Education About Asia: Online Archives

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Book Review, Columns

Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan

The idea that nations invent themselves is not a new concept. However, for some reason, possibly political, this rarely has been applied to modern Japan. That omission has been corrected by the compendium of authors who have contributed their works to this volume. Skillfully edited by Steven Vlastos, Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan is the result of a series of international conferences, the first of which was held in 1990....

Feature Article

Chinese, Japanese, and Thai Families in Feature Films

This spring I am teaching an undergraduate anthropology seminar about families in Asia. I choose the focus on families to help students learn about culture through comparing their own families, everyday lives and values with families, experiences and values in Asia. I include Asian-produced, high-quality feature films with English subtitles to tell engaging and authentic stories about Chinese, Japanese and Thai families....

Feature Article


Several years ago, an articulate student first raised the question in one of our classes of whether showing video clips—brief excerpts from films—was a legitimate educational activity, or just some kind of delicious, illicit scam in which students get to groove on movies while hanging out, and faculty get to goof off while pretending to higher pedagogic purpose. Today, we openly welcome such expressions of conspiratorial skepticism, to the point of sometimes referring in class to this for...

Book Review, Columns

Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader

By any account Kim Il Sung was an extraordinary figure in twentieth-century history. Not only was the North Korean leader’s nearly half century of rule the longest dictatorship in modern history, few autocrats so dominated the nation they governed. Kim directed all aspects of economic, political and cultural life in North Korea, provided it with his personal ideology usually referred to as “juche thought,” and created a cult of personality without parallel in its excesses. Furthermore, alt...

Columns, Film Review

Ancient India

About the time I read in India Today of the discovery of an ancient city under the waters of the Gulf of Cambay that may predate Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, I received a copy of the film Ancient India to review. From the title, I anticipated an opportunity to revisit scenes of the Indus Valley Civilization and possibly catch up on recent archaeological discoveries I may have missed. My first disappointment is that this film’s title is misleading. Rather than exploring “Ancient India,” which ...

Columns, Essay

Distance Learning and Asian Studies: An Experiment at the East-West Center

John Dewey once observed that it is one of the characteristics of genuine philosophical work “to help get rid of the useless lumber that blocks our highways of thought, and strive to make straight and open the paths that lead to the future.”1 Roger Ames, the distinguished University of Hawaii sinologist and philosopher, is fond of quoting this passage. Ames has earned a reputation for his unrelenting efforts to remove the “useless lumber” that impedes serious consideration of China. It i...

Columns, Film Review

Ultimate Power: The Race

“Ultimate Power: The Race” (1999) is part of a 12-part ABC series, The Century. It includes both documentary footage of Manhattan Project days and new interviews. Much of the documentary footage is available elsewhere. The interviewees include the usual suspects—Hans Bethe, Freeman Dyson, Edward Teller—and some not-so-usual: atomic scientists Martin Deutsch, Boyce McDaniel, Joseph Rotblat. Two interviewees are scholars: William Lanouette and Richard Rhodes.1 The film has clear photograph...

Book Review Essay, Columns

Sources of Chinese Tradition

Back in the waning days of the late modern era (viz., the 1950s), a group of Asianists at Columbia University, led by Theodore de Bary, established basic paradigms for two generations of secondary and postsecondary teachers and their students: they compiled an “Introduction to Oriental Civilizations” consisting of “sourcebooks” on India, China, and Japan.1 For those students, myself included, the nature and contents of “Chinese Tradition” were defined largely by this work’s origina...

Feature Article

Hope, Despair, and Memory of the Koreans’ War

While supporters maintain that films increase our sense of history through imagined description, critics worry that films may fictionalize and misuse historical facts.1 Films provide historical subject matter and plots, structured around historically significant ideas and developed in depth with applications to an interpretation of the contemporary world, thus creating a far more substantive historiography than any written textbook.2 They present and develop a different kind of truth, through ...

Feature Article

Girl (and Boy) Troubles in Animeland: Exploring Representations of Gender in Japanese Animation Films

The interest in things Japanese among the American public reached an all-time peak in the late 1990s. One form of Japanese popular culture that has penetrated American consciousness, especially among the younger population, is Japanese animation, or anime. Fan groups, Web sites, and college clubs devoted to anime appreciation are found in almost every major American city. Japanese animation is increasingly one of the most frequently rented genres in video stores. In recent years, several monogr...

Columns, Essay

Using Videos to Compare K-12 Schooling and Society Within Japan

Often when we hear about Japanese education in the U.S. mass media, stories dominate about young children taking entrance examinations, cramming for tests, and facing stress. Seldom do we discover what students do in schools and how society influences schooling and children. As a result, many children and adults develop the notion that the process of education in Japan is homogenous from elementary through high school. Issues such as examination hell and cram school become associated with the en...

Book Review Essay, Columns

Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States

Anyone who teaches Asian History and/or America’s relations with Asia should welcome this provocative if somewhat loosely organized set of essays. As the book’s subtitle suggests, eleven individuals from Australia, England, Japan, New Zealand and the United States have contributed ten essays detailing how three countries have debated the way young people should be taught about their past. While the book places six of the nine essays in a section called “Textbooks and Historical Memory” a...

Book Review, Columns

Japanese and American Education: Attitudes and Practices

In eight chapters and 336 dense pages, Harry Wray presents his description of the strengths and weaknesses of the educational systems of these two countries. At the end of each chapter, he makes specific recommendations based on insights gleaned primarily from practices in the other country. As a long-term resident of Japan, most recently as Professor of Japanese History and International Relations in the College of Foreign Studies at Nanzan University in Nagoya, Japan, Wray has the benefit of a...

Feature Article


Whatever the achievements and shortcomings of the recent film, Pearl Harbor, it has brought our attention back to several important points. First, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor continues to be a significant presence in American historical consciousness. Second, the wartime propaganda message of a peaceful nation and people shocked into war by a treacherous, unprovoked “sneak attack” still lingers alongside the postwar scholarly interpretations of the complex causes of the war, now from...

Feature Article

A Geographic Understanding of South Asian Politics and Culture from the Film, Earth

Themes identified and approved by educators and key American geography institutions as essential to geographic understanding for students of grades K-12 are those of location, region, place, movement, and humanenvironment interaction (Geography Education Standards Project, 1994). These fundamental concepts can be appreciated and reinforced while simultaneously exposing students in high school as well as at the undergraduate level in universities to a wealth of regionally specific content matter ...