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Japan Study Group

Director Fall 2014: Kristina S. Vassil, Assistant Professor of Japanese
The Japan Study Group is a fall semester program centered in Kyoto, Japan, intended to provide Colgate students with the opportunity for intensive language study and stimulate individual exploration of Japanese society and culture. Students will spend most of the four-month program living with host families, studying both in formal classroom settings and on field trips as well as at the grass-roots level. 

The group will depart for Japan in late August and, after a short orientation period in Tokyo, will begin formal intensive language courses at a private language school in Kyoto. The program will end shortly before Christmas.


Kyoto, the cultural heart of Japan, is a millennium-old city rich with traditions and historical monuments. Located near the metropolis of Osaka, it provides access to both traditional and modern Japan. The headquarters of Nintendo sits among sake breweries and family-run workshops specializing in traditional goods while above it spread the grounds of a serene Zen Buddhist monastery. Host families are generally located in the outlying districts of the city where living space is less tight, and in some cases students may have long commutes to and from class. This, however, is the norm for a large proportion of urban Japanese. Additional sites for the study of rural Japan include Himi on the Noto Peninsula, the island of Chichijima in the Ogasawara chain, 500 miles south of Tokyo in the north Pacific Ocean.


Students normally enroll in two of the following language courses taught by the staff at the Kyoto Japanese Language School (KJLS): 

Intermediate Japanese (JAPN 201Y): For those who have studied through JAPN 121-122 (Elementary Japanese) or equivalent before arriving in Japan. Classes meet 3.5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, for five weeks.
Intermediate Japanese (JAPN 291Y): A continuation of 201Y. Classes meet 3.5 hours a day, three times a week for six weeks.
Advanced Japanese (JAPN 301Y): For those who have studied through JAPN 201-202 (Intermediate Japanese). Classes meet for 3.5 hours a day, Monday through Friday, for five weeks.
Advanced Japanese (JAPN 391Y): Continuation of 301Y. Classes meet 3.5 hours a day, three times a week for six weeks.

All students will enroll in the following two courses taught by the Director:

JAPN 481 Region and Rhetoric: Kyoto in Japanese Literature and Film (Professor Vassil):
This course examines the relationship between place and literature with respect to the city of Kyoto in pre-modern and modern contexts. As a millennium old city and ancient capital, Kyoto has been memorialized in classical poetry, prose and drama and holds a special place in the Japanese public imagination. Through readings in classical and modern literature and modern film, we will ask questions such as, how does literature set in Kyoto contribute to ideas about Japanese tradition and cultural identity? What are some of the literary sources upon which these ideas are formed, and how are these ideas related to contemporary experience? After reading several classical literary sources important in establishing Kyoto as a hub of Japanese tradition, we will consider how later authors—from both inside and outside of Japan—preserved, perpetuated, and problematized this image. To enhance student learning, readings will be accompanied by site visits to places in and around the city.

JAPN 482 Cultural Studies: The Japanese Village (Professor Vassil):
This course, which goes back to the foundation of the Japan Study Group and to its early director, introduces students to Japanese lifestyles outside the congestion of the cities. Students will examine the foundations of Japanese social interaction through readings and lectures, followed by two one-week internships set in rural villages. The first takes place at the mid-term in the small coastal settlement of Ozakai near the city of Himi on the Noto Peninsula, and the second at the end of the program on Chichijima, a small island 500 miles off the coast of Tokyo.

Independent Study

One of the two director’s courses (JAPN 481 or 482) may be replaced by an independent study with permission of the director. Past independent projects have dealt with architecture, pilgrimage, US-Japan relations in Okinawa, Ainu folklore, English instruction in high schools, and the like.

Field Trips

In addition to field trips to the major historical and cultural sites of the Kyoto and Nara areas, students will visit Tokyo and Osaka, Himeji Castle, the Buddhist monastery on Mount Koya, the great Shinto shrine complex at Ise, and the cities of Kanazawa and Hiroshima.


(1) Core 167 (Japan) or its equivalent must have been completed by May 2014.
(2) Language Requirements: Japanese 121 and 122 (or the equivalent as approved by the director): applications will be accepted from students who do not yet meet the language requirements, but selection for participation in the study group will depend upon timely satisfaction of the requirements.


For details of student expenses on this study group, please see Student Cost Estimate Sheets.

Calendar and Deadlines

All students interested in applying should plan on attending one of the informational sessions.  The deadline for applications to the fall 2014 Japan Study Group is Friday, November 8, 2013.  Applications are on the Colgate University Off-Campus Study/International Programs website and are submitted online. Only finalists in the selection process will be interviewed. Interviews will take place before fall exams and will be arranged by email. Student notification of selections will be completed during the week of December 17 – 21. Written confirmation of participation is due January 2, 2014.

Passports and Visas

You must confirm that your passport is valid through June 2015. All students participating on the Japan Study Group will be required to obtain a Japanese student visa. With participation on this study group comes the responsibility of understanding and complying with Japanese government visa requirements. If you will not be traveling on a U.S. passport it is imperative that you contact an adviser in Off-Campus Study/International Programs, 101 Lathrop, and International Student Services, 103C Lathrop Hall, to learn as much as you can about the regulations. For some students there are significant visa requirements to be met that take time, advance planning, and incur extra costs.

Program Dates

Japan Study Group Approximate Dates: late August - shortly before Christmas, 2014.

Informational Sessions

Saturday, October 26th at 10:30 am in 107 Lawrence Hall