Asian Studies

Investigating cultures, concepts and student experiences of Japanese Studies in the UK

What is Japanese Studies? How do we do it and why? And what are we hoping to achieve?

Principal Investigator
Dr Chris Perkins

‘Investigating cultures, concepts and student experiences of Japanese Studies in the UK’ is a two-year project funded by the British Association for Japanese Studies.

Teaching in Japanese Studies – and indeed any subject area – is very often something that simply happens; the reasons for why it happens in a particular way, what the intended outcomes are, and how it all fits together to form a cohesive whole are often taken for granted.  This is no surprise.  As academics we have already been socialised into our respective disciplines through a long process of apprenticeship.  Those what, why and how questions have, for the most part, melted into the background of day-to-day teaching and research.  But for students, the discipline of Japanese Studies is entirely new terrain. To help them navigate this terrain, we as practitioners must have a clear sense of what it is we do, how we do it, and why it is important.  We quite rightly see our degrees programmes as academics. But we also need to be able to see them like students. 

Recent developments in Education Studies methodology have given us the tools to lift the lid on the black box of teaching and student experience in higher education.  Pioneering work on ‘Ways of Thinking and Practising’ (WTP) has highlighted the importance of understanding cultures, values, ways of acting, and ways of communicating associated with the practice of disciplines in particular departmental contexts, arguing that all these different aspects come together to inform students’ sense of identity and belonging at the university.  Meanwhile, work on ‘threshold concepts’  and ‘troublesome knowledge’ has drawn attention to ideas, techniques and concepts within disciplines that, while important for academic development, can provoke in students resistance and anxiety.

It is clear that the twin goals of cohesive degree programme development and fostering undergraduate inclusion in academic communities cannot be achieved without adequate understanding of both the WTP and threshold concepts associated with a particular discipline.  However, the interdisciplinarity of Japanese Studies represents a particular challenge in this regard. Japanese Studies is ambiguous and diffuse, and apparently without the particular sets of well-defined methods, theories and questions found in other disciplines. And although this heterogeneity within the subject area is one of its greatest strengths, the vast array of approaches makes many demands of students in terms of language skills, breadth of academic engagement, and interdisciplinary awareness. 

The goal of this project is therefore to understand and explore the range of socialization processes in different Japanese Studies departments across the country by investigating threshold concepts and departmental WTP from the perspectives of both practitioners and students. Finally, although an investigation into Japanese Studies, this project will allow us to draw conclusions for the wider field of Area Studies and therefore make a valuable, evidenced based contribution to the ongoing global discussion on the role of Area Studies in higher education. 

British Association of Japanese Studies