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Manga, anime help boost Japanese studies at Britain's universities - From London

Sep 03, 2010


By William Hollingworth

More people in Britain are applying to study Japanese at university because of the popularity of contemporary Japanese culture, academics say.

In the 1980s, the prime reason for learning Japanese was business. But today’s reasons are more diverse.

Many people are choosing the subject because of their interest in modern-day aspects of Japan such as manga or comics, anime, design and fashion, not to mention J-pop and Xbox video game booms. Various martial arts also act as a powerful magnet.

But academics also believe the growing number of children learning Japanese at school, which is estimated to be around 10,000, is also spurring interest.

Mark Williams, president of the British Association of Japanese Studies, says demand is rising year upon year from people wishing to study the language and culture. For example, applications have more than doubled from 532 in 2002 to 1,126 in 2007.

Williams, a professor of Japanese studies at Leeds University, also notes that the recovery of the Japanese economy is a factor as well as the growing number of schoolchildren taking the subject.

Nearly half of those applying for Japanese courses at universities already have some Japanese language ability. Added to this, there are increasing numbers of graduates who spend a few years teaching English in Japan and want to continue their study of the country after they return home.

But despite the growth in applications, all is not well in Japanese departments.

Over the last 10 years, a number have closed and there have been cutbacks in others. Japanese is more expensive to teach than other subjects. It attracts fewer students and the ratio of teachers to pupils is higher. Many fear the drive for efficiency will eventually lead to just a few large departments.

This contraction in supply has come about despite the growth in applications and has led to greater demand at the more established centers of Japanese studies, such as Leeds.

To try and remedy the situation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and the Nippon Foundation have just created 13 new research and teaching posts that will focus on contemporary Japan.

Ian Reader is a professor of Japanese studies at Manchester University. His department will benefit from one of the new posts. The new lecturer is expected to work on the translation of Japanese as used in several different media and social contexts, including the Internet.

Nicola Liscutin, a lecturer in Japanese studies at London University, will be using money from the foundations to create a post examining Japan’s creative industries, including manga, anime and design. The researcher will also be examining how Japan portrays the West, and vice-versa, through several different media.

Chief Executive of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation Stephen McEnally said a number of applicants to Japanese studies courses are drawn by the ‘’Cool Japan'’ image, such as manga, anime, fashion, cutting-edge design, and not necessarily by the traditional image of sumo, geisha and shrines. But that is only part of the reason why Japanese remains popular as a degree subject.

He said the creation of the new posts will help to furnish a new generation of Japan experts, as well as broaden and deepen the courses universities can offer.


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