Universiteit Leiden

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Japanese Studies (MA)

About the programme

The two-year master's in Japanese Studies, a specialisation of the MA in Asian Studies, offers teaching by leading academics and a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the East Asian region.

A central focus of the MA in Japanese Studies is on mastering the Japanese language. Your fluency in Japanese will complement the knowledge you develop in other disciplines, which you will select from the wide range of academic perspectives available at leiden. These academic disciplines include Japanese History, Philosophy, Religion, Literature, Politics, Sociology, Anthropology and many others.

Learning takes place during core courses, electives, two semesters spent at a Japanese university taking courses, and an MA thesis.

The first semester of the programme is held at Leiden and consists of the following courses:

  • The core course Introduction to Asian Studies that explores the place of Asian Studies in the larger field of Area Studies and among the many disciplines represented in Asian Studies;
  • A Thesis Class for a first grounding in the specific methodological and disciplinary approach most relevant to your expected thesis topic;
  • Electives with a focus on Japan;
  • Advanced Japanese language courses.

You will be free to follow a variety of academic courses – known as Master Classes in Asian Studies and State of the Field seminars. These include classes in:

  • History (modern and pre-modern)
  • Politics and International Relations
  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Literature
  • Social science
  • Linguistics

You have to reach at least the equivalent of JLPT level 2 in Japanese in order to follow courses at Japanese universities. Students who do not reach the required level by March, will not be allowed to progress to the year in Japan.

Two semesters of your degree will be spent studying at a university in Japan, where you will follow relevant courses in your chosen field of research and conduct research for your MA thesis. The purpose of this study trip is to strengthen your language skills while developing your understanding of the country and its society.

Upon your return to Leiden, you will continue to develop your language skills while developing knowledge in your area(s) of specialisation. Our goal is that, by the time you are ready to write your MA thesis, you will be in a strong position to integrate your language and academic skills to the point where you can use primary sources written in Japanese as part of your research.

You are free to choose the topic of your thesis from any field supported within the department – although we recommend that the topic closely mirrors one or more of the classes you followed while in Japan. Your thesis supervisor will be available to advise you. Currently the department can supervise theses from the following specialisations:

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Religion
  • Literature
  • Politics and International Relations
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Linguistics
  • Material Culture

During the final stages of the programme you will concentrate on honing your language skills to a level that can be applied in your professional life (post graduation). This includes, for example, learning how to use language in a legal, commercial and political setting.

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Self-study
  • Study abroad options
  • Thesis
  • Exams
  • Peer feedback and assessment
  • Essays, reports
  • Oral presentations

Detailed programme

For a detailed programme, see the e-Prospectus. Please note that this guide applies to the current academic year, which means that the curriculum for next year may slightly differ.

Aya Ezawa

Researcher and university lecturer

Aya Ezawa

"Studying contemporary Japanese society is like a journey: full of discoveries and new insights. It is not just a question of acquiring knowledge, but reflecting on issues relevant to our own lives."

Gender inequality

"My classes on contemporary Japanese society address, for instance, gender inequality in contemporary Japan. What explains the persistence of gender inequality in the workplace in Japan, for example, despite the existence of laws ensuring equal opportunities? Engaging with these kinds of questions means developing not only a better understanding of Japan, but reflecting on the meaning and significance of gender, and how gender operates on a societal and personal level."

Mark Rutgers


Mark Rutgers

“Many of our master’s students discover the quality of our programmes only after they join us. In the Netherlands, self-promotion is not a big part of our culture, yet Leiden University’s Humanities Faculty ranks alongside the most prestigious universities in the world, and is the established leader in continental Europe. What can our students expect from this programme? An education on par with the world’s best, with teaching by top researchers.”

Alumni: close-knit global community

“Your graduation from a master’s programme marks a new chapter in your relationship with Leiden University. Our alumni community is highly active in terms of network-building and development. They are valued by the university, and we support them with personal and professional development and free use of our facilities such as the Leiden University Library. This close-knit global community offers life-long support for all our former students in terms of reaching goals, maintaining friendships and expanding networks.”

Research: encouraging you to think beyond your own discipline

“Some of the most high-profile humanities research produced today is conducted at Leiden University’s Humanities Faculty. These faculty members are among a handful worldwide who can lay claim to such a depth and breadth of academic expertise. One example is our centre of excellence on Native American cultures, languages and history – a research group that is one of the best in the world. At Leiden, we can offer students expertise in most niche areas of interest. Our faculty members often work together across disciplines, and encourage students to think beyond the limits of their own discipline, which is where the future of innovative research lies.”

Careers: opportunities to develop your talent

Decisions made during your studies have a big impact on your future. We offer you many opportunities to develop your talents both within and outside of the classroom, including internships, study trips abroad, student committees, and minors. These opportunities help define your objectives for after your studies, and equip you with additional skills and experience.”

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