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The Department of Japanese Studies provides academic and professional training in the study of Japan and the Japanese language. The programme is designed to meet the growing demand for globally aware citizens, promote cultural and academic exchange, and facilitate communication and cooperation between Hong Kong and Japan.

The programme provides training in critical approaches to Japanese society and culture, and is geared towards mastery of the Japanese language. As a part of the programme requirements, all third-year students are required to spend one academic year in Japan and to take credit-bearing courses at a Japanese exchange partner university. A key element of the programme is a field research project. Second-year students are trained in research methodologies that they then implement in their third year of study in Japan, when they conduct research in the field. In their fourth year of study, students use the materials collected during their field research to write an academic research paper.

The programme offers three optional streams: (1) Business and Management; (2) Japan in Global Perspective; and (3) Japanese Language and Linguistics. Each stream provides specialised training in the named area and allows students to take courses from other relevant departments, including the Departments of Management, Sociology, Anthropology, and Linguistics and Modern Languages. Students who select one of these streams must choose a related topic for their final-year project.

Sakura in Shatin

Most young persons who grew up in Hong Kong are no strangers to Japanese mass culture. Some go to visit the country frequently. A smaller number embrace it by a greater degree of immersion. Ada Tam Tam is an example of the latter.

Ada, a student in the Japanese Studies programme at CUHK, recalled, ‘I chose this programme because I had been interested in Japanese culture since I was in secondary school. Its soft power has great influence and its many dramas, music and animations have taken the world by storm. I thought I’d like to equip myself with an advanced level of Japanese in order to become conversant in Japanese matters.’

The Department of Japanese Studies at CUHK is not large. It admits 22 students each year and its teaching contingent is made up of 13 faculty members. Yet it offers one of the best Japanese studies programmes in the Asia-Pacific region. As Professor Benjamin Ng said, ‘We aim to instill in our students a global perspective and critical mind for an ever-changing global environment.’

The programme provides intensive Japanese language courses and a wide variety of Japanese social and cultural courses. Another unique feature not found in comparable programmes in other universities is the one-year mandatory exchange programme to Japan, which Ada found to be most valuable: ‘Our programme makes sure every student has the ability to go on exchange to Japan for one year. A wide range of partner universities is available (21 top universities in Japan), and we are able to have in-depth cultural exchange with local Japanese students and other exchange students around the world. I went to Hitotsubashi University for one year. I encountered and enjoyed many cultural shocks. I also found my Japanese improved a lot because I had more opportunities to talk with local Japanese.’

The small class-size and closely advised progress of the students have turned the programme into a great place of learning and growing together. All the students have their specific interests in Japan such as history, language, culture, as well as ACG and popular culture. Ada said, “We can easily find companions with the same interests and become good friends. Moreover, the department organizes the ‘Japanese Cultural Festival’ every year in order to promote Japanese culture to other students in CUHK. All of us put in a lot of effort to prepare the Festival as it is a window to reach out to others on campus to promote what we’re doing.”

The training is not confined to language drills but includes the historical, social and cultural facets of Japanese society and culture. Ada gave an example: ‘I was not interested in history before I entered this programme. But I did a historical research project on the relationship between cosmetic advertisements and the change of beauty norms. If I were not a Japanese Studies student, I would probably have just appreciated the artistic elements of the advertisements without making in-depth investigation into the changes in thinking behind. This programme allows me to satisfy my curiosity and enhance my analytical skills.’

Ada continued: ‘I benefitted from the research experience of the final year project. It is because that was my first time in conducting such a comprehensive academic research. I had no idea what I should start with at the beginning. I was doing a historical research but I was not familiar with Japanese history. Fortunately, my professors provided some practical and concrete advice to me about the collection of data, construction of arguments and effective ways to present the findings. I felt an enormous sense of achievement upon completion. I have learned how to handle unexpected outcomes and I enjoyed the process of proving my hypothesis and seeking the truth. This is a profound and unforgettable experience to me.’

According to Professor Ng, graduates from Japanese Studies build their careers in various fields, e.g., government, trading, banking and finance, tourism, etc. Ada is going to work in a consulting firm in Tokyo after graduation. She believes the programme has prepared her adequately both linguistically and culturally: ‘I have a comprehensive understanding of traditional Japanese culture in the business environment. I think I’m capable of adapting to the Japanese workplace and getting along with Japanese colleagues and clients in order to develop my career in future.’

Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2022