Oxford has enjoyed a long, rich and fruitful history with Japan. The first Japanese book arrived at the Bodleian library in 1629, and the first Japanese students arrived to study at Oxford in the late 19th century. Tomotsune Iwakura, the third son of Tomomi Iwakura, then Minister of the Right in Japan, was among the first. He was followed by many others, including Umeko Tsuda, founder of Japan’s first private women’s school of higher education, who studied at St Hilda’s College.
The University has enjoyed close links with the Japanese Imperial Family, dating back to the 1920s when Prince Chichibu studied at Oxford. More recently, Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako both studied at the University.
Oxford’s relationship with Japan has grown from strength to strength as the University has expanded its study of Japan, collaborated with Japanese scientific institutions, educated talented Japanese students and received major gifts from Japanese supporters of the University’s work.
As a mark of the importance with which Oxford holds its relationship with Japan, one of the University’s three international offices is based in Tokyo. In addition, Oxford University Press (OUP) have had an office in Japan since 1957, and OUP Japan today employs over 50 staff, publishes ELT and academic materials, and offers teacher training and ELT consultancy.
Japanese has been taught at Oxford since 1909, and as a full undergraduate degree subject since 1963. Today, Oxford is recognised as one of the leading universities in the world for Japanese studies, regularly placing near the top of international rankings for the subject.
Japan studies at Oxford
The two centres for the study of Japan at Oxford are the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, the latter being one of several area studies centres that are part of the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies. The University's BA degree in Japanese is offered through the Oriental Studies faculty, and taught by staff from both the Oriental Studies faculty and the Nissan Institute; the two units also offer jointly an MSc and an MPhil degree in Japanese Studies.
Japan-related work at the Faculty of Oriental Studies focuses on the humanities and linguistics, and the faculty is also the centre at the University for Japanese language instruction.
The Nissan Institute focuses on the social sciences, and hosts various activities such as the Nissan Seminar series and a weekly research seminar for graduate students. Since the early 1990s, it has also published the Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series, which, with over 100 volumes published, is the largest Japanese studies publications series in the world.
The Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics was established in Oxford in 2009. The Centre functions as an umbrella for research activities related to Japanese language and linguistics throughout the University and serves as a forum for publicising teaching, seminars, lectures, and other activities of interest to Japanese linguistics, and as a point of access to information for prospective graduate students interested in Japanese language and linguistics. The Centre welcomes academic visitors to the University who work within Japanese linguistics.
Libraries and museums
The Bodleian Japanese Library was opened to readers in April 1993 in the newly constructed building of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies. The Library houses the University's principal collections in the humanities and social sciences which relate to the history and culture of Japan. It combines the Bodleian’s extensive holdings on Japan with the residual collection of the former Nissan Institute Library. The Library, comprising about 120,000 volumes, offers one of the best research collections for Japanese studies in Europe.
The Ashmolean Museum's Japanese collections were begun at the earliest stages of the Museum's history. A pair of Japanese zori, described in an early inventory as 'sandals made of twigs', was part of the original Tradescant collection that formed the foundation of the Ashmolean Museum, given to the University by Elias Ashmole. Highlights of the Japanese collection include woodblock prints, Buddhist sculpture, sword furniture, netsuke and inrō, and lacquerware for both export and domestic markets.
The Pitt Rivers Museum's Japan collection includes Noh masks, netsuke, arms and armour and everyday objects.
Collaborations with Japanese institutions
A number of leading Japanese organisations have supported the creation of research centres at Oxford. For example, the car manufacturer Nissan supported the creation of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, and the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and Education in Tokyo supports the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, set up in 2002 in the Department of Philosophy.
The annual Kyoto Prize at Oxford event has been hosted at Oxford's Blavatnik School of Government since 2017, one of a small number of events that host the Inamori Foundation's Kyoto Prize laureates after they receive their awards in Japan. The Prize recognises individuals who have ‘contributed substantially to the cultural, scientific, and spiritual betterment of mankind’. The Oxford event is intended as a forum to bring the laureates together with prominent or influential figures in their fields.
Oxford and the University of Tokyo are members of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), along with nine other global research-intensive universities. Together, they tackle major research projects, offer a Global Internship Programme to one-another’s students, and take action on critical university issues such as campus sustainability.
Scholarships and travel assistance
There are many schemes offering funding for international undergraduate students and particularly funding for international graduate students to study at Oxford, as well as schemes to help students already at Oxford travel abroad.
The Oxford University Japan Society is a student-run society which aims to introduce and promote the enjoyment of Japanese culture and provide an interface between Japanese students in Oxford and those with an interest in Japan. The society runs social and cultural events relating to Japan, in addition to providing Japanese language classes for its members.
Oxford alumni in Japan
There are three alumni societies in Japan: the joint Cambridge & Oxford Societies in Kansai and in Tokyo, and the Oxford Alumni Club of Japan.
Notable alumni in Japan
Our many distinguished alumni include ambassadors, politicians, business leaders, academics, senior officers of top universities, journalists, and heads of international organisations. Six members of the Japanese Imperial Family have been educated at Oxford, including the present Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, as well as Prince Chichibu in the 1920s. Most recently, Princess Akiko, niece of former Emperor Akihito, completed a doctorate in Oriental Studies in 2011. Oxford has also educated a number of prominent Japanese public figures including:
- Haruhiko Kuroda, governor, Bank of Japan; former president of the Asian Development Bank
- Miyuki Suzuki, president (Asia, Pacific and Japan), Cisco Systems; former CEO, Jetstar Japan