B.A. in Japanese

The postmodern Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Japan has a rich traditional culture dating back more than 1,500 years and a modern period distinguished by vigour and variety. In the Oxford B.A. course in Japanese, traditional and modern culture are studied both through Japanese language sources and the work of Western scholars. The B.A. Honours course in Japanese at Oxford is a four year course which aims:

  1. to give students a thorough grounding in modern written and spoken Japanese, and in the written classical language;
  2. to ensure that they have a good general knowledge of Japanese civilization, culture, history and society; and
  3. to allow them to do in-depth, specialised study from a wide range of possible options, including both classical and modern literature, linguistics, pre-modern and modern history, anthropology, politics, economics, and art.

Course Content

The Oxford BA course in Japanese is a four year course, including a compulsory year abroad in Japan in the second year. The course is comprehensive and demanding, revolving around intensive work on the written and spoken language through all four years, combined with both general and specialized study of Japanese culture, civilization and society. The language teaching takes place in classes and small groups and in language laboratories. It includes work conducted by experienced native speakers.

The first year is dedicated to intensive work on the Japanese languages and study of the history and culture of Japan, and East Asia in general. The classical written language is introduced in the first year (and will be studied in more detail in the third and fourth years of the course). At the end of the first year you will take Prelims which examines the language and history and culture work you have done during the first year.

The second year is spent abroad at Kobe University in Japan for continued extensive language study, combined with study of civilization, culture and history. For more information on the Year Abroad, please refer to this webpage.

In the third and fourth years the regular language work continues, including more detailed study of the classical language. An important part of the third and fourth years is that you will also do specialized work within subject areas chosen by yourself from a wide array of available options, including both classical and modern literature, linguistics, pre-modern and modern history, anthropology, politics, economics, and art. In the fourth year you also write a maximum 15,000 word dissertation on a subject of your own choice under supervision. At the end of the fourth year you will be examined in all the work you have done over the four years.

It is possible, and increasingly popular, to study an additional language (from Chinese, Korean, and Tibetan) in the third and fourth year of the course.

Employment Prospects

Employment prospects for graduates who wish to pursue a career connected with Japan are excellent. The Oxford degree in Japanese is not a vocational course in the sense that it equips the student for a certain type of career. The teachers of Japanese are more concerned that students should acquire an understanding of an unfamiliar, rich, and important culture and be able to communicate this understanding to others. Graduates pursue a variety of careers, from diplomacy and journalism to law and business. Students who achieve firsts or very good upper-second-class degrees may be accepted as graduates students for higher degrees.

Suggested Reading

It is always helpful to have done some preliminary reading of Western scholarly work on Japan before beginning the B.A. course, and the following book list suggests some introductory works

  • Frellesvig, B.: A history of the Japanese language (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Jansen, M.B.: The Making of Modern Japan (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000)
  • Pyle, K.B.: The Making of Modern Japan (Heath, 2nd ed. 1996)
  • Reischauer, E.O.: Japan: the story of a nation (Knopf, 3rd ed., 1981)
  • Reischauer, E.O.: Japan: Tradition and Transformation (Allen & Unwin, Rev.ed., 1989)
  • Reischauer, E.O.: The Japanese Today: change and continuity (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1988)
  • Sansom, G.B.: Japan: a Short Cultural History (Century Hutchinson, 1931)
  • Shibatani, M.: The languages of Japan (Cambridge University Press, 1990)
  • Storry, G.R.: A History of Modern Japan (Penguin, 1960)
  • Totman, C.: Japan Before Perry: a Short History (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1981)