UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 01 | Jan.
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
During the past five years student enrolment in the Japanese
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
classical language course outside Japan with 76 students learning
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
"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
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.