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Postgraduate Admissions

Course closed:

Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Japanese Studies) is no longer accepting new applications.


1: Dissertation (50 per cent 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.

2: Three papers (50 per cent 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 (ie 16.67 per cent).

Please note that papers are usually only offered if there are at least two takers. Modules offered vary according to the staff available each academic year and the interests of students. Additional papers may be introduced. Please consult your potential supervisor to discuss the options available. In general, upper level classes meet for Michaelmas and Lent terms with supervisions as required. 

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 one of the leaders of the Japanese Studies group.

The theory and methodology seminar meets throughout the first two terms, connecting Japanese studies to various disciplinary approaches and theories. Over the two terms, each instructor in Japanese Studies will introduce key themes within their own specialty to students in the goal of offering students a wide introduction to the field. 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. 


2.2 Two from the following  papers 

Advanced research seminar papers in Japanese Studies

Modern Japanese Cultural History

This seminar-style paper will explore specific facets, approaches and methodologies of modern and contemporary works of Japanese literature and culture. Topics may vary from year to year but will generally cover a range of works that have been produced within contexts deemed ‘other’ or marginal vis-à-vis the mainstream, and will pay particular attention to issues of social, gendered, and ethnic difference that these works present. Informed by feminist, postcolonial, and translational approaches, this course aims to broaden your awareness of the kinds of texts produced in Japanese. Moreover, by drawing on key concepts and works of literary criticism, this course aims to hone your critical reading skills and enable you to engage with key questions pertaining to identity and difference in the study of a non-western literature. Taught in Michaelmas and Lent. 

Topics in Pre-modern Japanese History 

This advanced seminar-based course will explore approaches to and topics in recent scholarship of pre- modern Japanese history. The focus may vary from year to year but the coverage will sample Japanese and some English-language scholarship from early history to the late Tokugawa period. The focus will be on the critical reading of a variety of narratives,

Students will also develop their analytical skills, write brief reports, and work on their presentation skills. Taught in Michaelmas, Lent and Easter. 

Topics in Modern Japanese History 

This course focuses on the process of '"de-imperialization" and reorder of East Asia following the end of the war and surrender of Japan's empire in August 1945. How did power and authority in postwar East Asia transform and what forces shaped the regional postwar hierarchy when Japanese power and command dissolved? How were political and social stability re-established and within what framework, employing what ideology to gain public support? This is a discussion-based seminar that meets in 2- hour sessions for 16 weeks across the first two terms allowing students enough time to prepare readings and work on their projects. The meetings will begin with a critical summary of the reading by one or two students, who will also offer a supplemental bibliography of western language readings relevant to the theme. This duty will rotate among students in the seminar. 

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. In the academic year 2018-19 the topic was ‘Religion in Japanese Daily Life’. 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). Taught in Michaelmas, Lent and Easter. Total of 14 two-hour seminars and 2-4 supervisions. 

Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture 

Japanese premodern literature often confronts us with texts that challenge our expectations vis-à-vis the literary and asks us to rethink how we read. The topics and the genres covered in this seminar- style paper may vary from year to year, but the focus will be on early modern prose with a view to develop analytical skills that prove adequate in probing this corpus. Attention will be given to issues that include the epistemic function of literature, intertextuality, multimodality, humour, playfulness, and storyworlds among others. We will also reflect upon how the literary canon is constructed and what is at stake in the process. While gaining solid knowledge about the historical development of specific genres of early modern prose and reading a wide variety of primary sources in translation, this paper trains students to question claims made by secondary literature and fosters reflection on important methodological issues that apply to the study of written texts regardless of culture and epoch. 

Students are expected to come to class having read the assigned readings, both primary and secondary sources, and ready to discuss them. All primary sources will be available in English translation. Occasionally students may be asked to give presentations. In Michaelmas Term students will produce a short essay (ca. 1500-2000 words) on a specific text assigned by the instructor. This essay does not count toward the final mark. During the winter break and in Lent Term on top of preparations for the classes, students will be asked to start working on their research essay and there will be supervisions geared toward this. The course will finish with individual presentations on the essay topics. 

The Cold War in East Asia

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. 

Asia in Theory (Convenor: Dr Adam Yuet Chau) (from Chinese Studies; this paper has a limited enrollment) 

2.3: Language options (maximum one of these papers)

Language papers (maximum one)
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. 

Modern Japanese Texts 3 

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. 

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). 

Classical and literary Chinese texts (from Chinese Studies) 

Guided readings of philosophical and other selected texts from pre-imperial and early imperial China. 

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. 

3. 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.

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

Students will be offered a minimum of two hours as needed to support dissertation research and writing. The final number of hours will be agreed upon with the supervisor depending on student need and progress. 

The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University’s expectations regarding supervision.

Seminars & classes

While each section differs in the total number of hours directly taught, all subjects offer a minimum of 48 class hours of instruction across the year.


Students taking the Japanese Studies pathway receive feedback routinely throughout the year from their supervisors. Supervisors also produce feedback via termly online supervision reports. Summative feedback on coursework essays or examinations is provided after the June Degree Committee meeting and on the dissertation after the final Degree Committee meeting of the year, in September.


Thesis / Dissertation

For the Japanese Studies pathway, students will submit a dissertation 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.


Three written examination papers on subjects approved by the Degree Committee. Students may submit essays as part of their degree in place of written examinations. Essays are not more than 5,000 words, including footnotes, but excluding bibliography. Students may apply to the Degree Committee for approval of an equivalent alternative exercise.

Written examination

For the Japanese Studies pathway, 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 student 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.


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

Key Information

11 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Course - related enquiries

Application - related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 1, 2021
Application deadline
May 16, 2022
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2022

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Graduate Funding Competition
Dec. 2, 2021
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 13, 2021

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2022, Lent 2023 and Easter 2023.

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