An independent study is a great way to fit Japanese into your school career, allowing you to get credits for doing what you love. It doesn’t require an Asian/Japanese studies major, meaning you can still get whatever unrelated degree you want to. Prepare a little, make your independent study go smoothly, and receive school credit for having fun in Japanese while pursuing your own interests. This guide is here to help you.
The Search For A Topic
First start thinking about the topic and ask yourself the following questions:
– Do you want it to be purely about the Japanese language and its use in native materials (such as literature or cinema)?
– Do you want it to be about Japan in general (contemporary or historical)?
– Do you want it to apply to a field you are majoring in?
– Do you want it to be a subject your interested in?
While it would be awesome to get credits for what we already do, reading manga/novels, watching movies, watching anime, etc., an independent study gives you the chance to go further. Think about what is really important to you, such as a region of Japan, or an issue like energy (ex. crisis in Fukushima). Then see if it applies to your major, as maybe it can go towards a requirement!
I chose to do an independent study on deaf culture and language in Japan, a topic I’m fascinated by, while at the same time has to be researched primarily in Japanese.
The Hunt For A Professor
While the best time to start planning is early in your college career so that you can make connections with professors, anytime is fine. Keep tabs on all those professors you’ve encountered in the various general requirement classes you’ve taken, Japanese language/culture classes you’ve taken, and Japanese native professors you’ve had in your own field or topic of interest.
The professor you choose doesn’t necessarily have to be fluent in Japanese or interested in Japan, depending on how confident you are in your own Japanese and how much you want them involved in your research. Some professors are stricter than others, and won’t take on an independent study topic that they aren’t familiar with, while others are more flexible. Many professors will take your word on your Japanese skill, and trust that you can handle the work.
If your topic is contemporary, a good field to look into is cultural/social anthropology. Anthropology’s main method of research is participant observation, which means field work that requires participating in the activity while observing it, not that foreign from the immersion method. It is also fairly a new field and less strict, so you may be able to find a professor to swing your study. These professors most likely have done field work themselves and can offer good insight and advice.
Get Yourself In Preparation Mode
It’s good to start buying your materials early (or at least see a preview/table of contents for) to get an idea of what your study will look like. Do this after you’ve found a professor you think might be interested in taking you on, but before you’ve written your proposal. There are a variety of creative and fun materials you could work from. Think of how these materials will guide you to accomplish your research goal. If you’re working from a textbook, take a look at the table of contents and prepare ahead of time what chapters you’ll incorporate into your study.
Depending on your confidence in your Japanese ability, you may want to also pick up/keep in mind some English materials. You may realize you’ve taken on way more than you can handle when it comes to your Japanese ability, and the English materials can be a good back up.
Flying Away For Field Work
If you can afford it, try to fit in a trip to Japan to do the field work. The professor who supervised my independent study suggested this, and I jumped at the opportunity. Yeah, it was tiring to have homework from other classes, research for the independent study and to do all the other things I wanted to do in Japan for leisure all in one trip. But it was an adventure that was totally worth it.
Even if you can’t find your way to Japan, field work in your home country may be just as valuable. I’m sure there is a local Japanese community waiting for your eager arrival.
Awareness Waiting To Be Raised
An independent study can seem quite self-involved, but it can also be a good chance to spread awareness about your topic and research among your school, field and the internet. There’s the option of writing an academic journal about your experience for your field, putting on a presentation/film viewing, and (video) blogging about your experience. Along with you and your professor, a lot of others could benefit from your research.