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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 01 | Jan. 11, 2001

Students show yen for language

All things Japanese attract growing group of scholars

by Daria Wojnarski, staff writer

All roads lead to Japan -- at least they do when it comes to languages at UBC.

During the past five years student enrolment in the Japanese language program has almost tripled to more than 1,400 students.

Assoc. Prof. Joshua Mostow, acting head of the Asian Studies Dept., says UBC now has the largest Japanese language program in continental North America and the largest first-year classical language course outside Japan with 76 students learning the equivalent of Chaucerian English in Japanese.

In addition, there are only two places in Canada where students can get a PhD in Japanese culture -- UBC and the University of Toronto.

"Previously we kept caps on courses because we couldn't handle more students," says Mostow. "The demand was getting ridiculous and we turned so many students away. We had to use Extra-Sessional Studies to meet the student demand."

"This boom isn't just in language, but in Japanese history, literature, religion," he adds.

While interest in the Japanese language continues to grow in Canada, the story in the United States is slightly different.

Mostow says enrolment in Japanese language courses at U.S. universities has been falling over the last few years.

"With the Japanese economic problems, the language has become less attractive to American students," he says. "Our students don't tend to be either `yen' or `zen' -- money or religion. Students here are interested in Japanese pop culture such as animation, fashion, comic books and music.

"My impression is that Tokyo is to these students what Paris was to American students in the 1950s -- a cultural Mecca."

Mostow expects the interest in Japanese language and culture will continue to grow.

"Japanese pop culture wasn't allowed into South Korea, but those restrictions were recently removed so we might get a new influx of students of Korean heritage."

For a variety of reasons the program is getting more Japanese nationals at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, says Mostow.

"At the graduate level, these students have opted to study Japanese culture outside of Japan to get a different perspective."

At the undergraduate level, the department has students from Ritsumeikan, a private university in Japan with which UBC has set up an exchange. Some 100 students a year come from Ritsumeikan -- the largest single group in the year-abroad group at UBC.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the department, faculty hold cross-appointments in such diverse areas as Women's Studies, 19th-Century Studies, Comparative Literature, Medieval Studies and the Centre for Intercultural Language Studies.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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