-one discussion about the mini dissertation in Michaelmas term, and a one-on-one supervision in Lent term.

J.14 Classical Japanese Texts

This is a language-based paper for which you will read a variety of pre-modern and early-modern texts, thereby providing an opportunity to explore a range of topics related, more or less directly, to pre-Meiji Japan (eg intralingual translation, parody, national identity, news, popular medicine, popular Buddhism, humour, visual culture, graphic prose, etc). The topic (or topics), and consequently the choice of the primary sources, is decided in consultation with students as the aim is to accommodate individual research interests. If you are planning to write a dissertation that deals with the Meiji or pre-Meiji period, you will find this paper extremely useful as it will help you acquire the necessary skills for reading primary sources. It will also enable you to consolidate and extend your knowledge of modern Japanese as a result of extensive reading of secondary sources in Japanese on the topic(s). This paper requires previous knowledge of classical Japanese, obtained either by having taken Literary Japanese (see language options) or simply by having studied and mastered Haruo Shirane’s Classical Japanese (2005).

J.15 Modern Japanese Cultural History

This seminar-style paper will explore specific facets, approaches and methodologies of modern and contemporary works of Japanese literature and culture. Topics may vary from year to year, but will generally cover a range of works that have been produced within contexts deemed ‘other’ or marginal vis-à-vis the mainstream, and will pay particular attention to issues of social, gendered, and ethnic difference that these works present. Informed by feminist, postcolonial, and translational approaches, this course aims to broaden your awareness of the kinds of texts produced in Japanese. Moreover, by drawing on key concepts and works of literary criticism, this course aims to hone your critical reading skills and enable you to engage with key questions pertaining to identity and difference in the study of a non-western literature. Taught in Michaelmas and Lent Total of 32 seminars and 2 supervisions

J.16 Topics in Pre-modern Japanese History (Professor Adolphson)

This advanced seminar-based course will explore approaches to and topics in recent scholarship of pre-modern Japanese history. The focus may vary from year to year but the coverage will sample Japanese and some English-language scholarship from early history to the late Tokugawa period. The focus will be on the critical reading of a variety of narratives, which will be discussed during our weekly meetings. Students will also develop their analytical skills, write brief reports, and work on their presentation skills. Taught in Michaelmas, Lent and Easter

J.17 Topics in Modern Japanese History (Professor Kushner)

This course focusses on the process of '"de-imperialization" and reorder of East Asia following the end of the war and surrender of Japan's empire in August 1945. How did power and authority in postwar East Asia transform and what forces shaped the regional postwar hierarchy when Japanese power and command dissolved? How were political and social stability re-established and within what framework, employing what ideology to gain public support? This is a discussion-based seminar that meets in 2-hour sessions for 16 weeks across the three terms allowing students enough time to prepare readings and work on their projects. The meetings will begin with a critical summary of the reading by one or two students, who will also offer a supplemental bibliography of western language readings relevant to the theme. This duty will rotate among students in the seminar.

J.19 Contemporary Japanese Society

This is an advanced seminar-based course focusing on contemporary Japanese society. The focus will vary from year to year, and will cover issues such as learning and education, family, time, space and gender, investigating these topics from a wide range of angles. In each instance the emphasis will be on situating the study of Japan within the disciplinary context of social anthropology and sociology. In the academic year 2018-19 the topic is ‘Religion in Japanese Daily Life’. The course is aimed at deepening students’ understanding of selected aspects of Japanese society as well as developing research and writing skills. It will involve working with both secondary and primary source materials (in Japanese). Taught in Michaelmas, Lent and Easter Total of 14 two-hour seminars and 2-4 supervisions.

J.20 Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture

This seminar-style paper explores facets of classical, medieval and/or early modern literature and culture. The topics and the genres covered may vary from year to year, but we will generally focus on early modern prose that challenge our understanding of literature and the literary. Attention will be given to issues that include the epistemic function of literature, intertextuality, multimodality, humour, and storyworlds among others. While gaining solid knowledge about the historical development of specific genres of early modern prose and reading a wide variety of primary sources in translation, this paper trains students to challenge claims made by secondary literature and fosters reflection on important methodological issues that apply to the study of written texts regardless of culture and epoch.

EAS.2 The East Asian Region

This seminar-based course employs a comparative approach. It concentrates on thematic and policy issues relevant to understanding Japan, the Korean peninsula, China (broadly defined) and Southeast Asia, as well as the role of the United States in East Asia. The course runs over two terms and draws explicitly on historical research and social science methodology in addressing how best to conceptualise ‘East Asia’ as a region. Topics addressed will vary from year to year, depending on the research interests of the teaching officers involved, but an indicative list of subjects would include some, but not necessarily all, of the following issues: the Cold War as a historical phenomenon; conflict and war in East Asia and contemporary security challenges; comparative models of economic development in East Asia and the role of "plan-rational" policy-making; the role of the nation-state and competing models of historical identity; multilateralism, the emergence of trans-national actors and economic integration in East Asia; political legitimacy, contrasting models of authoritarian rule, and democratisation as a political movement; demographic change; energy and environmental policy and technological change.

C: Language options (maximum one of these papers)

All the papers in group C are also offered to undergraduate students. Please contact the teacher of the paper to make sure that the level is appropriate for you. No supervisions (one-on-one classes) are given, as classes provide all the necessary support.

Modern Japanese Texts

This paper consists of reading texts in advanced modern Japanese with attention given not only to grammar and syntax but also to context. Supplementary reading will also be expected.

J.7 Literary Japanese

An introduction to the grammar of literary pre-modern Japanese, followed by readings of simple prose and poetry. Intermediate Japanese ability is required. This is an introduction to the world of pre-modern and early-modern written Japanese. We will read a variety of primary sources, beginning with the Edo period (graphic prose, humorous prose, didactic prose) and working backwards through the Muromachi period (otogizōshi), the Kamakura period (Tsurezuregusa and Hōjōki) to the Heian period (Ise monogatari and/or Genji monogatari and waka poetry). You will gain an in-depth knowledge of Japanese classical grammar that will enable you to read texts produced up to the 1910s, while developing an understanding of pre-Meiji culture and literature (both learned and popular). You will also receive instruction on translating literary texts into English and have a chance to practice translation from classical Japanese into contemporary Japanese, thus helping to improve your modern Japanese language skills. For further details about this paper, examples of classes/supervisions and comments by former students, please browse the website.

C.3 / 6 / 13 Classical and Literary Chinese

Grammar and text reading classes at beginners, intermediate, and advanced level covering a variety of genres across different time periods.

K.1 Readings in Elementary Korean

This course will cover the basic grammar of modern written Korean with a view to developing reading fluency. Students will mainly be reading materials in hangul script, but some texts in mixed script (with Chinese characters) will also be used.

D: Theory and methods, papers borrowed from other FAMES MPhil pathways or other faculties (maximum one of these courses)

Papers in the discipline related to the research topic of the dissertation. These papers will be mainly borrowed from other faculties, eg Anthropology, Literature Studies, History, Politics, Gender Studies. Please note that borrowing papers from other faculties needs to be negotiated and approved by the Degree Committee. If you are interested in taking a paper offered by another faculty, please contact your prospective supervisor as soon as you have been offered a place.

KM1 Modern Korean History (borrowed from FAMES MPhil Korean Studies pathway) *New Paper 2021-22

This seminar focuses on Korean history from ca. 1800 onward. It will allow students to develop an understanding of the major scholarly trends on this period as well as the most prominent debates surrounding Korea’s past. Hence, particular emphasis will be put on how Korean history has been written (historiography) and remembered (historical memory) by various parties, including Koreans and non-Koreans as well as scholars and non-scholars. Students are asked to critically engage with existing scholarship and develop their own perspectives. In addition, the paper will help students with their own independent research by introducing them to a range of primary sources (in English, but also Korean and other languages if students desire) as well as the most prominent archives and online resources used by scholars of Korean history. Students will also be asked to directly confront primary sources and evaluate how others have understood and employed them.