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Condry, Ian, 21F.039 Japanese Popular Culture, Spring 2003. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 10 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Japanese Popular Culture

Spring 2003

Grafitti in kanji.
Grafitti in kanji, Sakuragi-cho, Yokohama, Japan, 2000.  (Photo courtesy of  Prof. Ian Condry.)

Course Highlights

Lecture notes and all assignments for this course may be downloaded.

Course Description

This course examines Japanese popular culture as a way of understanding the changing character of media, capitalism, fan communities and culture. Topics include manga (comic books), hip-hop and other popular music in Japan, anime (Japanese animated films) and feature films, sports (sumo, soccer, baseball), and online communication. Emphasis will be on contemporary popular culture and theories of gender, sexuality, race, and the workings of power in global culture industries.


Course Description

Examines Japanese popular culture as a way of understanding the changing character of media, capitalism, fan communities and culture. Topics include manga (comic books), hip-hop and other popular music in Japan, anime (Japanese animated films) and feature films, sports (sumo, soccer, baseball), and online communication. Emphasis will be on contemporary popular culture and theories of gender, sexuality, race, and the workings of power in global culture industries. Each student will be expected to present analysis of the course materials during in-class discussions and to develop a final project based on a particular aspect of J-Pop. Several films will be screened outside of regular class meeting times. No prerequisites. Course taught in English.

Course Requirements and Grading Distribution

Participation, Microthemes 15% Throughout the term
Student Presentations 25% Two or three times each
Essay 1 (5 pages) 15% Due Week 5
Essay 2 (5 pages) 20% Due Week 9
Final Paper (7-8 pages) 25% Due the last day of class

There will be no final exam.

Required Texts

There are three (3) required texts. The texts will also be available on reserve at Hayden Library, so if cost is an issue, please be aware that you can read them there.

  1. Craig, Timothy, ed. Japan Pop!: Inside the World of Japanese Popular Culture. M. E . Sharpe, 2000.
  2. Kinsella, Sharon. Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.
  3. Treat, John Whittier, ed. Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996.

Additional Readings

A few additional articles will be available on reserve at Hayden Library, and possibly online through E-Reserves.

Course Requirements


There will be three significant writing assignments: two 5-page essays (due in Weeks 5 and 9), and a 7-8 page final project due on the last day of class. You will have a choice of essay topics, or with the approval of the instructor, they may be developed from the issues raised in discussions. I am happy to look at preliminary drafts of papers, but except for unusual circumstances, I do not accept rewrites. I would also encourage people to make use of the Writing Center as it is an excellent resource.


Papers will be graded according to three criteria:

  • Argument. Is this thesis clearly stated? Do the steps of the argument make sense and lead logically to the conclusion?
  • Evidence. How well does the essay use the evidence available from the class materials (readings, lectures, films)? Are there contradictory examples that should be discussed to eliminate doubts? How well are the examples used to support the argument?
  • Style. How well is the paper written? Has it been carefully proofread? Are there clever turns of phrase, interesting transitions, a catchy opening and conclusion? Does the paper length match the assignment?

Short Weekly Assignments

I will regularly assign "microthemes" to assess your analysis of the readings, lectures, films, and performances. A microtheme is a one--page, double-spaced commentary, which is also designed to promote discussion. Please pick one observation or reaction and develop that in the microthemes, but do not try to display your entire mastery of the material. You may reserve that for the discussion. I grade these microthemes on a range of 1 (failing) to 5 (excellent). I will drop the lowest grade of the microthemes so you may skip one microtheme without penalty, though it is to your advantage to do them all. Microthemes must be handed in during the class when they are due, and, except for extraordinary circumstances, may NOT be made up. Quizzes may occasionally be used to test comprehension of reading assignments. I reserve the right to introduce other minor assignments during the course of the class.

Attendence and Class Participation

Because this class meets only twice a week, your attendence is required every single class period. Barring sickness or unavoidable family emergencies, I expect you in class. If you are going to miss class, I would like an email explanation prior to class. More than one unexcused absence will result in a reduction by 1/3 (e.g., B to a B-) of your final grade. Additional absences will result in additional reductions. I do not give warnings in the event that you are in danger of such a penalty. That said, if emergencies or health situations arise, please let me know, if possible beforehand, and in most situations that will count as an excuse.

Student Presentations

I would also stress that student presentations form a key component of the course. Students will be asked to make short presentations throughout the term as a way of delving into the readings, films, and lectures, while also providing an opportunity to introduce the class as a whole to examples of culture and globalization that may not be directly treated in the reading assignments.

Attend two (2) Harvard University talks on Japanese Popular Culture

We are very fortunate that this semester, Harvard is running a special series of talks related to Japanese popular culture and they have invited some of the leading scholars in the field. I am cancelling two (2) of our regularly scheduled meetings, and requiring that you attend two (2) of the six scheduled
talks at Harvard. A list of talks, speakers, times, and locations appears at the end of this syllabus. You are of course welcome to attend more than two, but you receive credit only for two of them.

You are required to submit a microtheme (one-page, double-spaced) for each of the two talks you attend. Please discuss an interesting or important point made during the talk. You may also use the microtheme as an opportunity to critique some of the readings, based on the talk, or to critique the talk, based on one of the readings.


The tables below include the topics covered in each class session as well as the topics of each of the talks students are required to attend.

Week 1: Introduction
1 Introduction to the Course  
Week 2: Analyzing Japan / Analyzing Popular Culture
2 Film Segment: "The Japanese Version"  
3 The History of Popular Music in Japan  
Week 3: Racial Boundaries and Representation in Popular Culture
4 Film Segment: "Doubles"  
5 Race in Japanese Hip-Hop  
Week 4: Gender, Sexuality, and Popular Culture
6 Seminar on "Gender Roles and Anime."

If unable to attend the Seminar, then your Assignment is to Write a 2-page Commentary Contrasting Two of the Assigned Readings (Due by Ses #8). 
7 Special Event: "Comfort Women of Korea visit MIT."

If you cannot attend, an additional assignment can be done instead.
Week 5: Identity, Resistance, and Popular Culture: Borders and Crossings
8 Japanese Identity: Homogeneity or Difference? Discussion of Essay #1 Assignment
9 Methods and Approaches to the Study of Popular Culture Essay #1 Due (5 Pages, Double-Spaced)
Week 6: Manga and Cultural Production
10 Harvard Talk  
11 A Sociology of Cultural Production of Manga  
Week 7: Manga and Power
12 Metropolis: Fritz Lang to Tezuka to Otomo  
13 Manga and Social Commentary  
Week 8: Manga and Anime
14 Harvard Talk  
15 Who are the Otaku?  
Week 9: Assessing Manga as Cultural Form
16 In Class Discussion of Manga Issues Re: Essay 2  
17   Essay #2 Due (5 Pages, Double Spaced)
Week 10: Re-Imagining Japan
18 Tradition and Transnationalism  
19 Flow or Appropriation - Whose Culture is it? (2)  
Week 11: Japanese Television
20 Student Presentations 1  
21 Japanese Television  
Week 12: Japanese Popular Literature
22 Student Presentations 2  
23 Japanese Popular Literature  
Week 13: Crisis and Restructuring
Week 14: Popular Culture and Japan's Future
24   Final Paper is Due the Last Day of Class.
There is no Final Exam

 Schedule of Talks

1 Anne Allison, Duke University (special Popular Culture Series: co-sponsored
with the Program in U.S.-Japan Relations)
Japanese Monsters in the Era of Pokemon Capitalism
2 Sydney Brown, Emeritus, University of Oklahoma Jazz in Japan
3 Alisa Freedman, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell University Daily Commutes and Evening Dates: Images of Modern Middle Class
Tokyo, 1925-1935
4 Gennifer Weisenfeld (Asian Cultural Studies series) Duke University From Baby's First Bath: Kao Soap and Japanese Commercial Design
5 Laura Miller (special Popular Culture Series) Loyola University of Chicago The Naughty Girls of Tokyo: Kogal Fashion, Language and Behavior
6 Theodore Bestor (special Popular Culture Series) Harvard University The Americanization of Sushi   Tell A Friend