FAQ: The content of “What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?”

This week I’d like to take a moment to address a frequently asked question we get here at Shinpai Deshou to clarify for our readers some of the reasons behind our daily content:

If the title of your blog is “What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?” why don’t you have more content related to BAs instead of MAs and PhDs (especially job postings)?

It is true that many of our job openings listed are for PhD or MA level applicants, and continuing on for your MA or PhD is one of many options people have after acquiring their BA. There are three main reasons our information leans towards higher level education and academia:

1) More and more, the market demands higher levels of Japanese to acquire positions, and often getting an MA or PhD before continuing into the job market (regardless of where your focus is!) is a natural or necessary move for people. Most people will tell you that you have to study Japanese for 7 or 8 years to become “fluent.” If you’re thinking of getting even a non-academic job that does happen to require high level language skills, you may have to consider MA and PhD programs in order to get the training you need. But keep in mind that we also often post positions such as international program coordinators, directors of international programs, internships, etc., which are not necessarily “academic” positions, but can be rooted in academic programs. Learning and language are natural partners.

2) These jobs offer insight into the variety of fields people who are pursuing their BA might focus their studies if they are serious about continuing with Japanese. Aside from the humanities, there’s political science, international relations, film, media… with many non-academic jobs into which these areas could certainly branch off. Unless already entrenched in the academic community and familiar with the mailing lists that post many of these jobs (I know that as a BA I certainly wasn’t!), people may be unaware of these diverse opportunities. We try to post as many non-academic positions as come our way. These hopefully serve as a useful guide for others to see how Japanese can be used, but they can’t be all inclusive. What comes into our inboxes directly is what we sift through and post a variety of. The majority of jobs advertised via mailing list happen to be in academia, where you’re going to find the demand for higher degrees.

3) We simply don’t have the time or resources to search out all of the translation positions, business opportunities, etc. that are out there on the internet (although we are currently recruiting people with this experience to write articles for us!). Our blog should not be considered a one-stop source for potential employment opportunities. A number of these are not the type of positions that have mailing lists, or if they do, our writers may not be in those fields or have access to their mailing lists. Many have to be searched for on databases and individual websites. This is why we provide links under our “Employment” section (such as “Job Sites” – which we hope to update with more soon!) for people to seek out other options as applicable to them. In addition, under our “Articles” section we have a broader selection of information for people who may want to start their careers directly after a BA (such as pursuing military options, teaching abroad, amateur translation, using consulting agencies for the job search, etc.). Our site otherwise tries to provide a variety of information on events, written works, personal experiences, and other aspects of working on Japanese that will be helpful for BA students to decide where they’re taking their Japanese next. Our job opening posts are meant not only to be helpful for those actually looking for this level of position, but people who want to see what types of positions open up and what fields seek what kind of qualifications. They are meant to be supplementary content to our more permanent materials which are more relevant to non-academic pursuits and prompt people to think about the variety of fields that use Japanese.

That being said, the title of the blog “What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?” should not be interpreted that people stopping at the BA are our primary focus. Rather, that getting asked this question, or something similar (“So, what do you do with Japanese??”) is typically a starting point from which many of us begin to think critically about our future in the Japanese field and what we can do after that BA. Some will stop at the BA, some won’t. Shinpai Deshou hopes to alleviate some of the fears surrounding this question by offering more insight into how to tackle the future and become aware of the variety of options out there, regardless of your intended level of degree. And “What the heck do I do with Japanese?” just isn’t as catchy of a title, is it? 😉

We greatly appreciate feedback from people who have expressed concern over this, and if anyone who did stop at the BA and hop directly into a Japan-related career feels they have advice or insight that they’d like to share with other readers, feel free to email us at shinpai.deshou@gmail.com and we can discuss a contribution to the blog! We welcome writers from all different areas of the field.

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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6 Responses to FAQ: The content of “What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?”

  1. My BA is in J. Lit! Even more of a headache... says:

    Thank you for this! As someone still mulling over the steps I was supposed to have taken already, I do understand the concerns that lead to this FAQ; jobs that you are NOT qualified for seem to be the ones that stick out more…

    One thing I have been doing to get more of an idea of what’s out there is to do a job search on Linkedin with the keyword “Japanese”, and then sorting the postings by date, rather than relevance. The number of positions that pop-up has been eye-opening, and with enough persistence you can even identify market trends! (That said, I do wish that I had done something like engineering, computer science, or graphic design as a second major, as the majority of positions are in related disciplines.)

    One thing that I think would be helpful would be a list of these major mailing lists (PMJS, etc) and academic communities, and how to use them – I joined AATJ one year and had no idea how to make use of it – or ideas for search terms to data mine the job sites that are already mentioned on this site. I’m parodying academia here, but I don’t think either has been done and having these resources available would definitely add something to the field!

    • Paura says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful response! I agree, the frustration of “I can’t use THIS!” definitely does strike us first when looking for jobs or funding and the like. 😉 I wish we could do it all, but there’s also a relatively small number of writers here. We’ll try our best to provide a decent variety and if that’s not possible regularly, at least advise people as to where they can look and how.

      Thanks for the info on LinkedIn! I admit that I, like many people, have an account but have never used the finer features for job searches. One of our writers is actually developing a “job search” themed article (or articles, I hope!) right now focusing on the job hunt in the states with some more useful websites, so this will be great to let her know about.

      The mailing list idea is one that popped into my head some time ago, but I think I put it off to the side while trying to shift the focus away from academia. But thanks so much for reminding me! I *love* having lists of things (as this blog probably suggests…) so I’ll make it my next project to ask around and see how many of these lists I can compile and create an article or resource post from. I probably hesitated before because the gravity of utilizing a scholarly mailing list is not something to take lightly. 🙂

      We will definitely take all your suggestions into consideration! Thanks so much for the feedback.



  2. Kathryn says:

    I will admit that I’ve also been concerned about the academic job postings this site has been featuring recently. People who are in academia probably already know about these things (usually verbatim through H-Japan, or the AATJ Jobline, or through more general sources), and people who aren’t already involved with academia are probably confused by them.

    Also, I’m afraid that posting so many academic jobs might give job seekers and prospective grad students the impression that there are a lot of academic jobs, or that academic jobs are easy to get, and I don’t think is the case right now. Tenure-track positions are difficult to get for people who are already tenured elsewhere, not to mention people who have been spending several years in postdocs and temporary positions, and definitely not to mention advanced grad students who don’t yet have their degree in hand. You (and this is a general “you” that also applies to myself) might think that you’re special, and that you’ll be the one to succeed when no one else has, but the chances are really very slim, even if you’re an academic superstar who can walk on water. There are so many elements of chance involved, and I feel like the stars will align to resurrect Cthulhu before they’ll align to ensure that an ABD finds a decent job. Right now I’m seeing literally every single one of my grad student friends – and these are highly accomplished people from big name universities – not even get call-backs from the one-year positions they’re applying to as a last resort. Meanwhile, established scholars with rock-solid portfolios of books and articles and translations are being denied tenure in Asian Studies departments and restructured out of non Asian Studies departments.

    I’m therefore a bit worried by your tacit encouragement that people continue on in Japanese Studies past the BA level. Maybe doing so will make more sense once the market improves, but right now I’m afraid that it’s not the best option for someone who isn’t already wealthy and/or not worried about finding a job afterward. Moreover, I get the feeling that the best way to continue language training isn’t through a general humanities academic program, but rather by actually living and working in Japan or in a job that requires Japanese. Graduate school is a serious investment, and I just don’t see it paying off for very many people right now. What seems to be working for the undergraduates I’m sending off to stable jobs are internships, and perhaps one of the worst things about grad school (and the long-term preparation necessary to enter grad school) is that it denies job seekers the time and motivation to pursue such opportunities. MA students come and go (and leave tens of thousands of dollars behind them), but the PhD life is more or less one-track – and that track is going nowhere right now.

    I apologize for leaving such a long comment. I also apologize for being so gloomy. Perhaps your perspective on these matters is a bit different based on your own experiences. If it is, I would love to hear about it! I could use some academic job market related joy and good news in my life right now.

    • Paura says:

      Hi Kathyrn,

      Thanks very much for your reply. I think it very much strikes at the heart of many concerns people transitioning from BA to “what’s next” have. I know that when I was making that decision a lot of people emphasized to me that having a bachelor’s degree just doesn’t cut it anymore—is it true? Some people will surely say yes, and others will argue no. I’m afraid I don’t have the qualifications to make any definitive statements on that, although I realize that I may have implied the former in my post. I think the general job-market panic we’ve been facing for many years now definitely is a component of how that general idea has pervaded the popular view and I am certainly not immune. But as you said, internships and practical experience are another valid path people can take that does not necessarily involve the road to higher education.

      I have heard from many people about just how abysmal things are for job-seekers right now (and read oh-so-many articles about how we professorship-minded people are doomed), but what the readers interpret from our job posts I cannot say. Actually, we’ve been planning in the last week to run a series of surveys for our readers (I’m excited to use the ‘poll’ function on WordPress!) to see what levels of education they’re at, what they aspire to, what elements of the blog they’re most interested in, etc. We’ve also been toying with the idea of placing content-cuts on job posts so they’re not as visibly jarring for readers and can easily be skipped over for uninterested parties. We’ll start rolling these things out experimentally over the next couple of weeks, so hopefully this will get some constructive feedback from readers at all different levels of education and aspiration.

      And I do agree that there really is no language training quite like living in a country itself and working on your skills there. Though I guess it also really depends on what kind of terminus you’re looking at for your future plans (going into business, translation, international relations, etc.). For some, an MA (probably coupled with language training abroad, like I did) might give a more well-rounded support of that future career, such as thinking about focusing on translation theory for future jobs in that field, versus someone who’s going to want to go straight from a BA to an internship in Japan at a company. Can an MA be a huge financial investment? Absolutely. It does need careful consideration and is not for everyone. Full disclosure: I went to the MA program that offered me the most money (a full ride for the first year with stipend – though this was, in fact, one of my top choice schools!). For the latter two years, I worked my butt off to get every scrap of funding I could. I may have figuratively (thank god) been eating ramen noodles like the stereotypical grad student to scrape by, but I left without incurring anymore educational debt (as for the tens of thousands of dollars from undergrad… different story). I know that few people will be so lucky, but such a possibility does exist for some. I think PhD is a different beast entirely.

      I will definitely consider your comments carefully as we tweak the blog’s contents and focus. It’s been very helpful to get such a variety of perspectives. I wish you the best of luck in your job hunt—I know that before too long I will be right there with you sharing your frustrations and hopes.



      • Kathryn says:

        Ranting on someone else’s blog is obviously not in good form, but I have seen so many people stranded up academia creek without a paddle at this point that it feels irresponsible to hear someone suggest something to the effect of “an advanced degree will open up more job options” without jumping up and pointing my finger and dramatically yelling OBJECTION!

        what the readers interpret from our job posts I cannot say

        I think perhaps people who see new academic jobs being posted every day might be inclined to make the not unreasonable assumption that new academic jobs are being posted every day.

        Which is true, to a certain extent, but it’s not the whole story.

        I will be right there with you sharing your frustrations

        I need to insist that “frustrations” is not the right word.

        It’s cool to be fully funded as a grad student, and it’s cool to work your butt off for every scrap of funding you can get, and it’s cool to put in fifteen hour days for several years on end, and it’s cool to build a CV that’s twice as long as the CV of someone twice as old as you, and it’s cool to prepare for the job market like a boss, and it’s even cool to go into dept for all the travel you will need to do as a student and as a researcher and as a networking machine and as a prospective job candidate (even though the travel is partially funded if you’re doing it right), and it’s always cool to maintain a positive outlook. One does not simply walk into Mordor, after all.

        At the end of all of that honor and glory and adventure and hardship and sacrifice, though, you kind of expect to be rewarded with a stable job. You do not expect, two months before your planned graduation, to be told that maybe you will be paid $4000 to teach two classes for a semester and then they don’t need you anymore, and by the way you need a car to get to the place they want you to teach. “Frustration” doesn’t even begin to describe that situation, especially if you have kids.

        You think that person won’t be you (and again, this is a general “you”), and that all the doom-and-gloom essays you’ve been reading about academia don’t apply to you, but then you find yourself in a situation in which you’ve done everything right and nothing wrong and you don’t understand why this is happening to you of all people.

        You don’t need to take my word for it. If you study the Academic Jobs Wiki (http://academicjobs.wikia.com/wiki/Academic_Jobs_Wiki), you’ll find all sorts of instances in which more than 150 people applied to a job (even in a tiny niche field like Japanese Studies) for which campus interview invitations were sent out before the application period even closed. What I’m trying to say is that encouraging someone to enter higher education in the current economic climate is like telling someone to stay in an abusive relationship because obviously it’s their fault that their partner is hitting them and if they would just try harder then this wouldn’t be happening.

        I agree with you that Master’s programs are infinitely more flexible than PhD programs and provide opportunities for advanced and specialized language training that can’t be acquired elsewhere, but still, it’s better to already have a specific job in mind that requires an MA than to enter an MA program with the expectation that the degree will guarantee a job or even give a candidate an advantage in an open job search.

        Um… Anyway… To actually be constructive… This lady is awesome, and she says everything I want to say much more eloquently while also offering advice on what to do if one still wants to take a gamble on academia (at any level):


        • Paura says:

          I can understand your objections to the notion that “an advanced degree will open up more job options,” but I also don’t mean to imply, regardless of how technically accurate that statement may or may not be, that such job opportunities are limited to academia. I have many friends who have stopped at the BA or stopped at the MA, and the general consensus has been frustration that even entry level positions are being fought over between the two, and Bas wonder how they can compete when MAs are scrambling for the desk jobs they want and come in more qualified. Does that mean that BAs can’t get those jobs? Certainly not. But, if you’re able to reasonably afford an MA, don’t despise further academics, and find an element of such a degree useful for whatever you want to do next, I would cautiously encourage people to make themselves that little bit more competitive if it’s applicable to their future plans. If only because the job market is that much more dire. But again, an MA may not be a substitute for, as you said, practical experience abroad, internships, etc. It’s difficult to make broad statements about what’s “best,” and I apologize if that’s how my statements came off.

          That being said, although I am entirely sympathetic with your experiences and fearful of my own future prospects, it’s difficult to maintain a balance between harsh realism and hopeful idealism here. As you’ve demonstrated with your own experiences, getting an academic job is brutal right now, and it would be detrimental to approach it (or recommend it) from behind rose-colored glasses. But at the same time, I simply can’t write a blog about the benefits of being in Japanese Studies while submitting articles labeled: “Japanese Studies: Abandon all hope, ye who enter!” while declaring academia a futile pursuit. I don’t have the authority economically, educationally, or otherwise to tell people “It’s not worth it to get into academia now.” “Right now there’s a slim to none chance you’ll get a job.” and then “Okay, now is a good time.” That would make me unduly responsible for many current students’ futures. I hope it’s not too idealistic to assume that current BAs or MAs will be able to thoughtfully consider what the job market is like themselves from consulting with their advisors, professors, or PhDs looking to enter or currently struggling on the job market. I can only try to broaden the scope of how they think about using Japanese, which is a top priority this year as we reassess how we include and structure content on the blog. I can’t wait to read the articles non-academics have in the works for us—if only they would get here faster. 🙂

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