Oxford University 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 Tsuda Umeko, 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 His Imperial Highness Prince Chichibu studied at Oxford. More recently, Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess 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 have had an office in Japan since 1957, and OUP Japan today employs over 50 staff members, publishes ELT and academic materials, and offers teacher training and ELT consultancy.
Japanese has been taught in some form at Oxford since 1909, and as a full undergraduate degree subject since 1963. Today, Oxford is one of the leading universities in the world for Japanese studies and was recently ranked as one of the top five departments for Japanese studies in the world. There are currently sixteen senior faculty members and three full-time language instructors engaged in research and teaching in fields related to Japan.
The study of Japan at Oxford takes place in three centres:
East Asia Studies
The sub-faculty of East Asia Studies is part of the Faculty of Oriental Studies. The teaching for language classes for the BA degree in Japanese Studies takes place in the Faculty and there are ten or so graduate students studying in the sub-Faculty each year. The University currently has sixteen senior faculty members and three full-time language instructors engaged in research and teaching in fields related to Japan. Through its focus on Japanese language, literature and history, the Faculty of Oriental Studies provides the essential linguistic and cultural framework required for the detailed study of Japan.
Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies
The Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies was established in 1981 and is part of the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies. It focuses on social sciences and the study of modern Japan. The Institute runs an MSc and an MPhil programme, organises the Nissan Seminar series and the Graduate Seminar in Japanese Studies, and also organises workshops. It also hosts international visitors and has published over 70 volumes in its Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series – the largest Japanese studies publication series in the world. Researchers at the Nissan Institute examine the diversity of Japanese society and the social changes that are accompanying economic and demographic shifts in the country.
The Nissan Institute’s strength in the social sciences complements the Faculty of Oriental Studies’ expertise in the humanities, covering both historical and modern Japan.
Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics
In March 2009, the Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics was established at Oxford. 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.
In addition to the dedicated centres for the study and teaching of Japan and the Japanese language, a number of research projects related to Japan and Japanese Studies are currently running in departments across the University.
For example, the Climate Change and Ageing Population project within the Oxford Institute of Ageing explores conflicts and convergences between climate change and the ageing population in the UK and Japan. According to the UN, half the global population resident in cities will be over the age of 60 by the year 2050, and many of the conveniences that address age-related changes (automobiles, elevators, air-conditioning) are also highly dependent on energy. By linking together these two drivers, this project aims to develop flexible responses to the combined challenges of climate and demographic change.
- East Asia Studies
- Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies
- Research Centre for Japanese Language and 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.
At Oxford’s Botanic Gardens, the Impey collection of Japanese botany is funded by a donation from the Impey family in memory of Oliver Impey, who is best remembered as the former Assistant Keeper of Japanese Art at the Eastern Art Department of the Ashmolean. Impey was awarded the Koyama Fujio Memorial Prize in 1997, and was also an enthusiastic member of the board for Oxford’s Botanic Garden for many years. Botanists are planning a forthcoming expedition to Japan to acquire plant material for the Impey Collection, which will promote the biodiversity of Japan and which will subsequently be used in all aspects of the Garden’s Education Programmes.
Oxford has strong collaborative links with a range of Japanese universities, businesses and non-profit organisations in disciplines ranging from anthropology and history to physics and medicine. These relationships range from long term, multi disciplinary research collaborations to individual partnerships between Oxford faculty members and their Japanese colleagues. Some of the collaborations between Oxford and Japan can be seen below:
The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and its 8.3 metre Subaru Telescope, located in Hawaii, are an important international resource. In 2008, a fibre multi-object spectrograph (FMOS) was installed on the Subaru Telescope in Hawaii to assist the study of galaxy evolution, dark energy, and early cosmic expansion. Oxford’s astronomical instrumentation group played a leading role in the international collaboration that designed and made this important instrument.
Oxford University has formal partnership and collaboration agreements with a number of key academic institutions in Japan, including Kobe University, Osaka University and Nara Medical University. We also have an ongoing international collaboration agreement with Jeol Ltd., Japan’s leading supplier of electron microscopes - to conduct ongoing research in the field of Transmission Electron Microscopy.
Oxford also has collaborations with Japanese scientists working in particle physics. Oxford physicists are creating laserwires for the Accelerator Test Facility at KEK (Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation), and for the proposed International Linear Collider.
In Material Sciences, Oxford scientists are investigating properties of different materials with a number of Japanese institutions including Toyo, Tokyo, INSS, Osaka City. The team at ISIS Innovation are working with Mitsui to develop business opportunities for advanced technologies and to establish collaborative relationships with Oxford departments.
All of our undergraduates studying Japanese spend the second year of their four-year undergraduate degree at Kobe University in Japan for extensive language study, combined with the study of civilization, culture and history. Several Oxford colleges also have long-running links with Japanese universities, welcoming visiting students to Oxford from the partner institution: Wadham with Hiroshima; Queen’s with Ochanomizu; and both Hertford and Pembroke with Waseda.
Along with eight other research-intensive universities, Oxford and the University of Tokyo are members of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). Together, they are tackling major research projects, offering a Global Summer Programme to one another’s students, and taking action on critical university issues such as campus sustainability.
Japanese support for Oxford research
Oxford is highly fortunate to have had the support of a number of leading Japanese organisations in setting up some of its cutting edge research centres. Nissan supported the creation of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies; Nomura, a large Japanese multinational organisation, support the Nomura Centre for Mathematical Finance which was established in 2001; 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.
Today there are over 85 Japanese citizens enrolled as students at Oxford University, and the majority of them are full-time graduate students. Almost half of these students are studying courses in the social sciences. For Japanese undergraduates at Oxford, the most popular courses are Physics and Philosophy, Politics and Economics. At the graduate level, Mathematics, Mathematical Finance and Economics are the subjects most frequently chosen by Japanese students.
The Oxford University Japanese Society (OUJS) 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
With over 30 Japanese citizens among the University’s academic staff, Japan ranks among the top 20 largest sources of academic talent at Oxford.
Professor Takehiko Kariya
Professor Kariya is Professor of the Sociology of Japanese Society, and a Fellow of St Antony’s College. He is also currently the Director of Graduate Studies for the master's programmes in Modern Japanese Studies. He came to Oxford in 2008 from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Tokyo, where he had been a professor of sociology of education until 2009. Professor Kariya‘s main research interests revolve around social stratification and social mobility, the social changes of Postwar Japan, and social and educational policies.
Professor Kariya studied for his BA and MA at the University of Tokyo, and moved to the United States for his PhD in Sociology at Northwestern University.
Professor Mari Sako
Professor Sako is Professor of Management Studies at the Saïd Business School, member of the Novak Druce Centre for Professional Service Firms, and a Professorial Fellow of New College, Oxford. Her research focuses on global strategy, Japanese business, and outsourcing. Professor Sako is currently investigating the way in which cost pressures are contributing to the outsourcing and offshoring of legal services, and how this impacts the way law firms operate.
Professor Sako's academic career began at Oxford where she read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). She then studied for an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics and an MA in Economics at Johns Hopkins University, before completing her PhD at London University in 1990.
Approximately 800 Oxford alumni live in Japan today. Many are active in the joint Oxford & Cambridge Society of Tokyo, and in the newly established Oxford University Japan Society. Both societies hold a number of informal social events each year.
Our many distinguished alumni include ambassadors, politicians, business leaders, academics, senior officers of top universities, journalists, and heads of international organisations. Five members of the Japanese Imperial Family, including His Imperial Highness Prince Chichibu, Crown Prince Naruhito, Crown Princess Masako, and Prince Akishino, were educated at Oxford. A sixth, Princess Akiko, niece of the Emperor, recently completed a doctorate in Oriental Studies. Oxford has also educated a number of prominent Japanese public figures including:
Politics and government
Hiroharu Koike, Japanese Ambassador to the Netherlands
Dr Takashi Omori, APEC Economic Committee Chair and Policy Advisor to the Japanese Cabinet Office
- Dr Yuki Allyson Honjo, Senior Vice-President, Fox-Pitt
- Haruhiko Kuroda, President, Asian Development Bank
- Miyuki Suzuki, CEO, Jetstar Japan
- Professor Harumi Goto-Shibata, Professor of International History, Tokyo University
- Akifumi Ikeda, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Toyo Eiwa University
- Professor Akira Ariyoshi, Hitotsubashi University