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Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Shrine1/2
Photo: Katz Gohsend/Pixabay
Photo: Fizkes / Dreamstime

Online courses about Japan you can attend for free

These English-language university-level courses cover everything from Japanese literature and history to architecture and business. Best of all, they’re free

By Emma Steen

Ever wanted to learn more about Japan but didn't have the time? Now that the Covid-19 coronavirus is keeping us all in isolation, this might be a good opportunity to go back to uni – without the caffeine-fueled all-nighters and exorbitant school fees, of course.

Through online platforms like edX, you can take courses on Japan from the world’s top universities for free. These courses are self-paced, so you can watch the lectures and complete the exercises in your own time. 

These English-language courses range from Japanese architecture to Japanese literature and are offered by prestigious Japanese universities like the University of Tokyo or even a few US Ivy League schools. So get your notebooks ready and start studying.

RECOMMENDED: How to explore Japan from home

School's in

Japanese depiction of Perry's Black Ship
Photo: MITx

Visualizing Japan (1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

Course by MITx/HarvardX

This EdX course about Japan’s transition into the modern world is a collaboration between Harvard and MIT. After getting a grounding in the methodology of studying history, take a look at Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan, which forced the nation to open its doors to the rest of the world and triggered dramatic westernisation in the latter half of the 1800s. In the final module, learn about the social unrest in Imperial Japan before concluding the course with a study of Japanese consumer culture in the '20s and '30s through the long-established Japanese makeup brand Shiseido.

Two laptops on a desk with paper
Photo: Helloquence/Unsplash

Japanese Business Management

Course by: WasedaX

The burst of the Japanese economic bubble in the early '90s triggered an era of transition as companies worked to overcome a stagnant Japanese market and re-evaluate their business strategies. In this course on business leadership, you'll learn about some of the biggest and most enduring Japanese brands, such as Toyota and Softbank, as well as their management styles, business strategies and performance over the past few decades. 

Photo: edx.org

Modern Japanese Architecture Part 1: From Meiji Restoration to the Pacific War

Course by: Tokyo Institute of Technology

Walking around some neighbourhoods of Tokyo, you can read the history of the city in the different architectural styles of its buildings. The late 18th century was the beginning of an increasingly westernised Japan as architects began making buildings based on European and American designs. This course looks at the beginnings of modernist architecture in Japan and explores the influence made by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus. 

Tokyo cityscape sun
Photo: Steven Su/Unsplash

Visualising Postwar Tokyo, Part 1

Course by: University of Tokyo

The World War II devastated Japan and its people, yet within just a quarter of a century, the nation went on to host the Olympic Games for the first time and transformed into a economic powerhouse, giving Tokyo citizens in particular an impressive standard of living. Using archived photographs, films and documentary footage, this course focuses on key events that shaped postwar Tokyo, including the 1959 royal wedding and 1964 Summer Olympics.

Photo: edx.org

Japanese Culture Through Rare Books

Course by: Harvard University

In this nine-week course, you'll explore the contents of ancient Japanese manuscripts and learn how they were made. Gain a deeper understanding of the historical figures behind the texts and images, as well as the technology used at the time of each manuscript's production. The course concludes with an overview of Japan’s most celebrated work of fiction, 'The Tale of Genji', and how the story has been told differently over time, from the 11th century to the present day. 

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