6 reasons to major in Japanese studies at UCI

Studying Japan will broaden your understanding of the world and your career opportunities

By Desiree Leong

A collage featuring a map of Japan, a Buddha statue, a fox mask, a red gate and a poster for an anime movie

From anime and technology to art and international relations, Japanese studies incorporates a large number of topics. After taking my first Japanese language course for the School of Humanities’ Language Other than English requirement, I added a Japanese studies minor. I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture, but this class turned my interest into a passion. While many of UCI’s Japanese-focused courses are taught by faculty in the Department of East Asian Studies, the School of Humanities at UCI also offers classes on Japanese topics in other departments. For example, I’m currently taking a course on anime, taught by a professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies, and am planning on taking an art history class on Tokyo!

Below, scholars within UCI’s School of Humanities explain how Japanese studies can broaden students’ intellectual and career horizons:

  1. Japanese studies enrich your cultural understanding of the world.
    “Japan is the world’s 3rd largest economy and 4th largest trading partner for the U.S. The country not only has an enormous impact on the economy, but its unique culture also attracts people all around the world. Japan merges rich traditions, cutting-edge technology and pop-culture to create a dynamic culture of its own. It is known for its natural beauty, world heritage sites, martial arts, and refined manners and politeness. At the same time, the nation is at the forefront of state-of-the-art technology in cars, bullet trains, and robotics. Japan also exports pop culture products such as anime, games and fashion. There is no doubt that learning Japanese will enrich your life and lead you to becoming a global citizen.”

    — Ayako Nagai, lecturer of Japanese
  2. Fluency in Japanese will help your resume stand out.
    “Knowledge of the Japanese language is useful in all industries. The top companies in Japan all require level-one language skills for non-Japanese speakers because the Japanese language itself is necessary to communicate and to be able to read and write all the documents in Japanese. Level one is the highest, but some companies only require level two or three as long as there are some special qualifications, like engineering or computer programming skills.

    Speaking and understanding Japanese is important; more important is understanding other people and their different cultures or backgrounds. Language is a tool to understand other people and to make our world a better place. It is not only the action, but if we can talk, we understand better.”

    — Eiko Sithi-Amnuai, lecturer of Japanese
  3. Japanese cultural exports are popular worldwide.
    “Japanese cinema has been popular internationally for decades. Its influence can be seen everywhere from the ‘Star Warsfranchise to recent Hollywood remakes of Japanese anime, like ‘Ghost in the Shell.’ Contemporary Japanese filmmakers continue to bring work to an international audience at festivals such as Cannes, where director Koreeda Hirokazu’s film ‘Shoplifters’ won the Palme d’Or Prize in 2018. The popularity of Japanese cinema grows out of a fandom for established genres (for example, in the case of various anime genres and yakuza films) and out of an international appreciation for Japanese filmmakers who bring unconventional stories and techniques not often seen in Hollywood blockbusters.”

    — Jon Pitt, assistant professor of East Asian studies
  4. Japanese studies introduce you to a rich world of art and culture.
    “The history of Japanese art comprises a vast and diverse storehouse of inspiring resources for anyone hoping to resolve such fundamental human problems as contending with violence, building community, finding love, and making a sense of home in the natural environment. The images and artifacts of Japanese art — whether a scene painted on a folding fan hundreds of years ago or a newly released anime film — have been powerful influences on creative workers in California and all over the world. Build your own visual vocabulary by exploring the world of Japanese art.”

    — Bert Winther-Tamaki, chair of the Department of Art History
  5. Japanese religions and traditions offer new ways to think about mortality and the meaning of life.
    “The first and the last teachings given by the historical Buddha were about impermanence: nothing lasts forever, and everything is subject to change, including our lives. After the Buddha, adherents to this doctrine developed various ways to navigate the fact of mortality. Believing in rebirth or full enlightenment based on karma, they taught that every moment of our lives is a precious chance for what they called ‘beneficial actions,’ and for appreciation of life itself.

    But it was not only this that constituted a key teaching. The Buddha also taught that nothing is static: things don’t end, they only transform, and this applies to our lives too. These ideas in turn blossomed into meditative methods of controlling perception (and thus, actions), astonishing art that honored the sutras and their teachings, and compelling literature that was studied, chanted, and performed. If there are any teachings at the very heart of Buddhism, they are mortality and transformation, and the response to the limits, brevity, and constant change of life — as this was expressed across Asia and beyond in various historical manifestations — offers us methods today of understanding our everyday experiences and of creating good, meaningful, and even fearless lives for ourselves and for others.”

    — Elizabeth Tinsley, assistant professor of East Asian studies
  6. Japanese studies provide insight into the world today.
    “The history of where and how human labor and natural resources were appropriated and employed during Japan’s imperial expansion provides a critical foundation for understanding contemporary tensions between Japan and Korea, including reparations for military sex slaves, forced contract labor, and disputed marine borders. Histories of the environmental degradation and the gendered social costs of industrial projects reveal patterns that are often replicated and repeated in new forms. The study of the everyday experiences of folks who experienced the wars of the twentieth century illuminates why issues such as remembering empire and healing war traumas remain tense subjects between Korea and Japan.”

    — Vanessa Baker, a Ph.D. student in East Asian studies
Desiree Leong stands sideways smiling. She is standing on a grass lawn.

Desiree Leong is an English major minoring in Japanese studies and education. She is currently a marketing and communications intern for the UCI School of Humanities through the Humanities Out There Program.

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