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Anthropology of Japan


Admission requirements

Students other than MA students enrolled in the Asian studies program can enroll for a waiting list. Please send an email


What does it mean to study (Japanese) society “from up close”? How do we define closeness and intimacy, and what roles do these concepts play in our different ways of life? Can we think about research as a succession of encounters, at the same time bodily and conceptual? And what exactly is a body, anyway?
In this seminar, we will explore a variety of anthropological approaches to Japanese society, focusing on the overarching theme of the body and embodiment. Themes that will be considered include: East Asian religious and philosophical notions concerning the human body; education; care and intimacy in relation to aging, illness, and death; political appropriations of bodily metaphors; gender norms and sexuality; robots and other nonhuman bodies. The topics draw from recent ethnographies of contemporary Japan, reflecting the latest developments in anthropological theory, such as the “turns” toward ontology and affect theory. Introducing the vocabulary and methodology of socio-cultural anthropology, the course encourages students to revisit their own assumptions concerning what constitutes “Japanese culture”.

Course objectives

  • To reach a more nuanced understanding of contemporary Japanese society;

  • To demonstrate awareness of past and current research in the anthropology of Japan;

  • To become familiar with current debates in socio-cultural anthropology;

  • Being able to devise and sustain an original argument based on close interpretation of texts;

  • Learning to formulate sophisticated research questions and compare alternative methods to pursue them;

  • Developing the ability to apply anthropological concepts and methods to other disciplinary areas;

  • Acknowledging and addressing potential dangers and ethical implications of conducting fieldwork.


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website.

Mode of instruction

Choose from:

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 10 ects = 280 hours
Seminar attendance: 2 hours x 13 weeks = 26 hours
Study of compulsory literature: 8 hours x 13 weeks = 104 hours
Assignments: = 20 hours
Draft paper and research paper: = 130 hours


Participation (Attendance + Assignments): 40%
Commitment (Structured discussion): 20%
Original research (Research paper 4000 words): 40%

All course elements must be passed to receive a passing course grade. The course grade is based on the weighted average of all course elements, all of which must have at least a passing grade.


There are no resits for the participation element. For the draft paper and research paper, the possibility of a resit applies.


Graded papers will be returned with feedback. Students may make an appointment to discuss their papers within 30 days of the publication of their paper grade.

Exam Review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.


Blackboard plays an essential part in this course. All important information about the course, including the syllabus, course requirements, course readings and announcements will be available on the course website. As part of class participation, students will also be required to make postings on the Blackboard website. Blackboard access is therefore essential in order to complete this course.


This has to be filled out by the key-user of the department.
Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Contact information Dr. Andrea Giolai


All other information.