A Brief History
The University of Cambridge was one of the first UK universities to offer Japanese language teaching in 1947. Since then the language, culture, ancient and modern history and international relations of the country have become core to the University’s teaching and research on East Asia.
In the 1980s, Japanese Studies entered a new phase alongside Japan’s economic takeoff. At this time, the Keidanren Chair was established, supported by the British Ambassador to Japan, Sir Hugh Cortazzi, and Dr. Carmen Blacker.† Under the leadership of Professor Richard Bowring, the first holder of the Keidanren Chair, the program expanded rapidly.
Thanks to the work of those before us, Japanese Studies at Cambridge is presently home to six full-time academic faculty and three language teachers.
† The Japanese studies subject group honours Dr Blacker with the Carmen Blacker Prize, which is awarded annually by the Examiners for Part II (fourth year) of the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Tripos for distinction in Japanese in that examination. Any residue is spent on acquisitions for the Faculty Library and all books purchased have her name printed inside the cover. The Carmen Blacker Research Fellowship, made possible by the generous bequest of Dr. Blacker, is tenable at the Cambridge college Peterhouse and open to graduates and researchers in the UK and EU.
Alongside our formal teaching, Japan features strongly in the Faculty’s flourishing series of cultural events including music concerts, film screenings and lectures on various topics related to Japan and East Asia which are open to members of the public. On 21 October 2016, our new Keidanren Professor, Mikael S. Adolphson, welcomed a large group of foreign dignitaries, representatives from a range of businesses and organisations, university staff and students, and others as he gave his inaugural lecture. The transcript can be found here.
Previously, we have hosted scholars and artists from across the world, including a talk by former US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, Dr Robert Orr. Cambridge’s connections with Japan are extensive and span the University’s academic departments and colleges. Academic collaborations with Japan include the Nanoscience Centre and the Departments of Archaeology, Education and Engineering, as well as the high-tech initiatives via the Cambridge Research Laboratory – Toshiba and the Hitachi Cambridge Laboratory.
Staff at many of the colleges, including Downing, Emmanuel, Corpus Christi and Trinity, have long-standing connections with Japan, including through student exchanges programmes with partner institutions.
Members of FAMES have close ties with and have taught at the Universities of Waseda, Keio, Hitotsubashi, Doshisha, Kyoto and Osaka. Our faculty also receives academic visitors from Japan – essential to the broader process of educational and cultural engagement.
Prof. Mickey Adolphson, Keidanren Professor of Japanese Studies, Fellow of Trinity College
Prof. Barak Kushner, Professor of East Asian History, Fellow of Corpus Christi College
Dr. Laura Moretti, Lecturer in Pre-Modern Japanese Studies, Fellow of Emmanuel College
Dr. John Nilsson-Wright, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Politics and International Relations, Fellow of Darwin College
Dr. Brigitte Steger, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies (Society), Fellow of Downing College
Dr. Vicky Young, Kawashima Lecturer in Japanese Literature and Culture, Fellow of Selwyn College
The Future of Japanese Studies at Cambridge
Over its first 70 years, Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge has been instrumental in increasing understanding of Japan and East Asia in the UK. However, discussion of Japan and East Asia is often absent from key debates in other disciplines. It is our belief that the world can learn from Japan’s experiences in a variety of ways and, for that reason, the study of Japan needs to be brought into mainstream academe. At the same time, we have an obligation to introduce the best of scholarship at Cambridge to Japan, as the challenges we face today require collaboration and dialogue across domestic and international borders.
At this critical juncture in the development of Japanese Studies at Cambridge, we aim to ensure that Japan is not studied in isolation but is approached from a comparative and integrated perspective that recognises the importance of East Asia both as a region of deep-rooted customs and histories, and as a dynamic area of rapid economic, social, and technological change.
Japan is central to the East Asia region where significant political, environmental and scientific challenges require new and imaginative solutions developed in collaboration with Asian and European partners.