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Japanese popularity spikes at UA

Graphic by Joshua Schlag, images from,, and
Popular animes such as Dragonball-Z, GTO, and Akira have helped interest in East-Asian Studies to grow.
By Keren G. Raz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, August 27, 2004
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Japanese has become the one of the trendiest languages to study at the UA thanks to music, movies, video games, and anime, Japanese animated films and television shows.

Over the past five years the number of UA students taking Japanese has increased by nearly 50 percent.

In 1999, 77 UA students took Japanese 101. This year, 116 students have enrolled.

That's an increase more than three times than seen in UA Chinese classes, where enrollment has hovered around 56 students for the past five years.

The UA is not alone.

According to the Modern Languages Association, from 1998 to fall 2002, the number of students studying Japanese in American higher-education institutions rose by 21 percent to 52,238.

Timothy Vance, head of the East Asian Studies department, said although he's not entirely sure how to explain the rising interest in Japanese, he has heard some say the rise is due to the popularity of Japanese animation and martial arts.

"There is something trendy about it, but I don't know what explains it," he said.

The UA's Japanese language program began in the 1980s after the booming Japanese economy created a need for business students to learn the language.

There are students who continue to study Japanese because of their interests in international business, but an increasing number of students are signing up for class because of their interests in pop culture.

Chris Brewer, a computer engineering sophomore, has been watching anime since the age of 8.

That exposure, he said, led him to become more interested in Japanese culture, an interest he sees as the newest trend.

"Japanese culture is becoming much more popular," he said.

On the first day of class, Itsumi Ishikawa-Peck surveyed her Japanese 101 students to find out how many were interested in anime.

About 66 percent of them said they were interested in anime, movies, and music.

Kimberly Terpe, a study abroad advisor, said last year only one person traveled to Japan to study. This year three went to Japan for the summer. Nine students are studying abroad there for a year.

Ishikawa-Peck said factors influencing the rise in interest include movies that take place in Japan such as "Kill Bill" and "Lost in Translation," the increased popularity of Japanese food and the increasing numbers of Japanese foreign exchange students.

Rebecca Macaulay's interest in Japan began with animation and video games as a child. But those interests led her to look into Japanese culture, and it was there she found that the art and the traditions also intrigued her.

Macaulay, an undeclared freshman, is now taking Japanese 101.

Alex Herbert has a similar story.

Herbert, a journalism freshman, was into animation when he was younger. Then as he watched the cartoons more and more, he become increasingly interested in the culture.

After he began to import animation videos in Japanese, he decided he wanted to learn the language, and for that reason, enrolled in Japanese 101.

Because pop culture has become one of the top reasons students are interested in Japanese, teachers are now trying to bring pop culture into the classroom by incorporating anime clips into daily lectures and assignments.

In fact, teachers have to do homework now to stay on top of the latest trends.

"We actually have to catch up with them," she said.

Japanese is one of the most challenging languages, Vance said, and if pop culture is what is motivating people to take up the languages then he's impressed.

"Whatever is motivating people has to be pretty powerful," he said.

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