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Japan Study Group

Director Spring 2020: Dai Yamamoto, Associate Professor of Geography and Asian Studies

History of the Japan Study Group

In 1972, a year after the Japanese Language Department was established at Colgate, the first Japan Study Group was created. Director Kendall A. Bash and 24 students left J.F. Kennedy Airport on August 24, 1972 for Tokyo and returned on January 20, 1973. Students took 2 courses in the Fall term and conducted a January Project for the Jan Term. The first month they lived in Inter-University Seminary House studying Language. Then they lived in the Daigaku Seminar House for an intensive program of language instruction. By now the students were able to use language in the street and motivation took an upward turn. Four seniors in ICU were instructors, as arranged by Miss Fumiko Koide of that faculty. The instructors also lived full time at Daigaku Seminar House. The second month, the Experiment in International Living arranged four weeks for family homestay in Gunma-ken and Oita-ken. In Oct. 21st, all students went to Kyoto. Another four weeks were spent in Hachioji with host families. In October, the students had a project. Students also selected a topic for a Special Studies Course, usually in the area of his concentration. Most of these courses were under the supervision of some other member of the Colgate faculty with background experience and study in Japan sufficient to guide the project. Travel was always arranged by Colgate. This continued for years and today the program is operated in the spring semester centers in Kyoto, Japan, with local host families and intensive language course at a private language school in Kyoto.


The Japan Study Group, established in 1972, is a spring 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 mid-February and will begin formal intensive language courses at a private language school in Kyoto. The program ends in early June.


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. Additional sites for the study group include both large cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Hiroshima, and distinct rural areas such as a small island off the coast of Yamaguchi, a farming village near Japan Alps, and areas recovering from tsunami disasters in Tohoku.

Housing and Meals

Students live with host families who prepare breakfast and dinner daily. 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. Students will commute to class which ranges from walking distance to an hour by public transportation.


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

Intermediate Japanese II (JAPN 202Y): For those who have studied through JAPN 201 (Intermediate Japanese I) or equivalent before arriving in Japan. Classes meet 3.5 hours a day, four times a week for five weeks.

Intermediate Japanese III (JAPN 251Y): A continuation of 202Y. Classes meet 3.5 hours a day, four times a week for five weeks.

Advanced Japanese II (JAPN 302Y): For those who have studied through JAPN 301 (Advanced Japanese I). Classes meet for 3.5 hours a day, four times a week for five weeks. 

Advanced Japanese III (JAPN 351Y): Continuation of 302Y. Classes meet 3.5 hours a day, four times a week for five weeks. 

1) JAPN 481Y Topics in Japanese Cultures—Urban Cultural Geographies of Japan (Professor D. Yamamoto):
This course explores how people and social groups construct and modify, and interpret and attach meaning to particular places, spaces, and boundaries in the context of contemporary Japan. Japan offers an interesting case in which how everyday spaces are organized differently from those of the west. We draw conceptual tools and empirical examples from the field of cultural geography as well as its related fields such as folk culture studies, sociology, and anthropology. The course includes lectures, discussions, and extensive fieldwork. Texts and class discussion are mostly in English but some elementary knowledge of modern standard Japanese for everyday use is assumed. Discussion includes how the use of language in a variety of forms reflects the current state of the society and culture in Japan. [This course counts as an elective for Japanese major, Geography major/minor, and Asian Studies major/minor (all pending approval).]

2) GEOG 315Y Sustainable Livelihoods in Asia (Professor D. Yamamoto):
We are living in the world of growing uncertainty filled with various “shocks” such as natural disasters, financial crises, and development projects, and more insidious “distress” via climate change, excessive industrial specialization, and demographic transitions. This course focuses on how households and communities cope with, resist, adapt to, and challenge these large structural “disturbances” in locally specific and ingenious ways in order to take control and enhance their livelihood opportunities and cultural identities. Case studies are primarily drawn from Japan, but other Asian countries are also discussed for comparative purposes. During the Japan Study Group, a particular emphasis will be given to the discussion and applications of field research methods and techniques, including interviewing and mapping, in field trip sites during Japan Study Group. [This course offered in Japan Study Group counts as an elective for Japanese major, Geography major/minor, and Asian Studies major/minor, and Core GE].

Independent Study

One of the two courses above (JAPN 481Y or GEOG 315Y) 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.

Field Trips

Due to the nature of the focal discipline of Geography, fieldwork is an integral part of this study group, and it includes a wide range of short daytrips and week-long trips, and visits to urban and rural areas, in and outside of Kyoto. Major destinations include Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Yamaguchi, Kagoshima, Niigata/Nagano, and Miyagi/Fukushima.


(1) Core 167 (Japan) or its equivalent must be completed no later than Fall 2019.

(2) Language Requirements: Japanese 121 and 122 (or the equivalent as approved by the director). Students who complete only Japanese 121 but who show evidence for willingness to explore Japanese culture with patience, diligence, openness, and respect may be considered for participation. 


For details of student expenses on this study group, please see the Student Cost Estimate Sheets on the Off-Campus Study / International Programs website.

Calendar and Deadlines

The study group application will open on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, and will close on Wednesday, November 7, 2018.   All applications are submitted online at offcampusstudy.colgate.edu.   The faculty director will announce admissions decisions by late December.  Written confirmation of participation is due early to mid-January.  

Program Dates

Japan Study Group Approximate Dates: mid-February to early June, 2020

Passports and Visas

You must confirm that your passport will remain valid through December 2020. All students participating on the Study Group will be required to obtain long-stay student visas. With participation on this study group comes the responsibility of understanding and complying with the Japanese government’s 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 and International Student Services, 101 McGregory, to learn as much as you can about the regulations. For some students there are significant visa requirements to be met that take time, advanced planning, and may incur extra costs. 

Informational Sessions

Wednesday, October 10 at 4:15pm in 101 McGregory Hall

Thursday, October 25 at 4:15pm in 101 McGregory Hall