Questions on Japanese Popular Culture

I was recently asked by the Teaching Japanese Popular Culture conference organisers to answer a series of questions about teaching Japanese popular culture, which I thought I’d also post here.


1) What are some of the classes that you are teaching that involves popular culture and how do you conduct those classes?

The two main classes I teach which involve popular culture are Youth Media  (2nd year class) and Cult Media (3rd year class).

These classes are delivered through weekly lectures (approx 2 hrs) and tutorials (approx 1 hr).  


2) What are some of the challenges that you have faced while conducting a lecture or seminar on popular culture? Who are your students? (Local or foreign students)

One of the main challenges I have faced is the questions of how best to use popular culture as a space for all students to participate in. While popular culture may afford a playful and engaging way for some students to become involved, there will be students who do not share an interest in a particular popular culture. As a consequence I have found they can quickly feel excluded or become disinterested in the material (and class). This requires me to ensure I provide a broader rationale of including a case study looking at popular culture (eg: Pokemon) and relate it back to broader debates around media and social issues, questions of content, law and policy, business, or reflecting on the changing new media landscape.

The bulk of the students attending these classes are local domestic students, with a very small number of foreign students.


3) In recent years, there is a growing interest in the study of popular culture. What are some of the trends that you would foresee in Japanese popular culture studies in general and in Australia?

Some of the key trends I see occurring around the study of Japanese popular culture are related to how it intersects in teaching debates around digital media practices (eg: the manga industry shifting to online methods of content delivery, its ubiquity in online communities – internet memes based around Japanese popular culture, the influence of communities like 2chan and 4chan, the phenomenon of online scanlations of manga, etc), social issues (how manga/anime distorts or not representations of Japan, debates around the representation of negative body images, links to violent behaviour or hyper-sexualised content, etc) and its links to politics and policy (soft power theories, etc), amongst many other issues. 

The use of case studies to explore issues of the globalisation of popular culture, given the maturity of the global Japanese pop culture fan community, may also provide a useful way of teaching the formal and informal fan labor costs which have gone in to publicising and circulating this material. While the Japanese video game industry may not be as dominant as it was ten years ago, it is still one of the most productive and innovative – there is good scope to teach the issues of participation, media effect, and ethics here (games such as Catherine, the popularity of hand-held devices such as the PSP, Nintendo DS, and mobile consumption habits). There are also further opportunities to build upon the work of scholars such as Mimi Ito’s work on Yugioh and her investigation of the Media Mix to explain some of the industry strategies Japan has innovated.

In Australia issues related to Japanese popular culture will continue to provide me with useful ways to teach issues of non-Western examples of media consumption and production. Additionally the communities which engage with Japanese pop culture in Australia reveal important issues around diaspora and multiculturalism which will continue to be important to engage with as Australia negotiates its position in relation to its historical ties to Britain and regional ties to the Pacific and Asia. 



4) This question is regarding your paper “What media pilgrimages and anime fan culture can teach us about new media literacies”. What are the methodology used for your research paper and what are some of the challenges that you have faced during your research?

The analysis presented in my paper is based on a discourse analysis of student feedback comments for the classes. The feedback spans the years 2010 and 2011. The paper draws upon key comments from these feedback forms to show the students’ experiences of my classes where aspects of Japanese popular culture were taught. In addition to these close readings of the feedback forms my observation of the class dynamics and teaching material involved further discussion with colleagues and peers at the University. This analysis uses approaches common to ethnographic studies of interviews, observations and close readings of  participant comments and texts.

My teaching practices and use of Japanese popular culture were analysed in terms of two questions. First, how did students describe their experience of these classes? Second, what were the challenges that brought these practices and examples under some scrutiny. As I will show in my paper, the feedback comments and assessment work provide a useful way of seeing the positive and negatives of using popular culture to teach ideas and knowledge through. My paper reveals a spectrum of student efforts to negotiate the class material, from playful to cynical.

A challenge of conducting this research has been the need to familiarise myself with the growing research in the area of new media literacies and digital humanities teaching. As the only scholar in my School using Japanese (or even Asian) case studies for their teaching it is also challenging to locate this work within dominant western frameworks and assumptions.


5) What are some of the reasons that led you to embark on this research topic?

The main reason that I embarked on research into this topic was to further develop our understanding of how popular culture can provide a really rich scaffold for understanding complex ideas like globalisation, representation, methods of industry production and changing audience consumption patterns. As Henry Jenkins points out “not everything that kids learn from popular culture is bad for them: some of the best writing instruction takes place outside the classroom” ( Jenkins 2004, no page)



6) How would you envision teaching this research topic to your students?

A core learning outcome for my class most closely related to this, Cult Media, is for students to demonstrate learning through applying theoretical knowledge and research about the consumption and production of cult media content to analyse a case study (assessment: media presentation 40% and exegesis 40%). The media presentation will involve students ‘pitching’ a cult media franchise development to their fellow class members. The pitch will include an exegesis and multimedia component (eg: short AV clip) outlining the core features of the franchise, intended audience, media platform strategies, and examples of other related properties. Within this context my work around Japanese media franchises (Ghibli’s anime, Pokemon, Yugioh, etc) will provide an important case-study template for students to consider.


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