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(Alternate title: JS1101E – Introduction to Japanese History and Culture)
As an Arts student, I had to clear the FER (Faculty Exposure Requirements), which is more commonly referred to as the ‘basket’ of modules that one can choose from. For the Asian Studies basket, I knew that Japanese Studies was the way to go despite other alternatives being present (such as Malay or South East Asian Studies) because I used to be a Japanophile and appreciated both the pop culture and political/economic realities of this unique country. A module focusing on the study of said country thus seemed apt.
What I expected
I didn’t know much about this module beforehand, so just going by the title and the short description made me think it was a bit about the history and current trends within Japan.
What I got
A lot of Japanese history and culture, with a smattering of material on contemporary Japanese society and economy. Not much, if I recall, was taught about Japanese politics, with the lecturer (Dr. Hislop) being obviously interested and passionate about teaching Japanese history, linguistics and culture, which also seems to be the areas he best specializes in.
The tutorial class I was in taught by Ms. Tanaka was not bad, with good discussion being done between groups as opposed to within groups. Tutorial time always felt short due to the considerable number of questions raised and answered, and the tutor is clearly knowledgeable about both Japanese history, culture and current Japanese society.
From the course, one learns not just about the historical origins of Japan up till the present through various periods, but also gains an appreciation of various facets of Japanese culture that are often overlooked in favour of pop culture, such as Nou Dramas and how stories were chanted in the past. Marginalized groups within society are also examined along with the Japanese economic miracle following World War 2. Expect several lectures devoted solely to the history and culture of Japan.
[Webcasted?] Afaik, nope.
[Course Materials?] Readings from a purchasable course pack, nothing too heavy. I heard course pack isn’t reused so no point buying from seniors.
Assessment & Workload
One is assessed as follows:
- Tutorial and online forum participation. Tutorial participation is not too difficult, but online forum participation involves the creation of new topics/threads of discussion within the appropriate forum. One can also participate in threads created by others if it is on a topic they are interested in. This online forum participation strongly emphasizes quality posts over quantitative posting, so a good post would be one’s viewpoint followed by citations (I kid you not) at the end of the post to back up one’s claim or refute another person’s points. Almost like a mini-essay.
- Group Paper. One has to form a group with others and write a paper about any topic they want, with the addition of every group member increasing the minimum word count by 1000. That is to say, it begins at 2000 for a group of two and increases up till a maximum of 5000 words for a group of five. A manageable (though not easy) task to be completed if one has good group members.
- Semester Finals. 50 MCQ questions that test everything taught within the course as well as readings and even the movie shown in the last couple of lectures. Can be quite tricky at times, so don’t expect to get a perfect score.
The workload for the course is mainly in the Group Paper, for weekly readings are very, very light and will only take about an hour at maximum. Tutorial preparation will take up to 30 minutes at max, so one could conceivably spend an hour and a half each week clearing up the minimum content requirements for this course.
The writing of the Group Paper and research, formulation and submission for online forum participation will take easily two to three hours though, so one should keep that in mind. Workload increases towards the end of the semester once one can began writing the Group Paper.
After receiving a B for the Group Project but having actively participated in tutorials, I expected a B+ for this module.
Apparently the finals had a rather high weightage, for I got an A-. A pleasant surprise.
Conclusion & Tips
This module’s recommended for those that are interested in Japan’s history and culture, but perhaps not so much for those looking for a course teaching the current trends within Japan. Of course, proficiency in the Japanese language is not required for one to take, or even excel, in this course: it imparts no other benefit that one could not otherwise obtain without knowing Japanese.
With a workload that increases as the semester progresses, it can at times feel tedious spending late nights working on the Group Project Paper. Still, the content and workload is about par for an introductory module, and Japanophiles, even the pop culture ones, should take this module in order to enrich their understanding of this strange, and at times quirky, country.
- Draft, review, consult. If you are under the same tutor that taught me (Ms. Tanaka), she is very helpful in reviewing early drafts of what you want your group paper to be on. Come up with a few topics and see what she thinks of it: doing so could very well steer you away from popular, but poorly researchable topics that will not bode well for your grade. Once you have received her input on a few topics, discuss with your group the ones that they are interested in, and try to craft the paper in a way that best uses your group’s strengths to meet the style favoured by her. She is, after all, the one grading your paper, and following her advice would be beneficial.
- I would recommend posting more online threads for online participation early in the course before the workload gets heavier due to the group paper. Trying to study for finals while researching viewpoints and finding sources for the online participation is not the best idea.