Asian and Middle Eastern Studies — Japanese Studies

Study mode:Full-time Languages: english Duration:1 year
Local:$ 31.6k / 1 Academic year(s) Foreign:$ 46.9k / 1 Academic year(s) Deadline: May 31, 2021
StudyQA ranking:346

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The aim is to equip students to carry out independent academic work, including training in how to use Japanese-language sources for research purposes, which lies at the heart of the programme. Our guiding principle is to ensure that each student receives the best possible education, providing a coherent course but with the flexibility to cater for individual needs.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the MPhil programme, students will be expected to have:

  • acquired the ability to read, interpret and translate primary sources in Modern and/or Classical Japanese;
  • acquired a good knowledge of the general scholarship on Modern and/or Classical Japanese culture(s);
  • acquired an in-depth knowledge of the secondary literature relevant to the subject of their dissertation;
  • developed the ability to formulate original research questions and produce a well-constructed, argument to answer them, in the form of an independent piece of research based on the use of primary and secondary sources;
  • acquired the skills to use library and internet resources independently.


Those who would like to apply for the PhD after the MPhil will be expected to have scored at least 67% or above (or the equivalent from an overseas University) in their Master's degree which should be related to the PhD programme they wish to pursue. All applicants should submit with their GRADSAF (graduate application) a workable and relevant research proposal and demonstrate that they have the required academic knowledge and skills to carry out their project.

Admission is at the discretion of the Degree Committee, which judges each graduate applicant on his or her own merits and in accordance with its own set rules and regulations.

1: Dissertation (50 % of the grade)

 In their dissertation, students will be required to demonstrate research competence using Japanese-language sources, and to conduct research that addresses contemporary and/or historical issues of relevance to Japan. Prospective students are asked to contact potential supervisors before applying to Cambridge to ensure that an appropriate supervisor is available.

One-on-one supervisions will be held by the main supervisors and will take place typically at the beginning of the academic year and in the Easter term. In addition, the Researcher Development Seminar (see under 2.1) will help to guide students through the research process.

Form and conduct: a dissertation of max. 15,000 words (incl. footnotes but excl. bibliography)

Submission date: mid-August.

An oral examination may be held on the thesis and on the general field of knowledge within which it falls, which may be waived at the discretion of the Degree Committee.

2: Three papers (50% of the grade)

Each of the three papers (a paper is an exam for which teaching is provided) is assessed either by a research essay of maximum 5,000 words or an alternative exercise agreed by the Degree Committee and counts for one sixth of the total grade (i.e. 16.67 percent). Please note that papers are usually only offered if there are at least two takers.

Submission date of essays and alternative exercises is at the start of Easter term.

2.1: MPhil in Japanese Studies - Theories and Methodologies in Japanese Studies

This is held by all the supervisors of the MPhil pathway and external teachers, and is convened by Prof Mickey Adolphson.

The theory and methodology seminar meets throughout the first two terms, connecting Japanese Studies to various disciplinary approaches and theories. Students will also receive training on sources and resources, library searches, academic writing, analysis and presentation skills, writing a research proposal or grant application, career planning etc., and will have opportunities to engage in peer review as they present their dissertation proposals.

Form and conduct: To be confirmed. Regular participation is required.

2.2 Two from the following four groups of papers (A-D):

A: Graduate papers in Japanese Studies

 Historical Narratives of Ancient and Medieval Japan

This paper offers graduate students an opportunity to critique and analyse Japanese narratives of the pre-1600 era and to work directly with primary sources. Students will initially be introduced to sources, methods, approaches and tools used by scholars in the field of pre-modern Japanese history and will subsequently read and interpret a variety of premodern Japanese sources, working towards an independent translation and analysis.

Form and conduct: essay of max. 5,000 words that analyses and contextualises a set of sources chosen by the student.

New Approaches in Early-modern Japanese Literature 

This paper explores Japanese early-modern literature by taking graduate students beyond the limited canon normally discussed in literary histories to date. Students will be trained in how to access, decode, describe and analyse a wide range of primary sources in their original format. This will allow reflections on publishing genres, themes and issues in the field of early-modern Japanese literature that remain under-researched to date. The paper is taught in seminar format over two terms. The assessment takes the form of an essay where the student analyses and contextualises a set of sources chosen by the student.

Form and conduct: essay of maximum 5000 words.

 Asia in Theory 

This paper consists of weekly seminars in Michaelmas and Lent terms, each of which focuses on a particular type of theory and its relevance to the study of East Asia. Topics covered include Michel Foucault, the nation, gender, modernity and recent developments in historiography.

Form and conduct: research essay of maximum 5,000 words.

Topics in modern Korean history: Japanese imperialism in Korea

Teaching provision: 16 sessions of two hours per academic year

Form and conduct: research essay of maximum 5,000 words.

Additional papers may be introduced.

B: Advanced research seminar papers in Japanese Studies (maximum one of these papers)

Classical Japanese Texts

This is a language-based paper for which you will read a variety of pre-modern and early-modern texts, thereby providing an opportunity to explore a range of topics related, more or less directly, to pre-Meiji Japan (e.g. intralingual translation, parody, national identity, news, popular medicine, popular Buddhism, humour, visual culture, graphic prose, etc.). The topic (or topics), and consequently the choice of the primary sources, is decided in consultation with students as the aim is to accommodate individual research interests. If you are planning to write a dissertation that deals with the Meiji or pre-Meiji period, you will find this paper extremely useful as it will help you acquire the necessary skills for reading primary sources. It will also enable you to consolidate and extend your knowledge of modern Japanese as a result of extensive reading of secondary sources in Japanese on the topic(s). This paper requires previous knowledge of classical Japanese, obtained either by having taken Literary Japanese (see language options) or simply by having studied and mastered Haruo Shirane’s Classical Japanese (2005).

Modern Japanese Cultural History

This seminar-based paper will explore one specific facet of modern Japanese literature, namely rakugo. By reading texts in Japanese dating from the 19th century to the present day, students will have an opportunity to discover how rakugo’s roots extend back in time and also gain knowledge about a range of topics including Japanese culture, history, humour, class, and more. In addition, the paper will examine a selection of canonical modern novels (in translation) that are indebted to the rakugo tradition. The seminars will be supplemented by screenings and by the study of both recorded and live performances.

Contemporary Japanese Society

This is an advanced seminar-based course focusing on contemporary Japanese society. The focus will vary from year to year, and will cover issues such as learning and education, family, time, space and gender, investigating these topics from a wide range of angles. In each instance the emphasis will be on situating the study of Japan within the disciplinary context of Social Anthropology and Sociology. The course is aimed at deepening students’ understanding of selected aspects of Japanese society as well as developing research and writing skills. It will involve working with both secondary and primary source materials (in Japanese).

The East Asian Region

This seminar-based course employs a comparative approach. It concentrates on thematic and policy issues relevant to understanding Japan, the Korean peninsula, China (broadly defined) and Southeast Asia, as well as the role of the United States in East Asia. The course runs over two terms and draws explicitly on historical research and social science methodology in addressing how best to conceptualise ‘East Asia’ as a region. Topics addressed will vary from year to year, depending on the research interests of the teaching officers involved, but an indicative list of subjects would include some, but not necessarily all, of the following issues: the Cold War as a historical phenomenon; conflict and war in East Asia and contemporary security challenges; comparative models of economic development in East Asia and the role of ‘plan-rational’ policy-making; the role of the nation-state and competing models of historical identity; multilateralism, the emergence of trans-national actors and economic integration in East Asia; political legitimacy, contrasting models of authoritarian rule, and democratisation as a political movement; demographic change; energy and environmental policy and technological change.

Supervision for all papers in group B: one short one-on-one discussion about the mini dissertation in Michaelmas term, and a one-on-one supervision in Lent term.

Form and conduct: research essay of maximum 5,000 words.

C: Language options (maximum one of these papers)

Modern Japanese Texts

This paper consists of reading texts in advanced modern Japanese with attention given not only to grammar and syntax but also to context. Supplementary reading will also be expected.

Literary Japanese

An introduction to the grammar of literary pre-modern Japanese, followed by readings of simple prose and poetry. Intermediate Japanese ability is required.

This is an introduction to the world of pre-modern and early-modern written Japanese. We will read a variety of primary sources, beginning with the Edo period (graphic prose, humorous prose, didactic prose) and working backwards through the Muromachi period (otogizōshi), the Kamakura period (Tsurezuregusa and Hōjōki) to the Heian period (Ise monogatari and/or Genji monogatari and waka poetry). You will gain an in-depth knowledge of Japanese classical grammar that will enable you to read texts produced up to the 1910s, while developing an understanding of pre-Meiji culture and literature (both learned and popular). You will also receive instruction on translating literary texts into English and have a chance to practice translation from classical Japanese into contemporary Japanese, thus helping to improve your modern Japanese language skills. For further details about this paper, examples of classes/supervisions and comments by former students, please browse the website:

Classical and Literary Chinese

Grammar and text reading classes at beginners, intermediate, and advanced level covering a variety of genres across different time periods.

Readings in Elementary Korean

This course will cover the basic grammar of modern written Korean with a view to developing reading fluency. Students will mainly be reading materials in hangul script, but some texts in mixed script (with Chinese characters) will also be used.

All the papers in group C are also offered to undergraduate students. Please contact the teacher of the paper to make sure that the level is appropriate for you. No supervisions (one-on-one classes) are given, as classes provide all the necessary support.

Form and conduct: alternative exercise.

D: Theory and methods, papers borrowed from other faculties (maximum one of these courses)

Papers in the discipline related to the research topic of the dissertation. These papers will be mainly borrowed from other faculties, e.g. Anthropology, Literature Studies, History, Politics, Gender Studies.

Form and conduct: Research essay or alternative exercise.

Please note that borrowing papers from other faculties needs to be negotiated and approved by the Degree Committee. If you are interested in taking a paper offered by another faculty, please contact your prospective supervisor as soon as you have been offered a place.

One to one supervision

4 hours per year.


Students taking the MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Japanese Studies) will receive feedback on their work after the June Degree Committee meeting (for essays and examinations) and after the final Degree Committee meeting of the year in September (for MPhil dissertation results and overall Degree results). Students will receive feedback routinely throughout the year from their Supervisors. Supervisors also produce feedback via termly CGSRS reports on CamSIS.



For the MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Japanese Studies), students will submit a thesis of not more than 15,000 words, including footnotes and appendices but excluding bibliography on a subject approved by the Degree Committee. All MPhil dissertations must include a brief Abstract at the start of the dissertation of no more than 400 words.


For the MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Japanese Studies), students submit essays as part of their degree:

Most papers are assessed by essay, as described in Form and Conduct. Essays are not more than 5,000 words, including footnotes, but excluding bibliography. Candidates may apply to the Degree Committee for approval of an equivalent Alternative Exercise.

Written examination

For the MPhil in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Japanese Studies), students may take examinations as part of their degree:

Some courses may be assessed by written examination, as described in Form and Conduct. With the approval of the Degree Committee, a candidate may offer, in place of one or more of those papers, the same number of essays, each of not more than 5,000 words, or equivalent Alternative Exercises approved by the Degree Committee.

Practical assessment

There is no practical assessment associated with this course.


An oral examination on the thesis and on the general field of knowledge within which it falls, which may be waived at the discretion of the Degree Committee.

  • Magistr (Master's Degree) at Pass level. Diploma Specialista (completed post-1991) with a minimum overall grade of good or 4/5 Bachelor's from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and other prestigious institutions with an overall grade of 4/5 Bologna Bachelor's from other institutions with an overall grade of 5/5, Excellent
  • Diploma Specialista (completed post-1991) with a minimum overall grade of Excellent or 5/5 Bachelor's from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and other prestigious institutions with an overall grade of 5/5
  • IELTS (Academic) 7.5
  • TOEFL Internet Score 110
  • £50 application fee
  • First Academic Reference
  • Second Academic Reference
  • Transcript
  • Research Proposal 
  • Attainments in languages. Good reading knowledge of Classical Arabic will be expected.Applicants are required to list the languages they know and their level of competence.
  • Sample of Work
  • Personal Reference. This is only required if you are applying for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Applicants who wish to be considered for the Gates Cambridge (USA) and Gates Cambridge (International) must include a personal reference with their GRADSAF and other supporting documentation.
  • Global Education
  • Gates Cambridge Scholarships
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