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BA Film Studies and East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Modern and Contemporary Japan: Social Dynamics

Unit code JAPA20122
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Japanese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course explores key aspects of contemporary Japanese society in some depth. Themes examined will include the world of work; politics and governance; Japan and the outside world; and minorities and immigration.

  • The world of work deals with work, lifecourse and identity, examining the organization, and experience of work in large and small organizations. It explores the shaping of life and identity by work, as well as the place of culture and ideology in Japan’s working world.
  • Politics, governance and disorder looks at the structure and dynamics of governance, politics, and civil society in Japan, asking how well Japan’s political structures and practices serve the Japanese people. We also examine how order and conflict are negotiated in Japanese society, and consider crime and attempts to deal with it in Japan.
  • Japan and the outside world explores ways in which Japanese identities have been constructed and contested, especially in relation to the world outside Japan. It considers the uses that have been made of history and tradition in these processes, and examines nationalism and other ways of imagining Japan’s place in the world.
  • Minorities and migrants examines the worlds of social and ethnic minorities in contemporary Japan. It considers the lives of people belonging to minority groups, whether Japan can be called a multicultural or multiethnic society, and current debates within Japan about immigration.


Available on which programme(s)?

Japanese Studies (Single Honours) and Joint Honours programmes including Japanese.



  • Provide students with an in-depth understanding of key aspects of contemporary Japanese society and culture.
  • Introduce major concepts necessary for the understanding of contemporary Japan.
  • Provide an understanding of selected key problems faced by contemporary Japan, and the structures, practices and dynamics that underlie and inform these problems.
  • Enable students to analyse problems and dynamics in contemporary Japan in an informed and critical way.

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture classes will set out the key issues and provide fundamental information, while indicating means of understanding and interpreting the subjects treated. Seminars will be used to consider key issues and reading in greater depth. Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings.

The course unit will provide information and guidance to at least Blackboard minimum requirements. PowerPoint slides used in lectures and as many readings for seminars and essays as copyright law allows will be made available via Blackboard.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of major features of modern and contemporary Japanese society and social dynamics.
  • Demonstrate critical understanding of key analytical concepts related to the study of Japanese society.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Articulate critical analysis of modern and contemporary Japanese society and culture.
  • Engage in critical reading and discussion of academic writing on modern and contemporary Japanese society and culture.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • use library, electronic, and online resources.
  • Organise notes derived from lectures, seminars, and reading.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • engage in well-reasoned presentation, discussion and argument;
  • demonstrate personal qualities of independence of mind in order to make ethical judgements;
  • confront their own values as global citizens.

Assessment methods

  • Assessment task

    Formative or Summative


    Weighting within unit

    Written final examination


    3 hours


    Coursework essay

    (Students can receive formative advice on a full or partial draft/plan of their essay, submitted by the set deadline for the draft)

    Summative (option for additional formative assessment)

    2500 words




    Assessment task


    Written examination



    (to be stipulated as appropriate by the CUD)

    3 hours


    2500 words


Feedback methods


Feedback Method

Formative or Summative

Oral comments on optional essay draft/plan

Written comments on coursework essay

Students are also welcome to come to see the teacher to discuss their essay assignments and comments on them, once the essay has been returned to them, on the understanding that this de-anonymises the marking.


Written comments on final examination

All feedback will be returned within the time limits specified in the relevant Faculty and SALC feedback policies.


Formative and summative









Recommended reading

Thomas P. Rohlen. 1974. For Harmony and Strength: Japanese White-Collar Organization in Anthropological Perspective. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Dorinne K. Kondo. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gerald Curtis. 1971. Election Campaigning Japanese Style. New York: Columbia University Press.

Harumi Befu. 2001. Hegemony of Homogeneity: An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.

Mike Douglass and Glenda Roberts. (Eds.) 2003. Japan and Global Migration: Foreign Workers and the Advent of a Multicultural Society. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Cave Unit coordinator

Additional notes


The course will develop a range of abilities that are essential for much higher-level employment. These include gathering, critically selecting, and organizing information and ideas; analytical, critical thinking; interpreting and assessing sources; articulating coherent, logical and convincing arguments and supporting them by relevant evidence; articulate participation in oral discussion; working independently and to deadlines. In addition, it will develop critical understanding of a different society, which is valuable for employment with an international dimension. It will develop understanding of a number of key aspects of Japanese society which will be invaluable for those seeking employment in Japan or seeking employment where engagement with Japan is important.



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