Mason Professor Offers Japanese Culture Course as Part of a Growing Program
By Rashad Mulla
When Sufumi So first came to Mason in 2004, she was tasked with expanding a Japanese program that consisted of only language courses that went no further than the 300 level. Today, the university is home to a minor in Japanese studies, 400-level Japanese language courses, and one of So’s favorite courses, JAPA 310 Japanese Culture in a Global World.
So, a faculty member in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and director of the minor in Japanese Studies, taught JAPA 310 for the third time last spring (the course is offered annually each spring semester). The course requires no knowledge of the Japanese language and instead focuses on the culture and history of Japan.
According to So, the desire to learn about Japanese culture is the reason the course exists in the first place.
“When I was thinking of strategies to develop the Japanese language program, I conducted a survey with the students,” she says. “I found that the students were very keen on learning about Japan, so I decided to offer Japanese Culture in a Global World in the spring of 2010.”
During the spring 2012 semester, So had her students learn about Japanese social norms, tradition, and media, and how they have been influenced by globalization. At the beginning of the semester, the class learned through reading and understood that they would each be tasked with writing a final paper on a topic of their choice.
Standard procedure for a college course? Then, So gave the course an experiential twist.
Through a program in Washington, D.C., So invited 30 students from Ryukoku University in Kyoto, Japan, to visit Mason during the semester. The students from JAPA 310 were each matched with a visiting student to exchange ideas and brainstorm a topic for the students’ final papers. For the Mason students, this session was invaluable because they were each exploring a topic that the Japanese students knew from firsthand experience.
“I wanted to give the students a lot of freedom in terms of the selection of topics and approaches; this is how students can gain confidence,” So says. “From the beginning to the end of the semester, I had this project in my mind at all times.”
Being a relatively new course, So explores additions to the syllabus each year. The evolving material is one of the things that makes the class more engaging, So says.
“I love this course because there are so many discoveries to be made each time,” she says. “I am teaching myself while I am teaching the students. I enjoy helping all of my students because the process is fun and I learn something new each time.”