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SOSCI Lecture Anthropology and Japanese Culture. Concepts and Misconceptions


Admission requirements

There are no specific entry requirements for this course.


Japan has been portrayed as a radically different culture over many decades, if not centuries. Accordingly, the Japanese are “group-oriented”; value “harmony over conflict”; have a predilection for “nonverbal” expressions; are torn between “desires and obligations”. But are these actual cultural patterns, or are they merely stereotypes? How have anthropologists – culture’s specialists – explored and explained Japanese culture, and what differentiates anthropology from other interpretive disciplines like sociology, history and psychology? The course examines these questions revisiting postwar anthropologists’ holistic descriptions of Japanese culture. Seminal works by Ruth Benedict, Doi Takeo, Nakane Chie, Dorinne Kondo and others contributed to a lasting image of Japanese social life. But this image is often distorted by popular media, especially since the emergence of the Cool Japan paradigm in the 1990s. Taking a closer look at their writings reveals anthropologists’ preoccupation with the tension between understanding and equivocating “the Other”. Throughout the course, topics will include childhood socialization; feelings, emotions and their expression; the management of work and leisure; popular narratives on harmony and nostalgia; discourses on the “uniqueness” and “homogeneity” of Japanese culture.

Course objectives

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.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Participation and weekly assignments (30%)

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

  • Paper (1500 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. In special cases, alternative assignments will be provided by the instructor. There is a two-deadline policy both for the exam and the paper; for those who miss the first deadlines, this means they have failed on the first attempt. Those who fail on the first attempt—whether by not submitting a paper by / not taking the exam on the first deadline, or by receiving an insufficient grade—will have one more (second and last) chance to submit their paper / take the exam by the second deadline.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The required readings are either available on the digital course bookshelf or on Brightspace. Students are encouraged to browse the following volumes before the beginning of the course:

Robertson, Jennifer, ed. 2005. A Companion to the Anthropology of Japan. Malden: Blackwell.
Yoda, Tomiko, and Harry Harootunian, eds. 2006. Japan after Japan: Social and Cultural Life from the Recessionary 1990s to the Present. Durham: Duke University Press.


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

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


Not applicable.