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SOSCI Lecture Japan and Anthropology. Concepts and Misconceptions


Admission requirements

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How do anthropologists explore and explain “Japanese culture”? Is it possible to identify cultural patterns and key concepts about Japan, or do these generalizations reduce the complexity of human life to stereotypes? What is the relationship between anthropological knowledge and the insight of other interpretive disciplines, such as sociology, history and psychology? This course addresses these questions focusing on postwar anthropological works about Japan. In these seminal texts, Ruth Benedict, Dorinne Kondo and others asked whether the Japanese were “group-oriented”, valued “harmony over conflict”, had a predilection for “nonverbal” expressions or were torn between “desires and obligations”. Their answers produced an image of Japan that still persists today. But are these works also responsible for common misconceptions about Japanese social life that reappear in popular media? The course shows how anthropologists themselves navigated this tension between understanding and equivocating “the Other”.

Course objectives

The course has two main objectives:
1. To introduce students to recurring themes in the history of anthropological research on Japan; and
2. To provide a basic understanding of how anthropological arguments are constructed.

By the end of the course, students will be able to recognize and analyze some of the codes and conventions of anthropological texts and use this insight to critically evaluate both academic and popular claims concerning Japanese society, culture, and identity. In addition, students will develop a wide range of academic skills, including how to read academic texts, sustain and structure academic arguments and write about academic subjects.


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Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Participation and weekly assignments (30%)

  • Written examination with multiple choice questions and short open questions (40%)

  • Paper (1000 words) (30%)
    The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.
    In order to pass the course, all elements must receive at least a passing grade (6 or higher). There is no resit for the participation element. Students who fail the written examination or paper, or whose overall grade is below 6, will have the opportunity to take a resit exam. The resit will cover the topics of the entire course and its mark will replace previously earned marks, except for the participation element.

Reading list

There are no textbooks for this course. Readings will be available for download on Brightspace or via the University Library. Students are encouraged to consult the following monographs:

Benedict, Ruth. 2006 [1946]. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. Boston: Mariner Books.

Nakane, Chie. 1970. Japanese Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kondo, Dorinne. 1990. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


A. Giolai