Workshop Topics for Japan Conference 2015

Day 1 | The Two Faces of Japan: Social (In)equalities

Being Nikkei: The Global Japanese Diaspora

The term “Nikkei,” in Japanese, literally means “of Japanese ancestry.” The word usually refers to those who migrated to the Americas and Hawaii in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Following the significant political, economic, social, and cultural changes that stemmed from the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century, many people left Japan and sought economic opportunities abroad. In the countries far away from their motherland, the nikkei often suffered hardships, prejudice, and racial discrimination. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 would make their lives even harder, especially for those who settled in Canada and the United States.

This workshop takes a historical approach in understanding the nikkei people. We will discuss their pre- and post-WWII experiences and how the historical events have shaped the nikkei identities and communities in different parts of the world.


“Freeters” and “NEET’s”: Social Phenomena and Identity in Contemporary Japanese Youth

In this workshop, we will work through some of the labels that have been applied to Japanese youth: “Freeter”, “NEET”, “Hikikimori”, “Otaku”, “Parasite Singles”, “Herbivore Men”. Are these phenomenon unique to Japan? What is the link, if any, with Japan’s changing economy and demographic make up? And what should we make of the terms’ contested use in popular sociology and government officials?

The Golden Years: Demographic Transition and Declining Population

This workshop will first discuss the historical background of Japan’s declining population, and it’s relation to the post-war baby boomers and rapid economic growth. It will then look at the socioeconomic implications of a declining labour force and the sorts of government action that has been taken to tackle both an ageing and declining population. Finally, we will discuss how Japan can live with this demographic transition and what opportunities lie ahead.


Women in Business, Women in Power: Gender Roles in Contemporary Japan

In a recent World Economic Forum report on global gender gaps, Japan ranked 104th  out of 142 countries, with particularly low scores in female participation within parliament, senior business positions and labour force participation. With its shrinking population, female labour participation is becoming increasingly important in the context of a stagnating Japanese economy. Government policies such as “womenomics” are attempting to dismantle barriers to employment and encourage long-term female employment.

クールジャパン: Youth Culture as a Soft Power Export

This workshop will consider the huge diversity of Japan’s “cultural exports” – from Pokemon and just-in time manufacturing to humanitarian aid – in order to think through their potential to do economic and political work.



Day 2 | Regional Challenges and Global Futures

Pacifism/Activism: Constitutional Reform, (Re)Interpretation, and Regional Relations

“It is all done by interpretation so I think it is very ambiguous.” Just like a MP from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party comments, the Constitution of Japan is full of ambiguity, especially the controversial Article 9, which is known as “the Peace Clause” that establishes Japan as a pacifist state. Abe’s conservative government has taken this ambiguity as an advantage and opportunity to reinterpret Article 9. The reinterpretation enables Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense, which has long been impossible under the Constitutional framework. While some believe the event will strengthen Japan’s ties with its allies, some fear it can potentially draw Japan into wars between foreign states.

This workshop studies the Japanese Constitutional revision debate, with the main focus on Article 9. We will discuss the history of the Constitution of Japan and its role in establishing Japan as a pacifist state, as well as what impacts the recent re-interpretations of the Peace Clause will have on Japan’s pacifism, security, and foreign relations.


Diaoyu/Senkaku: Island Dispute(s) and Territorial Claims in the East China Sea

This workshop will study the territorial disputes Japan has with China, focusing on the cultural, historical, and political factors that are complicating the disputes.

Living With Disaster: Sustainability, and Engineering Energy Security in a Post-Fukushima Japan

Natural disasters inhabit a particular cultural and practical space in Japanese consciousness. This workshop seeks to examine Japanese historical and cultural conceptions of natural disasters, existing physical and online natural disaster prevention infrastructure, as well as Japan’s energy future. It will specifically pay attention to natural disasters within the context of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami (3.11).


Shadow Japan: A Booming Underground in a Stagnant Economy

To be discussed in this workshop is the activity of the notorious Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Primarily, it will focus on their economic activity, as keizai yakuza (economic gangsters) and their involvement in corporate affairs. It will also give insight into how the yakuza have been related to right-wing politics, and finally how the organized crime groups have expanded their operations internationally. ​

International Integration: Japan’s Free Trade Future Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The TPP trade deal has been figured as a key piece of PM Shinzo Abe’s plans to a more open and revitalized Japanese economy. But resistance to the regulatory reform demanded by trade partners suggests domestic concerns about this economic approach. In this workshop, we will try to disentangle concerns about the TPP both in Japan and elsewhere, and work towards a critical understanding of the deal.