3 Free Online Courses on Japan: Arts & Humanities

Please note: Following recommendations focus on social sciences, language learning and art and culture. Nevertheless, all of them explore and try to make sense of Japan. If you are slightly interested in Japan or learning free of cost – you will appreciate the following recommendations!

Credits: alphalearn.com

Free online courses can be a great way to expand your horizons and try something new. Which is why MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) can be a great avenue for expanding your knowledge or learning a new skill. As reported by various online platforms that host MOOCs, it is now increasingly becoming a popular way of learning just about anything that tickles your curiosity.

Its benefits could be:

  • Life-long learning from any part of the world
  • Self-paced, flexible and usually free
  • Great way to upskill and receive credentials if needed

So, this being a Japan-focused article, I explored what kind of MOOCs are out there for those with a keen interest in all things Japan. For example, during my time in lockdown, I tried an online platform known as edX. It has been around way before the pandemic saw the rise of other MOOC platforms and have a range of great courses. I have audited courses and gained a certificate in some. Overall, you will have the option to complete a course and participate in class discussions – for free! If you are interested in gaining proof of completion, you can enrol as a paid student by all means as well. Do be aware, the paid track typically involves giving an online assessment or submitting essays and assignments.

What free online courses are out there about Japan?

From arts, history, humanities, and language, there is a range of different MOOCs on various platforms. The best thing of course is that you can do them remotely and they’re free. So, let’s dive in, and see what’s out there.

1. Visualising Postwar Tokyo” by The University of Tokyo 

free online courses in japan

This course is appealing because it gives a detailed analysis of the developments in postwar Tokyo. Interestingly, much of the online course uses archived photographs, films, and TV programs. 

Japan has gone through a unique set of historical changes. From a military empire to experiencing US Occupation and then becoming the 3rd largest economy in the world. We are lucky to be studying it through a variety of recorded media! This course helps put back perspective on Tokyo when considering changes in other significant Asian cities at the end of the 20th CE. 

This course is undoubtedly one of the most popular courses about Japan. Prepared in collaboration with renowned professors at the University of Tokyo, Harvard and MIT, it is a great way to build a foundation if you’re thinking of doing Japanese studies. 

Why I chose this course: 

  1. Helped get a visual insight before starting a formal lesson on Japanese history during uni. The reference list helped jumpstart ideas for essays at uni.
  2. Provides an excellent background knowledge into Japan and how did various factors in history define it. Be it from the US Occupation, the dynamics between the emperor and the people, and even the Tokyo Olympic Games. 
  3. It didn’t require any Japanese language proficiency to do readings.

Check out what our guest contributor, Sarah has to say about this course over here!

Courses you could try: Visualising the birth of Modern Tokyo, Visualising Japan (the 1850s-1930s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity and Japanese Culture and Art.

2. Japanese Pronunciation for Communication” by Waseda University

This course is a great way to fine-tune your Japanese pronunciation and learn how to adapt it to various communication styles. And this is not the only course WasedaX has on language learning! Click here and find other beginner-level courses or courses on Japanese literature if you’re interested in beginning your language learning journey (especially during lockdowns!). 

It is an open course, self-paced and entirely free, with upgrade options available if needed.

Why I chose this course: 

  1. It’s common to run into issues while self-teaching yourself a completely new language! And not being in Japan makes it harder to be surrounded in an environment where you don’t hear spoken Japanese very often (or at all)! Due to such reasons, one of the most challenging aspects of learning Japanese can be correcting pronunciation. Without a good grasp of articulation, it is possible to face situations where you could be misunderstood or incorrectly articulate your message to others. This course is beneficial if you’re a beginner in Japanese language learning. 
  2. The primary instructor, Toda-sensei, builds a foundation for appropriate pronunciation, accent and intonation while equipping you with techniques to practice (such as ‘shadowing’). 
  3. Not only do you fine-tune that native-like pronunciation skills, but you also learn how pronunciation itself can teach you about Japanese culture and society.

Courses you could try Invitation to the Tale of Genji: the foundation elements of Japanese culture and courses on law and business.

3. “Contemporary Japanese Society: What Has Been Happening Behind Demographic Change?” by The University of Tokyo

At this point, it is common knowledge that Japan is an ageing society. This course helps explain the hows, whys and what’s next. It focuses on demographic change and policies after the Second World War that shaped it. 

Another course taught entirely in English, will help you understand how various aspects of Japanese societies have remained the same or changed. Suppose you’re planning on focusing on this issue. In that case, this course is a great way to gain basic knowledge on how to think actively about such social problems!

Why I chose this course: 

  1. It is such a fascinating social issue to explore! And this is so unique to Japan as it could set a precedent in demographic studies worldwide. Studying Japan’s ageing society could potentially help shine a light on awareness, similarities and differences across nations with similar social problems involving ageing and gender gaps in work and family and other inequalities. 
  2. It tells you how contemporary Japanese society stratifies from various angles (demographic, familial and socio-economic). 
  3. I’m interested in knowing how the old in Japan will shape its future.

Some courses you could try: Ethics in Life Sciences and Healthcare: Exploring Bioethics through Manga, Aging Populations: Lessons In Healthy Aging From Japan (Keio University).

Bonus: Explore Japan through Pictograms!

Further reading

MOOCs and Micro-Credentials: Online Upskilling to Boost Your Asia Literacy

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Varsha Patil

A MEXT scholar and an ex-intern for METI Japan, Varsha is a Japan enthusiast. She pursued Japanese studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and Asia Pacific Studies from the Australian National University (Canberra). Multilingual in Japanese and Hindi, she continues to explore Japan's affairs in the APAC region while learning Korean and digital marketing.