An Overview of English-language Literature Study in Japan by Susan Burton

Abstract

This chapter aims to give an overview of the current uncertain state of English-language literature teaching within tertiary education in Japan. Interviews with Japanese and non-Japanese (native) literature lecturers explain what is happening in classrooms, feedback from publishers indicates what students are reading, and a small-scale survey of university students reveals how they feel about English-language literature.

Introduction

With increasing emphasis on business English for economic recovery, and universities’ increasing reliance TOEIC and TOEFL examinations to test proficiency, the current state of English-language literature teaching within tertiary education in Japan is seemingly a precarious one. To gauge the views of those currently studying and working in the field, I interviewed several Japanese and native English-language literature lecturers, talked with ELT publishers and carried out a small-scale survey of university students1. Using respondents’ own words as much as possible, I make three main points: that the teaching of English-language literature in Japanese universities is in decline; that the reason for this is the deterioration in students’ English-language ability and a dislike of traditional methods of literature teaching; and finally that lecturers feel passionately that English-language literature classes are a vital part of the language curriculum and key to reversing Japan’s slide in English-language skills. Whilst such a small-scale study is limited in scope and depth, it is hoped that the data may provide a starting point for a wider debate on the teaching of English-language literature in Japan.

Over the past two decades there has been a decline in interest in English-language literature and a subsequent closing of English-language literature departments. As one literature lecturer notes:

There used to be many classes on American literature and English literature but the name of literature does not attract the students unfortunately … When I was a college student basically the departments where we could learn English were called ‘bungakubu’, always ‘bungakubu’, but now there are only a few universities that have ‘bungakubu’. Most of the universities in Japan have changed the name from ‘bungakubu’ to ‘eigogakubu’ or ‘gaikokugogakubu’, more focused on language and communication, not literature. And the number of classes about literature is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. (Japanese lecturer)

Why does English literature no longer seem to ‘attract the students’? There are several reasons for this. The first is the one most commonly cited by literature lecturers.

The main reason why studying English-language literature in English is becoming less popular is that the English ability of students is becoming lower. That’s what almost all teachers teaching literature point out, and I agree with this too. (Japanese lecturer)

No-one who has taught English in Japan for any length of time can deny the deterioration in English-language ability amongst Japanese students today. In 2011, the average score in the IP TOEIC test (Test of English for International Communication) of Japanese university students was 445 out of 990. For junior college students it was 396. The IIBC which administers the test defines this level as, “Is capable of minimal communication in ordinary conversation”, and “Knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and structure is generally inadequate”2. TOEFL iBT (internet-based) global test scores for the same year ranked Japan 11th from the bottom out of 114 countries, just above Java and Tajikistan. In Asia, Japan was third from the bottom just above Laos and Cambodia. Japan’s mean score was 69 out of 1203. Internationally, the Japanese are becoming known as the people who study English in junior and senior high school for six years but say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know English”.

Additionally, ELT publishers note that graded readers, not novels, are the most popular English-language books among Japanese tertiary students. What then is the average English-language student capable of reading? Oxford University Press’s Top 30 graded reader best-sellers include eight readers at Stage 1, seven at Stage 2, and seven at Stage 3. Stage 1 readers are aimed at those with only 250-510 TOEIC. Stage 3 readers are aimed at those with 410-750 TOEIC scores. Graded readers go up to Stage 6, a level that is apparently beyond the ability of the majority of Japanese university students these days. What hope do they have of reading novels and short stories in their original form?

Cengage note that their Foundation Reading Library is the most popular series among high school and tertiary students, but the Primary Classics Readers also sell well because the pictures are ‘cute’ and the topics are familiar to students (The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Aladdin and the Lamp). These ranges are aimed at students with TOEIC scores of up to 220 only. Many tertiary students are apparently not only reading at the lowest levels but they are choosing texts with very basic themes.

The academic decline of Japanese students in all subjects has been blamed on MEXT’s yutori kyoiku (relaxed education) policy from the late 1970’s. Whatever the reason, the result is that, more than ever, most students are likely to struggle with all but the shortest and simplest works of literature, and consequently many choose to opt for other classes in which course credits are easier to obtain.

The second reason why literature is no longer such a popular choice with university students is that, right from junior high school, students are taught reading in a way that puts them off further literature study.

The number of literature departments is going down because literature is not attractive to students because literature in Japan is taught as translation only. (Japanese lecturer)

Traditionally, reading has been taught utilizing the grammar translation method (GTM), a deductive method of teaching grammar rules and translating single sentences word-for-word without consideration of other factors such as content, context or considerations of theme. GTM classes are teacher-centered and conducted in the students’ native language with little or no emphasis on communication: listening, speaking or pronunciation. This method was originally developed in Prussia in the late 18th century to translate classical Greek and Latin texts not for the purpose of speaking the languages, as they had by this point become ‘dead’ languages, but for the purpose of developing logical thinking and intellectual rigor. From the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japanese scholars adopted this method when, in order to gain knowledge about Western cultures, they began to translate Western books, and this method was continued in schools where it was considered to be the best way to train students for reading academic texts in university.

Since the 1970’s however, the Japanese Department of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), aware that such classes are not producing a sufficient quantity of proficient speakers, has been revising junior and high school curricula to place more emphasis on oral communication skills that will give students a more ‘authentic’ English that is usable worldwide. Consequently, the view now prevails that literary English is neither practical nor ‘authentic’, and is therefore no longer a good teaching resource.

But MEXT’s reforms have met with problems. The first problem is that many teachers today were themselves schooled in the grammar translation method. They continue to instruct in the only way they know, indeed, it is not unknown for older teachers to be unable to hold even a basic conversation in English. In their defense however, they are continuing to do what students actually require; they are teaching English not for communication but to pass written university entrance examinations. As one high school English teacher notes4:

Highly-ranked universities such as Todai or Kyoto University require students to master between 5,000 and 6,000 words, which means that we have no choice but to spend so much time teaching reading and writing skills. If we didn’t do this, students would have great difficulty reading their English textbooks and writing their thesis in English after they entered university.

The Japanese education system is all about testing. After the breakdown of the traditional hierarchical social system after the Second World War, Japan is now perceived to be a meritocracy. From kindergarten through to university, students are trained to pass tests, because passing tests leads to academic success. In junior and senior high schools, and even more so in cram schools, in spite of and in direct contradiction to MEXT’s reforms, English-language education is directed towards passing written university entrance examinations that continue to be based on the grammar translation method. Students spend a lot of time preparing for these tests by reading and doing grammatical translations, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word. Consequently, the last thing they want to do when they enter university is more of the same.

In Japan, they have such a bad image of literature and one of the reasons is that when I was a college student almost all English literature classes were just translation, even the long stories. So, taking one semester or even one year, what I did was just translate one sentence by one sentence. We have never done something else like ‘think about the theme’. (Japanese lecturer)

The third reason why literature does not attract students is because they prefer to study this more ‘authentic’ English, to master the four skills, to understand foreign movies, to read tourist guides, to make friends with English-speaking foreigners and, most importantly in this period of global recession, to achieve a successful ‘international’ career.

They just don’t like reading. They want to learn to communicate, how to speak, listening, whatever, they just don’t like to read. They do a lot in high school and they don’t find it interesting so that is the main reason why they don’t want to take a literature course. And universities know that. (Japanese lecturer)

Thus foreign language faculties – eigogakubu and gaikokugogakubu – attract students in a way that literature faculties do not. In Japan, English is increasingly being viewed solely as a practical skill that must be ‘mastered’ for future employment. In 2012, Hiroshi Mikitani, the head of Rakuten, made English its official in-house lingua-franca stating that it would promote a rise in business performance and that Japanese businesses would only have themselves to blame if they failed to become global leaders through their lack of English ability5. Other Japanese companies are following suit. Toyota, for instance, requires its employees to achieve a TOEIC score of 600 in order to qualify for a posting abroad. The mobile carrier Softbank awards a bonus of one million Yen to employees who achieve TOEIC 900. TOEIC is a popular testing method because it is an examination, which tests business English; its scores can be measured and related directly to the future economic health of Japan. Studying a practical skill such as the English language can be seen to produce measurable results, which improve one’s – and one’s country’s – future economic success. It is part of the government’s policy of ‘internationalization’. English has become a commodity to be purchased and utilized.

When the students are interested in only learning practical English, it is painful to teach. They are wedded to their thought that ‘practical English’ is the English you can both listen to and speak. And [that] study should focus on a native speaker’s pronunciation, not on reading. English is more like a ‘skill’ such as acrobatics or sports than a study. (Japanese lecturer)

How are universities responding to this preference for language over literature? In 1992, the number of 18-year-olds peaked at 2.05 million. Today there are 1.3 million6. There is now a university place for every 18-year-old in Japan but since around 53 per cent7 of Japan’s high school graduates go on to university, this leaves some tertiary institutions struggling to fill places. According to MEXT, about 46 per cent of Japan’s 595 private universities (which rely on student tuition for 80 per cent of their funding8) are missing their recruitment targets and over 40 per cent are in debt9. Also, since 2006, funding at Japan’s 86 national universities has been cut by 1 per cent per year10. Whilst the higher-ranking institutions such as Tokyo continue to attract students, many of those which rank further down the scale must adapt or close. So Japanese universities today know that they must offer students what they want or they will go elsewhere.

In the current period of falling student numbers due to the drop in the birth-rate, universities need to do their utmost to attract students. It has been noticeable that over the last few years many universities have changed the names of their faculties or departments, often to include the words ‘global’ or ‘international’ to pull in the students. (Japanese lecturer)

Struggling universities are closing their literature departments and reorganizing or renaming them to become more attractive to students. The author’s own university has recently undergone reorganization resulting in a new faculty named the ‘Global Careers Institute’. It offers courses in global English, business, marketing, management and sociology but no literature courses. Because what students and their parents want from these new faculties are measurable results. Consequently, universities are seeking to become more results-based, in particular by raising students’ TOEIC scores year upon year. Literature courses are not viewed as useful in raising these scores, and are being cut in favor of more TOEIC classes.

Universities think it is just nonsense to deal with literature texts in English classes because even after taking these classes, you can’t even read a book or speak or listen to English. There’s no meaning so just quit it. (Japanese lecturer)

Indeed, some universities are actively discouraging their lecturers from teaching literature classes.

Before coming [to this university] I was a part-time teacher at universities and I got a chance to teach English. And they said you can teach anything so, ‘OK, I will use the short stories of Ernest Hemingway’. And then they said ‘No, please do not use literature. You can use movies, you can use culture, magazines, newspapers but not stories’. (Japanese lecturer)

It is worth noting that many part-time English-language teachers in Japan are in fact literature lecturers, now struggling to retrain as literature departments close.

Actually there are only about 20% of full-time teachers who can teach literature in their class. They have to teach language or culture so they don’t even get the chance to teach literature. That’s the fact in Japan. (Japanese lecturer)

Universities are closing their literature departments because they are no longer popular, and students are not interested in reading because they think “it’s a bother” (see student survey below). Does English-language literature have nothing to offer the more practically-minded Japanese students of today? In fact, English-language literature teachers vigorously defend their subject and stress the absolute necessity for literature study as a vital component in a well-rounded English linguistic and cultural education.

In Japan, the Japanese study English in junior and senior high school for a total of six years – roughly 630 hours. However, they don’t understand how English-speaking people’s cultures are different. On the contrary, it sometimes breeds ‘English Phobia’. But English literature can introduce students to a range of aspects, not only of the English language but also of English culture. I always try to change the idea of learning English just as a language system to communicate. To read English-language literature is more fascinating and life-enhancing than constant training or repetition of exercises to learn a foreign language. Of utmost significance to read English-language literature is to stir and develop the imaginations of the students. The lack of imagination means that they don’t know how to feel sympathy and respect for other people and that they are not even able to love or respect each other. (Japanese lecturer)

Even MEXT itself does not deny the importance of some literature study. Becoming an English-language teacher in a school continues to be a popular job for English-language graduates, and a literature course is mandatory for getting a teacher’s license in Japan. This is often the only reason why language departments continue to offer literature courses, and the bare minimum at that.

I have been teaching American literature for the past five years. Every year I have about 40 to 50 students and 70 per cent of my students want to get a teacher’s license. That is the reason why they take my class. (Japanese lecturer)

But what MEXT fails to understand is just how vital the study of literature is in an English-language syllabus. As the lecturers noted above, the teaching of English-language literature offers what more ‘authentic’, practical English-language study may not. It promotes a deeper understanding of Anglophone cultures, encourages opinion, sparks creativity, and offers up English for enjoyment rather than simply a tool for passing tests, obtaining credits and getting a job.

[Studying English-language literature is] very important for unless they are able to do this, English is merely a ‘code’ to get a job … English-language literature brings the essence of English language cultures to light, allowing students to set off on a voyage of discovery that adds to their intellectual life. Literature opens the door to the finer points of Anglo-American culture that do not exist in, say, an ETS examination; TOEIC and similar tests represent the dominance of finance and the powers that have propelled globalization into the world. In contrast, literature allows for less-heard voices but which are more interesting and color our lives more than the world of ETS ‘teaching’ … A good book, or the act of encouraging our students to read more literature is an act that promotes depth of understanding of cultural issues and … themselves. (Native lecturer)

But English-language literature teachers must be aware of their competition, because there are in fact three ways to study Anglophone literature in Japan. The first is the traditional grammar translation method, as mentioned above.

They just translate, translate and then just know what is going on and then after they understand ‘Oh, this is the story, this is how things go’, then ‘OK, done!’, then move on to the next story. It’s so mottanai for me. But that’s what even literature scholars actually do. (Japanese lecturer)

If you take the first method, students can read English in class, but you can read at most two or three short stories in a semester because of the limit of time. (Japanese lecturer)

The second method is to have the students read at home and then use class time for a discussion of the work. The third is the traditional lecture in which the students read at home in preparation for the class and then the lecturer discusses it whilst the students take notes. The second and third methods, however, are fundamentally different from the first in that the students don’t actually need to read in the English language.

For the teachers of these two types, the most important thing is if they know the storyline for a discussion or to understand what the teacher will explain, not whether they have read in English or not … They do make the students buy a book in English and tell them to read in English in advance. But they know most students don’t, but just read its translation. The teachers, nevertheless, don’t force them to read English any more as long as the students know the story itself. Considering that both the students’ discussion and the teacher’s explanation are mostly done in Japanese in class, I would say that the students can get credits even though they don’t actually read or speak English so much. (Japanese lecturer)

The second and third methods are much more attractive to students because they don’t require a high level of English ability, something which, referring to the average TOEIC and TOEFL scores (above), they may struggle to achieve. Why spend an entire semester reading one or two short stores in English when you can cover a writer’s entire body of work in Japanese and still get the credits for it? Consequently, it is these two methods that are gaining ground in literature study today. As Mary S, a university lecturer specializing in American literature, notes11:

I found out I was laboring under wrong assumptions one day when I walked down the corridor and heard a colleague, who taught literature, teaching his class in Japanese … so I started walking the corridors and listening to American and British literature classes, especially. All of them were taught in Japanese, with the occasional reading of the original text, which was immediately translated into Japanese.

Another lecturer gives reasons for this approach.

Many teachers of English-language literature would rather choose a literary text depending on the significance of the story (socially, culturally, historically and theoretically) than the students’ English levels. This tendency is strong especially for the bungakubu faculties since ‘bungaku originally means ‘literature’ not ‘language’ … Of course, it would be great if students study English-language literature in English, but it’s actually difficult because of their English ability. The teachers are always asked to choose which to give up: giving up having students read English, or giving up reading many stories of a certain author and era to interpret them deeply and comprehensively. (Japanese lecturer)

There you have it. These days, many lecturers must make the difficult choice to emphasize the study of literature in the English-language and accept that student numbers will fall, or relegate the study of English-language texts to a secondary position in favor of emphasizing the importance of enjoying literature for its own sake. This may horrify English-language lecturers but it should be remembered that, within western tertiary education, many countries’ novels are read only in their translated forms. How many literature students worldwide have read ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ in the original Russian? Have you?

For those teachers – both native and non-native – who continue to teach English-language literature in English, the key to a successful class and hopefully to a return in popularity of English-language literature classes is in the teaching methodology.

We don’t really have one good method of how to teach literature so some literature scholars have been struggling to make some good method that we can share, so if we do this, we have this method we can teach more efficiently. But we don’t have any good method so that is one of the reasons we just don’t know. As scholars we can read a novel, we can write a paper on that but teaching literature is a different thing. (Japanese lecturer)

Lecturers interviewed for this research stressed that there is as yet no clear and accepted methodology for teaching English-language literature in English in Japan. Yet the key to winning students back to literature study is surely to bury the grammar translation method once and for all and to offer more active classes that fire the students’ imaginations.

Conclusion

The continuing use in schools and universities of the grammar translation method, the decline in English-language ability and motivation among students, and the growing belief that English is no more than a tool for economic advancement, are all factors that are affecting English-language literature teaching in tertiary education in Japan today. But as Ezra Pound notes, ‘Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree’. Language and literature are not opposite choices, they complement each other and must be made available to students as part of a comprehensive English education. Literature lecturers must fight the side-lining of English-language literature and seek to offer classes which do away with outdated methods of instruction and instead attract students with a more active teaching methodology which fires their imaginations and launches students on that “voyage of discovery that adds to their intellectual life”.

Notes

1. All interviews and survey responses have been anonymized.

2. TOEIC data retrieved from the TOEIC website at http://www.toeic.or.jp/toeic_en/pdf/data/TOEIC_DAA2011.pdf

3. TOEFL data retrieved from www.ets.org/toefl

4. The Japan Times. “English teachers won’t be ready”. Norihiro Nose. Last Updated: 12 August 2010. Date accessed: 24 February 2013. <http://info.japantimes.co.jp/text/rc20100812a6.html>

5. The Asahi Shimbun. “Ready or not, Rakuten switching to English as in-house language on July 2”. The Asahi Shimbun, Last Updated: 30 June 2012. Date accessed: 24 February 2013. <http://ajw.asahi.com/article/economy/business/AJ201206300064>

6. The Guardian. “Falling numbers threaten Japanese universities”. Jessica Shepherd. Last updated: 15 January 2008. Date accessed: 24 February 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/jan/15/internationaleducationnews.highereducation>

7. Figures on percentage of students advancing to university taken from MEXT online statistics at: http://www.mext.go.jp/english/statistics/. In 2009, 53.9 per cent of new graduates from high schools went on to university.

8. The Guardian. “Falling numbers threaten Japanese universities”. Jessica Shepherd. Last updated: 15 January 2008. Date accessed: 24 February 2013. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2008/jan/15/internationaleducationnews.highereducation>

9. The Japan Times. “Demographic crisis leaves universities in financial bind”. David McNeill Chie Matsumoto. Last updated: 18 December 2009. Date accessed: 24 February 2013. <http://info.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20091218f1.html>

10. The Japan Times. “Universities feel the squeeze”. The Japan Times. Last updated: 21 September 2010. Date accessed: 24 February 2013. <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2010/09/21/editorials/universities-feel-the-squeeze>

11. Bueno, Eva P, and Caesar, Terry. “I wouldn’t want anyone to know: Native English Teaching in Japan”. Three Universities, No Position, by Mary S. Tokyo. JPGS Press. Tokyo. 2003. Quotation taken from page 124.

Appendix: Student Survey

What do students think about English-language literature? I conducted a small informal internet survey to find out. The survey and a number of follow-up interviews were conducted anonymously and consequently no personal or institutional names will be cited. Nevertheless it should be noted that surveyed institutions covered the range of the Hensachi rankings from top to very near the bottom, and covered both language/communication and literature majors. Having said this, there were no perceived differences in answers from language or literature faculties.

The survey was originally sent out only in English but after noting the paucity of responses it was resent in English and Japanese. It was answered in both languages. A representative 10 survey replies were selected and their answers are below. Some students did not answer all the questions. All the students took ‘reading’ classes. Six out of the ten students had also taken specialized literature courses such as British or American literature. Two students were specializing in literature for their seminar and graduation theses. The TOIEC scores for the 10 respondents ranged from 540-895, with a mean score of 714, which is considerably higher than the national average.

DO YOU LIKE READING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LITERATURE?

  • No, I don’t like it because I can’t understand a lot of the meaning. I soon get tired when I read. (Student A, female, 21)
  • I like it. Because the contents are interesting. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I like reading because it’s interesting and I can learn something new from reading. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Yes, I do. When I read English-language literature, I call to mind the beautiful scenery and cultures in foreign countries. It’s very interesting to me, so I like reading English-language literature (Student D, female, 21)
  • Yes, I like. Depending on the English-language book I read I can know a lot of words and grammatical expressions. (Student E, female, 22)
  • It depends on the theme. (Student F, male, 22)
  • No, I don’t like it, because it is difficult for me. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Not really because there are sometime difficulties to understand the eloquent sentences. I have never been taught how to read novels in the L2. There are some difficulties to read original text (I am talking about original novels not revised versions for L2 learners like Penguin readers). But I do like reading books about linguistics, which are rather textbooks. (Student H male, 22)
  • I like English, and I am majoring in English [of England] literature at university. (Student I, female, 22)
  • Yes, because I can learn new things. In the case of novels, I want to read what the characters actually say in English not in translation. (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO READ ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LITERATURE?

  • Yes, for studying English it’s very important. Together with reading ability, writing and listening ability improves. (Student A, female, 21)
  • I think it’s important. Because we can study about foreign culture and customs. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I don’t think reading is important for me because it’s just for fun rather than study. However, reading helped me to improve my reading skill and I got a higher TOEIC score since I’ve been reading books. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Yes, I do. Reading English-language literature is very good for me because I can learn reading skills and a lot of cultures in foreign countries. (Student D, female, 21)
  • No, when studying English just reading is not necessary, I think. (Student E, female, 22)
  • I think it is, because literature usually has a lot of difficult words and phrases you seldom use in your daily lives and it helps broaden your vocabulary. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Yes, reading English books gives us many new words. We can study words and grammar. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Yes, it is. It is sometimes translated wrongly. I have taken an American Literature class that the students are required to read in English (original language). We read a short story, ‘The Wives of the Dead’ which was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the last paragraph, there are some ‘she’ in the text, while the story is proceeding with the two women. We discussed who the ‘she’ is in the paragraph. However, it is quite hard to translate it correctly into the Japanese language, because this was even difficult for native readers. Translations cannot make readers define its ambiguity sometimes. (Student H, male, 22)
  • People have various interests, and for most people it isn’t important. But because by reading English-language literature I can improve my English-language ability and learn about different cultures and history, I think it is a good thing. (Student I, female, 22)
  • Translations (into Japanese) cannot convey the delicate nuances. In order to understand what the writer wants to say, I want to read the work in its original English. (Student J, female, 23)

WHAT (IF ANYTHING) DO YOU READ?

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Babe, Tom Sawyer, Moomin (Student A, female, 21)
  • Alice in Wonderland (Student B, female, 21)
  • I’ve read Darren Shan Volumes 1-7 since April and I’m reading Darren Shan Volume 8. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Charlotte’s Web, The House at Pooh Corner, Matilda, George’s Marvelous Medicine, James and the Giant Peach. (Student D, female, 21)
  • I read Japanese novels. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Seriously I’ve never read any English literature. I have some easy reading books but I usually use the internet. I mostly read English articles on the internet. (Student F, male, 22)
  • I have read (literature) Cat in the Rain (Ernest Hemingway), The Wives of the Dead (Nathaniel Hawthorn), The Tell-Tale Heart’ (Edgar Allan Poe), Twilight, Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), The Middle of Everywhere’ (Pipher), The Great Gatsby’ (F. Scott Fitzgerald). (Student H, male, 22)
  • Frankenstein, 1984, The Moonstone. (Student I, female, 22)
  • Novels, reviews, newspaper articles. (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU READ ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LITERATURE VOLUNTARILY OUTSIDE OF CLASS?

  • I don’t. Because I really think it’s a bother. (Student A, female, 21)
  • No, I haven’t. (Student B, female, 21)
  • Yes, I started reading to improve my English skill. Now I enjoy reading. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Yes, I do. I read some books in my home because I want to master reading skill. (Student D, female, 21)
  • No. (Student E, female, 22)
  • No, because I want to read what I’m interested in. (Student F, male 22)
  • No, I don’t need to. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Sometimes I do. One of my friends introduced me to one book, which is called ‘The Middle of Everywhere’ (Pipher). This is a non-fiction that is about how immigrants acquire English language when they came to the United States. I am still reading this. (Student H, male, 22)
  • The reading I am assigned for literature class is my limit. I don’t have time to read anything else. (Student I, female, 22)
  • Because I am a slow reader, the reading assigned for literature class is my limit. (Student J, female, 23)

HAVE YOU LEARNED ANY INTERESTING OR USEFUL THINGS FROM ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LITERATURE?

  • No. (Student A, female, 21)
  • Phonemes. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I learned unknown words and expressions like ‘hunky-dory’. (Student C, male, 21)
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. (Student D, female, 21)
  • No. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Never. (Student F, male, 22)
  • No. Only new words and grammar. (Student G, female, 22)
  • I really like the first line of ‘The Great Gatsby’. I learnt this, “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had”. (Student H, male, 22)
  • In Animal Farm, ‚allusion’ is very interesting. And the lack of a happy ending made me think about society. (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU HAVE ANY PREFERENCE FOR ANY ENGLISH-SPEAKING COUNTRY’S LITERATURE?

  • English, American. Because they’re the English-speaking countries. (Student A, female, 21)
  • Not particularly. But because I don’t really read foreign books I don’t know. (Student B, female, 21)
  • No, I don’t. I haven’t read all of those kinds of literature, so I don’t understand differences or features among them. (Student C, male, 21)
  • No, I don’t. First of all, I have not read the literature of various countries and I think that an English book is interesting despite each country. (Student D, female, 21)
  • No, because I hardly read foreign books. (Student E, female, 22)
  • I prefer British English books so I wouldn’t like to read American literature if I have to. (Student F, male, 22)
  • No, I don’t read English books. (Student G, female, 22)
  • American literature. It is interesting to see how the lives were in the past from the old literature. Additionally I sometimes feel difficulty to read British literature because of the vocabulary that is not familiar sometimes (to L2 learners). (Student H, male, 22)
  • I have only read English [of England] books so I can’t compare. (Student I, female, 22)
  • English [of England] literature, because that is what I am majoring in. (Student J, female, 23)

WHO (IF ANYONE) IS YOUR FAVOURITE ENGLISH-LANGUAGE AUTHOR?

  • I only know J K Rowling. (Student A, female, 21)
  • J K Rowling. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I don’t know much about authors but I may like Dan Brown. (Student C, male, 21)
  • No-one in particular. (Student D, female, 21)
  • Alex Shearer. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Nobody. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Darren Shan. (Student G, female, 22)
  • There is no author who I like. (Student H, male, 22)
  • No-one in particular. (Student I, female, 22)
  • No-one in particular. (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU READ ANY ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LITERATURE TRANSLATED INTO JAPANESE?

  • Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Student A, female, 21)
  • Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Looking Glass. (Student B, female, 21)
  • Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code. (Student C, male, 21)
  • No, I don’t. (Student D, female, 21)
  • Yes, Alex Shearer. (Student E, female, 22)
  • No. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Harry Potter, Darren Shan, Momo, Demonata. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Sometimes I read because I could not find original text from the library. The Birds (Daphne Du Maurier). (Student H, male, 22)
  • Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland. (Student I, female, 22)
  • Harry Potter, Frankenstein, The Fellowship of the Ring. (Student J, female, 23)

WHAT (IF ANY) ARE YOUR THREE FAVOURITE NON-JAPANESE BOOKS THAT YOU HAVE READ EITHER IN ENGLISH OR JAPANESE?

  • Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Student A, female, 21)
  • Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland. (Student B, female, 21)
  • Darren Shan, Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Charlotte’s Web, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol. (Student D, female, 21)
  • The Great Blue Yonder. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Nothing. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Harry Potter, Darren Shan, Demonata. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Rebecca, The Birds. (Student H, male, 22)
  • Peter and Wendy. (Student I, female, 22)
  • Animal Farm, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Winnie the Pooh. (Student J, female, 23)

WHAT ARE YOUR CRITERIA FOR CHOOSING BOOKS?

  • Popular books. Books that have been made into movies. (Student A, female, 21)
  • Popular books. Not thick books. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I choose books which look interesting at least when I choose fantasy books. (Student C, male, 21)
  • I think book length and cover illustration are important for me. (Student D, female, 21)
  • Movie tie-in and book length. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Content and price. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Books which I know the story. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Generally, movies’ original novels. Sometimes I read for my upcoming experience. I took The Great Gatsby which is written by a Minnesotan writer, because I was going there. (Student H, male, 22)
  • Teacher’s recommendation (for my seminar class and graduation thesis theme). (Student I, female, 22)
  • Teacher’s recommendation, movie tie-in, bestsellers, books I have enjoyed reading in Japanese. (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU MAINLY BUY OR BORROW ENGLISH-LANGUAGE BOOKS?

  • Borrow. Because English-language books are expensive. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I usually buy because I always read books more than twice. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Sometimes I borrow English-language books because I want to master reading. (Student D, female, 21)
  • I prefer to borrow because obviously it doesn’t cost. (Student F, male, 22)
  • I borrow them. I read them only once. (Student G, female, 22)
  • I mainly buy books. I prefer English-language books which are for my reading skill, but those are not available in the library frequently. (Student H, male, 22)

DO YOU BORROW ENGLISH-LANGUAGE BOOKS FROM YOUR UNIVERSITY’S LIBRARY? IF YES, WHAT KINDS OF BOOKS AND HOW MANY DO YOU BORROW A YEAR?

  • About 20, mainly stories. (Student A, female, 21)
  • I read books that I had to read for classes. But I also read books that I can read by myself. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I don’t remember but I have borrowed sometimes, not so much. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Yes, I do. I borrowed some books which are Penguin Readers and other kinds. Maybe I borrow around 5 books per year. (Student D, female, 21)
  • Yes, about 10 graded readers a year. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Usually not. (Student F, male, 22)
  • I used to borrow them for classes. They were movie books. I used to borrow about 5 books or more. But no more. (Student G, female, 22)
  • I can’t remember but a lot. (Student H, male, 22)
  • Report materials, reviews, novels etc. 4-6 per year. (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU READ JAPANESE-LANGUAGE BOOKS, MAGAZINES, MANGA ETC?

  • Young people’s manga, young women’s manga and novels. (Student A, female, 21)
  • I mainly read love stories, crime fiction, and fashion magazines: the Akagawa Jiro Series, ‚Colorful’ by Mori Eto, ‚Biyakuyaku’ by Higashino Keigo, ‚Mina’ magazine, and ‚Kimi ni Todoke’ manga. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I read a lot of manga and some football magazines. (Student C, male, 21)
  • I sometimes read Japanese books. The kind are critical essays and so on. Recently, I read a book about working. (Student D, female, 21)
  • I read novels and magazines. The novels are by Higashino Keigo and Nonami Asa. The magazines are about fashion and music. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Nikkei Shimbun and some manga. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Manga, One Piece, Bleach, Gintama, Natsume-Yujincho, Magazine Glamorous, Spur, Jump (Student G, female, 22)
  • I do. I like reading new books, monographs, articles and reportage. (Student H, male, 22)

WHO (IF ANYONE) IS YOUR FAVOURITE JAPANESE AUTHOR?

  • Yoshida Shuichi. (Student A, female, 21)
  • Mori Eto, Akagawa Jiro. (Student B, female, 21)
  • No-one in particular. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Kiyoshi Shigematu, Ira Ishida, Taizou Kato, Riku Onda (Student D, female, 21)
  • Higashino Keigo, Nonami Asa. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Nobody. (Student F, male, 22)
  • Ishii Shinji, Ishida Ira. (Student G, female, 22)
  • There is no author who I like. (Student H, male, 22)
  • No-one in particular. (Student I, female, 22)
  • No-one in particular (Student J, female, 23)

DO YOU READ LITERATURE IN ANY OTHER LANGUAGE?

  • Student B (female, 21) answered French.

DID YOU READ ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LITERATURE IN JUNIOR OR SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL?

  • No. (Student A, female, 21)
  • No. (Student B, female, 21)
  • I don’t remember. (Student C, male, 21)
  • Yes, I did. I read Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Jean Christophe, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, The Secret Garden, Harry Potter Series (1, 2, 3), Mary Poppins and so on (in Japanese). (Student D, female, 21)
  • No. (Student E, female, 22)
  • Yes, graded readers back in high school. (Student F, male, 22)
  • No. (Student G, female, 22)
  • Yes, I did sometimes. I used to read the Frog and Toad series in English sometimes in my elementary and junior high school days. (Student H, male, 22)
  • No. (Student I, female, 22)
  • In high school. (Student J, female, 23)

Dr. Susan K. Burton was an associate professor at Nagoya University of Commerce and Business from 2003-2009 and Bunkyo Gakuin University from 2009-2013. She holds an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and a DPhil in history from the University of Sussex. She is the co-author of Itakura, Burton, Onohara, Introduction to British Cultural Studies through Movies, Shohakusha, 2008, and Okumura, Burton, Itakura, Introduction to American Cultural Studies through Movies, Shohakusha, 2007. She is currently completing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia.