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Virtual tour - Japan, Korea and China

Walk through Japan’s wonderous subcultures

Japan has some of the world’s most diverse and fascinating cultural heritage. Today it’s renowned for its mainstream J-Pop scene and prolific anime studios – of which the country boasts over 400. Japan is considered the world leader in animation, with artists like Hiyao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai helping to re-define the genre, and breaking box office records in the process.

Yet strolling through the streets of Tokyo, you get a sense for that other Japanese cultural speciality – subculture. As much as Japanese pop art has changed the world (with artists like Yayoi Kusama being showcased worldwide), it’s just as famous for its multi-varied and oft-eccentric youth culture. Keio University’s ‘An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures’ is the perfect place to start exploring this weird world of zines, teens, and automated dreams.

Part of what makes Japanese art so unique is the way it absorbed the influence of Western culture after World War 2 while keeping its own distinctive character intact. On Keio’s ‘Exploring Japanese Avant-garde Art Through Butoh Dance’ you can learn how the evolution of the popular Butoh dance style exemplifies this process, blending the Japanese avant-garde with Western thinking.

Of course, Japanese culture was highly advanced even before the 20th century. The country has a long and illustrious literary history, going back centuries. On ‘Japanese Culture Through Rare Books’ you can explore Keio University’s archive of 163,000 literary works, studying Waka (classical Japanese poetry) and prose tales (Monogatari) from the 9th century to the 17th century, as well as how the books themselves were made. You can also take ‘Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books’, to discover how the exchange of literature influenced how Japan saw China and visa versa.

Meanwhile, Keio’s ‘Aging Populations: Lessons In Healthy Aging From Japan’ can teach you about why Japan is one of the healthiest populations in the world, with one of the longest lifespans – and how we can learn from its culinary culture of fresh food.

Discover what makes Korea so special

Korea is playing an increasingly large role in the global cultural conversation. Not only did the South Korean Parasite become the first foreign-language film to win Best Film at the 2019 Oscars (written and directed by the visionary Bong Joon-ho), but South Korean music is also taking the international charts by storm.

Boy band BTS are the biggest pop stars on the planet – ranking in an astonishing $4.65 billion of gross domestic product, and driving fans wild from Seoul to Surrey. BTS are just the tip of the iceberg, with K-Pop artists like PSY and Blackpink also making waves. And that’s before you get to South Korea’s behemoth K-Drama industry, quickly becoming the world’s most-binged soaps operas, full of wacky subplots and OTT love triangles.

Of all which is to say that tackling global culture in the 21st century means understanding the Korean peninsula. Hanyang University have a great primer course, ‘Korea in a Global Context’, that will give you an overview of Korean history, and where South Korea as a country is headed. And Sungkyunkwan University’s ‘Introduction to Korean Philosophy’ will guide you through the history of Korean thought – and what makes Korean culture and thinking so different from its neighbours in Japan and China.

Korean is one of the world’s most individual – and complex – languages. Yet you can get to grips with it, with a little help. Hayang have two helpful ‘Introduction to Korean’ courses, that will parse you in the basics of the language and the culture. And Sungkyunkwan’s ‘The Korean Alphabet: An Introduction to Hangeul’ will give you the basics on the 600-year old script.

Start to learn Chinese culture and language

Last but not least, your whistlestop tour takes you to a layover in China. The world’s most populous (and perhaps most powerful) country, no trip through East Asia is complete without taking in a little of this legendary land. National Chiao Tung University’s ‘Fall in Love With Mandarin’ course will guide you in the fundamentals of the second most-spoken language in the world.

The University of Exeter’s ‘Understanding the Complexities of Chinese Culture’ will show you how China can best be understood via its millennia-old culture and history, while National Chiao Tung’s ‘Discover Chinese Drama: Understanding ‘The Injustice to Dou E’ walks you through one of the most famous ancient Chinese dramas, discovering the art of Chinese theatre along the way.