Portrait photograph of Professor Jeff Kingston

The Asian Studies major coordinator, Professor Jeff Kingston, motivates students to build on their interest in Asia and pursue relevant careers by helping them develop their knowledge of the region through his major. He draws on his fieldwork in his classes and shares insights developed over the past three decades of living and traveling in the Asia Pacific. Kingston’s own research is driven by intellectual curiosity and compassion. While trained as a historian he also covers contemporary events and issues. For example, his interest in The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 was fuelled by a desire to help its victims and personal connections to the devastated region.

Follow your passions and be intellectually curious is Kingston’s advice to all his students. He thinks that the Asian Studies major equips them with the necessary knowledge and insights because it is interdisciplinary and comparative. The program exposes students to the talents of the best professors across the various majors and disciplines through cross-listed courses. For example, “The Visual Anthropology of Modern Japan” course is listed as Asian Studies 2238 and also as Anthropology 2238. This approach introduces students to different discourses and methodologies and thus broadens their perspectives and nurtures critical analysis.

Passion for Asia

Kingston published three books in the past year, and a dozen altogether, in addition to numerous articles, book chapters, essays and op-eds. He is frequently interviewed by mass media about trends and events in Japan and the Asian region. Since 1988 he has been an active contributor to The Japan Times, the largest English-language newspaper in Japan, where he writes a weekly column “Counterpoint.” He is an editor and contributor to The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, a peer-reviewed electronic journal devoted to study of the Asia-Pacific region. He also frequently reviews book proposals for various publishers. He often travels in Asia and beyond to gather material for his research and to give talks at conferences.

His first acquaintance with the area occurred in 1982, on his honeymoon, when he was touring the Sanriku coast in Tōhoku where some of his wife’s relatives live. “I remember just how stunningly beautiful it was,” he reminisced. He went back frequently thereafter, and was thus overwhelmed by a crushing sense of loss when he visited two weeks after the 3.11 earthquake. The devastation and destruction prompted Kingston to chronicle the consequences and portents of a disaster that marked a departure from his previous work. “It came from a passion of having personal connections to the place. […] I wanted to do something to try to help,” he said. He spoke to one aged relative who shared poignant memories of the 1933 tsunami in the same region. Subsequently, he edited two books and wrote many articles on the triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis), returning to Tōhoku several times to collect data and do what he could to help.

Tailor Your Own Major

Flexibility is one of the main attractions of the Asian Studies major. The program introduces students to the diversity of Asia and gives them a broad understanding of the Asia-Pacific region from history and culture to politics and economics. Moreover, all Asian Studies majors acquire at least an intermediate level proficiency in Japanese, Korean, or Chinese languages. “Language skills open doors, impart understanding, and give access,” says Kingston.

The Asian Studies curriculum allows students to pursue their interests and tailor the program to match their ambitions. Courses range from international relations, religion, and art history to economics, pop culture, and history. It is also possible to pursue special interests through independent studies with professors.

Asian Studies majors also can take advantage of the Credit Exchange Program between TUJ and universities in Japan and around Asia. Participating universities include Musashi University, Meiji University School of Arts and Letters, Toyo University Faculty of Regional Development Studies, and Showa Women’s University. Daryl Ho, a senior at TUJ, recently participated in an exchange with Musashi University. “I really liked their classes,” he says. He said that learning about different educational approaches and his immersion into the Japanese educational system were great experiences. The classes also helped to deepen and broaden his interests.

The Asian Studies program presents students with a multitude of choices, both in topics and approaches to learning. It is literally possible to tailor the major to fit almost any aspirations and research related to the region.

Professor Kingston teaching in a class
Professor Kingston teaching in a class

Practice Makes Perfect

In addition to a range of theoretical knowledge, the Asian Studies program helps students gain practical skills. For example, they learn the basics of field work in the Visual Anthropology of Modern Japan course taught by Associate Professor Sachiko Horiguchi. Assignments include creating a visual blog or journal with pictures and observations of everyday life in Tokyo, and their anthropological analysis that they learn in the course. By comparing course readings with real life, students develop a critical perspective and deeper understanding of the culture. Both are “important to make sense of what’s happening in a particular region,” Horiguchi says.

The Asian Studies major also offers internships with international and Japanese organisations, including businesses, embassies and NGOs. Students can test their knowledge and skills, explore career options, and start building professional networks. For those interested in research, internships provide excellent experiences and build stronger resumes that give students a competitive edge. “First-hand experience with local culture and traditions, especially corporate culture and business practices are very important for securing a job related to Asia,” says Bain Yantarov, who is graduating in May 2017. He is applying for a competitive position at The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and is sure he will stand out among other applicants.

Practical experience opportunities are not limited to business and public service. Students seriously interested in academic careers can participate in faculty research. Recently, Kingston accepted a student as an assistant in his Nuclear Energy in Asia project and supervised another for his forthcoming book on religion, nationalism, and identity. Select students are paid from research grants provided by TUJ.

Many Open Doors

“There are many job possibilities for Asian Studies majors,” Kingston says. The Asia-Pacific region is currently one of the most dynamic in the world. The program equips students with knowledge and skills indispensable for any job in Asia. Graduates find employment in top advertising agencies, trading companies, airlines, civil society organizations, media, government and various international organisations.

The diversity of the student body and faculty prepares students to work in international environments with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Associate Professor Kyle Cleveland says that studying at TUJ creates an “international, cosmopolitan mindset.” He sees it as a big advantage in a globalised world. Cleveland also emphasizes the program’s focus on developing reasoning skills and the ability to step back and make rational decisions (as opposed to emotion-driven ones), which are a great asset for any specialist. He has also involved students in his research into the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including fieldwork.

Students wishing to continue their education frequently get accepted in post-graduate programs at top schools. For example, a TUJ student who graduated last year is doing a masters degree at Cambridge University. The Asian Studies program boasts the most students who have become university professors. Its alumni are currently teaching at the University of Melbourne (Anthropology), Ritsumeikan University (International Relations), Nanyang Technical University in Singapore (Art History), Northwestern University (Japanese), and Fordham University (Art History). For the motivated, ambitious, and curious, this is your major.

Professor Kingston holding one of his latest books
Professor Kingston with one of his latest books “Nationalism in Asia: A History Since 1945”. Photography by: Olga Garnova

By Olga Garnova (Double major in Communication Studies and Art)