What should be taught at Global Japan Studies Program?

Author : Professor Shigeto Sonoda (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia and Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, The University of Tokyo)

  In 2013, I had an opportunity to edit an introductory textbook entitled Understanding China: Textbook for Beginners which was published by Yūhikaku Publishers. One editor told me that “China’s global presence is increasingly apparent and accordingly the need for Japanese students to understand China is on the rise. Although more lectures are open in universities to have a deeper understanding of China, unfortunately there is no trustworthy textbook for beginners.” Taken in by these inviting words, I spent nearly one year designing the textbook together with other excellent China specialists and struggled through to its publication.
  An important point in editing the textbook was to identify what motivates the readers of the textbook to understand China. No matter how comprehensively we could cover China affairs, the mission of the textbook will not be realized unless it resonates with the reader. If it were to be simply explanations of phenomena, a dictionary would be sufficient and we have already excellent publications such as Encyclopedia of Modern China published by Iwanami Shoten Publishers. If we want to reach the readers, the textbook needs to have an attractive “story.”
  In order to increase attractiveness, we took into account the most basic questions beginners might have: 1) the question of “governance,” that is, how China with huge territory and large population is governed? 2) the question of “transformation,” or how society and politics are changing together with rapid economic growth? 3) the question of “international relations,” i.e. what kind of relationships China are creating with neighboring countries and international society? We wrote chapters so that students can think of the answers to these three questions.
  These are exactly the questions and concerns that Japanese beginners have about China. Then, do students born and educated in China have similar questions about politics and society of their own country? This question has directly to do with the problems Global Japan Studies is confronted with.
  Global Japan Studies Program bears the mission of establishing a new research field by promoting fruitful dialogues between Japan Studies overseas and studies on Japan in Japan. Looking at Japan from overseas, just like us looking at China from Japan, research will be naturally led by questions and concerns researchers have about Japan. “Japan Studies” in Japan, however, rather than looking at Japan as one entity, directly approaches to very specific issues of, for example, financial policy, aging society, internationalization, voting behavior, cultural representation of arts, and so on.
  Then, what sort of basic knowledge should be taught at Global Japan Studies Program for students both from Japan and from overseas in the program? When we try to compile a new textbook targeting these students, what editing guidelines should we follow? Most basically, what kind of questions do the students of Global Japan Studies Program have about Japan? Do students from Japan and those from overseas have different images and questions about Japan? If so, how should we make efforts to develop a pedagogy that overcomes such differences?
  These issues should be discussed at the administrative meetings of the Global Japan Studies Education Program. We cannot get an answer in a single day just like the publication of textbook on China took more than one year. Global Japan Studies Research Program is now planning to develop an international short-term education program from next year, and I’m sure that members of the research program will have to tackle same issues.
  What a heavy task we are shouldering!