Japanese Popular Culture and Modern Literature
Tell us a little about yourself, your background and what inspired your early interest in Japanese culture and modern literature?
I am originally from Shenzhen, China. After receiving a BA in Japanese from Shenzhen University, I came to UBC to pursue my graduate studies. I have finished my MA here a couple of years ago and am currently in the third year of my PhD program at the Department of Asian Studies, working on Japanese popular culture and modern literature. I have always been a huge fan of Japanese popular culture—music, manga, anime, TV programs, cinema, literature, etc., even before I learned Japanese. After learning the language, I became even more enchanted with its culture, and intellectually curious about the social, cultural, and political meaning/function of its cultural products that continue to fascinate an enormous amount of cultural consumers beyond geopolitical boundaries.
Could you explain to a non-expert what you are researching and why it is significant?
My research aims to explore various social issues facing the current Japanese younger generation and how those issues (anxiety, desire, trauma, and fantasy etc.,) are being dealt with in the realm of Japanese popular culture. Far from merely an entertainment, popular culture offers us important insights to explore the transforming society underneath its surface, the dreams/nightmares shared by its producers and consumers, as well as the struggle/negotiation between the interests of different groups of people in our contemporary society. Exploring the culture we consume not only helps us understand the global society we live in today, but also brings us a better understanding of ourselves in return.
Why did you choose the Asian Studies program at UBC?
I first learned about the Asian Studies program when I was participating in an exchange program at Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto, Japan) during my undergraduate study from a friend who came from UBC. After looking through the program and the faculty information, I was determined to pursue my graduate studies on Japanese modern literature and popular culture under the supervision of Dr. Sharalyn Orbaugh, an influential figure and wonderful scholar in the field. I was blessed to be accepted into the program, and have the pleasure to work with many brilliant and supportive experts in our department (Dr. Orbaugh, Dr. Mostow, Dr. Laffin, and Dr. Yi, to name a few). Other professors have also been very generous and supportive whenever I consult them about my research plan. With all the kindest support from my supervisor, faculty members and the department staff at Asian Studies, I am extremely grateful to be a part of this department, and studying at UBC was the best choice I have ever made in my life.
What are your career and academic goals? And how is our program helping you achieve them?
An academic position that allows me to carry on my research while teaching students on the topics revolving around literature and culture. I also hope to be involved in various activities and events that connect academia with local communities. What is especially great about the program here at UBC is that not only it allows us to keep challenging ourselves in the world of knowledge, it also provides us with many opportunities (such as teaching/research assistantships and various fellowship programs) to learn about how to become a future scholar in the field of our interests. Furthermore, UBC is affiliated with a wide range of academic institutes or research centers all over the world, which provide additional learning/training/research opportunities for us.
Last year, I participated in a one-year fellowship program at IUC (Inter-University Centre for Japanese Language Studies) in Yokohama, Japan. It is a prestigious program in the field of Japanese studies that not only helps us improve language skills required for conducting/presenting researches in Japanese, but also give us an invaluable chance to network with other fellow researchers in the similar field. Albeit an intensive program with demanding goals that constantly push us to further improve our language skills, all the instructors in the center are extremely kind and helpful. If you are also in Japanese studies and eligible to apply, I highly recommend you to participate in this program.
As a graduate student, what have been the main activities and responsibilities?
Reading and thinking constantly. One of the great things about being a graduate student is that we get to delve into researches about topics of our interests. Surrounded by experts and brilliant scholars in our department, you just want to learn and try to take in as much as possible. Besides studying, I also regularly attend conferences/lectures given by invited scholars and other social events to mingle with other fellow graduate students as well. It is our main responsibility to stay involved in the academic community.
Has there been an aspect of your graduate experience that was unexpected?
Not really. I have tried to talk to as many people in the program as I can to get some perspectives on the program before I started. Stress, frustration, and feeling of being stuck always accompany us no matter where we go, but luckily we have a group of very supportive people in our department that help us go through any turmoil along the way.
There are, however, quite a few delighted “unexpected” experiences I have at UBC. One of them was the opportunity to meet and interview the world-renowned actress Yoshinaga Sayuri and composer/pianist Sakamoto Ryuichi when they visited UBC two years ago to present a reading and musical performance of poems by nuclear survivors in Japan. It was an extraordinary experience as I have been a huge fan of their work for a long time; it was amazing, and truly unexpected, that I would actually have a chance to meet and talk to them in person.
What has been your most impactful experience as a graduate student?
It is very hard to pinpoint one most impactful experience because a graduate student because every seminar/lecture we attend and every opportunity to work with different professors/instructors as a TA or RA have been extremely inspiring in a variety of ways. While each project we are involved (either in our own research or in collaboration with others) certainly helps shape us as future scholars, I think it’s important to take it one step at a time, learn from each people we work with, and appreciate every opportunity we are offered.
Can you give any advice to new students in our program or for students considering applying to it?
Talk to people in the program and get to know their experiences. Of course, everyone is different with his/her own unique experience as a graduate student. But the more you learn about their experiences, the more likely you would have a better and clearer idea as to what to expect and how to cope with it. While it takes great effort and determination to commit yourself to graduate studies, finding a program that suits your needs with supportive department staff/faculty members and fellow students would definitely make it less of a stressful experience and more of an enjoyable and valuable journey for your future to come.