Disparity Studies

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 5:56 am

In my discussion of the job market I said “I only saw two Korea positions, which seems about par for previous years: at some point, though, Korea positions should catch up with Japan ones.” Morgan Pitelka took exception, noting (correctly) that

Other than UCLA, which continues to have one of the most productive Korean studies programs outside of Korea, and perhaps Harvard and Columbia, how many grad schools are cranking out Korean studies PhDs? I also know of only a handful of liberal arts colleges with any substantial Korean studies, and rarely language. Very few regional/MA-granting universities have substantial Korean studies. Almost all have some Japanese studies. Also, as far as I know, few colleges or universities DON’T have access to study abroad in Japan. On the other hand, most colleges and universities don’t have study abroad options in Korea.

He’s absolutely right, of course: Korean studies doesn’t have the infrastructure Japanese studies does in the US1 and that means that — like the painfully slow growth of MidEast studies and Islamic history after 9/11 — it will take real time and effort to build. But that’s a symptom, I think, not the root of the issue. As I said, “Korean history is no less interesting than Japanese history, and the US is no less involved in Korean affairs than it is in Japanese affairs.”

Another commenter, “Overthinker” offered a cultural explanation:

There seem to be three fundamental reasons why Japanese Studies is “bigger” than Korean. One is that WW2 was more significant that the Korean War, and has given us longer-lasting imagery; household words like Pearl Harbour and Hiroshima that everyone knows about, whereas to most people the Korean War is basically Klinger in a dress. Second is the dominance of Japanese products in the marketplace: while LG and Samsung etc are strong players, they have not yet achieved the dominance of Toyota, Sony, and Nintendo. Third is the generally “cooler” images of Japan. Think of Korea, and most Americans would be hard-pressed to think beyond the aforementioned M*A*S*H and perhaps Kim Il Jung singing “I’m so ronery”. Mention Japan and people think of samurai and geisha and ninja, plus robots and giant rubber monsters stomping Tokyo on a regular basis. All these three factors would seem to indicate a greater interest in Japan at the BA level, which translates to bigger graduate programs, and more PhDs in the area. To become bigger, Korea needs to become more popular – more people at the undergrad level need to be curious about the place.

This is closer, I think: I definitely agree that Japan’s lead in economic and cultural production is a part of the puzzle. The relationship between pop culture images and student demand is not always straightforward, but it is true that there is more Japanalia in American culture than Koreania2 and more interest in the cultural roots of its economic success3 because that success was so striking in the 80s.

But, as I’ve said before, “there’s no question that a historian can’t complicate by talking about what led up to it” and I think the key to this puzzle is earlier. Much earlier: I think it starts in 1853.


  1. or anywhere in the West, I think, but I’m just going to go with what I know []
  2. No, I don’t know that “Koreania” is a word: would “Koreanalia” be closer? []
  3. I just had a discussion with my World History students about Musashi’s Book of Five Rings…. []


The Job Market for Japanese Historians

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 3:50 am

This could be a very interesting year for the job market, not to mention for Asian history blogging. I know of three Asian history bloggers on the hunt for new jobs this year: none of them have started blogging about the experience, but I’d like to invite them — or any other blogger with an eye on the lists — to start, at least a little bit.1

It’s always been a bit of a curiousity to me that there isn’t more discussion on the blogs or listservs of the state of the market. Faculty with tenure don’t care, except perhaps about very particular opportunities. People already in tenure-track positions aren’t supposed to be watching the ads: makes the department nervous about their “committment.” People who are fresh on the market don’t want to … well, spook potential employers, mostly, though they might also be concerned about giving away too much about their own search decisions to competitors, as well. Me? Well, my blogging is already on my vita, so it’s not like I’m trying to hide it from potential employers.2 I’m a blogger: I talk about things that interest me.

Well, the majority of this year’s crop of jobs has been posted, and it’s time to take stock. I’ll start.


  1. I’m not going to name the other ones here: it’s entirely up to them whether they want to take any aspect of this already grinding process public. []
  2. Like I could, at this point! Not. []


Calendar converter

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 1:23 pm

Some of you may know about this tool already, but I just discovered Matthias Schemm’s wonderful NengoCalc, an online or offline converter of Japanese and Western dates.

Converting premodern Japanese dates to the Western calendar is extremely tricky because the years were not coterminus until Japan’s adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1873. So, to cite a well known example, Tokugawa Ieyasu was born on the 26th day of the 12th month of the 11th year of the reign period Tembun. Most of Tembun 11 corresponds to 1542, but not all of it. As NengoCalc nicely informs us, Ieyasu was born on January 31, 1543, which happened to be a Wednesday.

Thanks Matthias!


Controversy over the origins of the Japanese schoolgirl sailor uniform

Filed under: — Nick Kapur @ 10:39 pm

fukuoka-jogakuin-1921.jpgFor years private girls academy Fukuoka Jogakuin in Kyushu has been credited with first introducing in 1921 the famous sailor-style uniform worn by so many middle-school Japanese girls. However a recent investigation by a uniform manufacturer preparing an exhibit on the history of Japanese school uniforms has unearthed photographic evidence that Heian Jogakuin in Kyoto introduced a uniform with a sailor-style flap one year earlier, in 1920.

heian-jogakuin-1920.jpg The debate has heated up, with both schools insisting that they were the first and that the other schools claim is invalid. At a time when declining numbers of Japanese children are forcing private schools to become increasingly cuthroat in their competition for students, having an awesome uniform with a storied past is seen as a way to attract students.

While it seems incontrovertable that the Kyoto school had the sailor flap first, their uniform was an unsightly, shapeless one-piece, where as the Fukuoka school’s uniform is clearly a precursor to the style still in use today, so maybe both schools have a reasonable claim.

Source: セーラー服:発祥論争 平安女学院VS福岡女学院 (毎日新聞)


Asian History Carnival Coming October 10th

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:58 am

I just wanted to announce that we will be hosting an Asian History Carnival at the Frog in a Well: China weblog on October 10th. Read more about the Asian History Carnival and how you can nominate posts for inclusion here. The carnival will include excellent weblog postings on Asian History written since August 8th, along with some related online resources. You can also easily recommend nominations by tagging them on del.icio.us with the tag “ahcarnival” (http://del.icio.us/tag/ahcarnival/).

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