Japanese Society II: Contemporary Japan
Instructor: Robert Croker
The purpose of this course is to provide a broad overview of life in Japan in the early twenty-first
century. The course focuses on socialization or ‘processes of becoming,’ such as how a child learns to
‘become Japanese’ at home and at pre-school, the educational and social processes that shape a young
person’s life, the daily lives of Japanese youth, and how Japanese people learn to play ‘appropriate’
roles as ‘shakai-jin’. It also explores how gender is ‘performed’ in Japan, detours into popular culture,
and then focuses upon cultural diversity in Japan before concluding with a look at the experiences of
becoming old in the world’s oldest society. By the end of the course, you should have developed a deep
sense of what life is like in contemporary Japan.
At the beginning of each class, the instructor will provide a short overview lecture about that
week’s topic, augmented by video and other visual media; occasionally, guest speakers will also come
in to talk about their field. Then, in small groups of three or four students, each of you will lead a
discussion about one reading that you have read for homework and prepared a summary of; you will
also participate in discussions lead by other students about their readings. Japanese students will join
us each week as ‘cultural guides’ to share their perspectives and to answer your questions about
contemporary Japanese culture and society. At the end of each class there will be a class discussion or
debate. Occasional fieldtrips will also be organized to see interesting local festivals; joining these
fieldtrips is optional but recommended. Your thoughtful, active participation throughout the course is
You will understand:
how Japanese people learn to ‘become Japanese’
how Japanese people ‘perform’ being Japanese
underlying cultural understandings, expectations and beliefs
basic sociological and anthropological theories of society and culture
the cultural diversity of Japan
1. Life cycle rituals in Japan – from before birth to long after death (Jan 31)
2. Seasonal and other rituals in Japan – a peek into modern life (Feb 14)
3. exploring diversity in Japan – a Japanese culture or Japanese cultures? (Feb 15)
4. becoming Japanese at home – experiencing amae in the uchi (Feb 21)
5. becoming Japanese at pre-school and primary school – learning (to be) in a group (Feb 28)
6. being a Japanese student – high school chigoku, university tengoku (Mar 7)
7. becoming a Japanese youth – developing fashionable passivity (Mar 14)
8. modern female life – (un)bounded by tradition (Mar 28)
9. modern male life – corporate warriors in the (1LDK) kitchen (Apr 4)
10. performing gender – Takarazuka and boso-zoku (Apr 11)
12. becoming old in Japan – gateball and diapers (Apr 25)
13. final written examination (May 9)
Study Time (outside class):
To prepare for each class, read one of the assigned readings and create a summary and discussion
points or questions – failure to do so will be considered an absence, as you have a responsibility to the
other members of your discussion group to be fully prepared.
At the end of the semester, prepare for the final written test.
The readings for each week are provided the week before, and are also available on the class
homepage. Each reading is about one chapter long, but some are longer for those students who are
very interested in a particular topic. There are both ‘core’ readings and additional, optional readings.
Here is a short list of some of the texts used, many of these books are also in the Nanzan Libary:
Allison, A. (2013). Precarious Japan: Chronicles of the New World Encounter. Durham, NC: Duke
Bestor, V., Bestor, T. C., Yamagata, A. (2011). Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society.
Bondy, C. (2015). Voice, Silence, and the Self: Negotiations of Buraku Identity in Contemporary Japan.
Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.
Hankins, J. D. (2014). Working Skin: Making Leather, Making a Multicultural Japan. Oakland: University
of California Press.
Holloway, S. D. (2010). Women and Family in Contemporary Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Kawano, S. (2005). Ritual Practice in Modern Japan: Ordering Place, People, and Action. Honolulu:
University of Hawai’i Press.
Kawano, S., Roberts, G. S., & Long, S. O. (2014). Capturing Contemporary Japan: Differentiation and
Uncertainty. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Kingston, J. (Ed.). (2013). Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan. London: Routledge.
Mathews, G., & White, B. (Eds.). (2004). Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New
Society? London: Routledge.
Steger, B., & Kock, A. (Eds.). (2012). Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy. Zurich: Lit Verlag.
Sugimoto, Y. (2014). An Introduction to Japanese Society (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University
Traphagan, J. (2000). Taming Oblivion: Aging Bodies and the Fear of Senility in Japan, Boke and the
Disembodiement of Social Values. State University of New York Press
Weekly reading discussion points and questions 50% (10 readings, 5% each)
Final written examination 50% (May 8)
Other Prerequisites: Ability to read academic English. Final written examination can be written in
English or Japanese.
Audit: Permitted with permission from the instructor.
Language Used in Class: Principally English, but some groups choose to discuss in Japanese.