New publication – in Education About Asia

Screenshot of the EAA webpage

Screenshot of the EAA webpage

My paper “How ‘Green’ is Japan? Studying Environmental Issues in the Field,” has just been accepted for publication by Education About Asia. It will be published in early 2014 (19:1).

This is my first paper about my annual field studies module and is based on work I delivered at the annual meetings of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego (2013). Thanks to the NUS Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) for a Teaching Enhancement Grant to attend the conference.

For access to the PDF, please visit my NUS Faculty Profile page:

New publication on MOOCs

Now out in the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, my thoughts on online learning spaces and MOOCs.

Teaching Japanese Popular Culture in the MOOC World

by Chris McMorran

Since 2012, the growth of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has stirred excitement and controversy in higher education. Open-access, fully online courses are but the latest advance in a long history of distance learning. However, the recent combination of advanced course-hosting technologies, enthusiasm for MOOCs at institutions like Harvard and Stanford, and vast start-up capital for MOOC providers like Coursera, edX, and Udacity has led to speculation that MOOCs may drastically alter higher education, for better or worse.

What will the future hold for MOOCs in Japanese Studies, specifically for courses about or incorporating Japanese popular culture? This paper addresses this question and explains the relevance of the topic for anyone engaged in teaching about, or with, Japanese popular culture. This includes not only individuals who teach courses in film, media, or cultural studies departments specifically about Japanese film, anime, manga, games, cosplay, literature, music, television dramas, etc., but also those who use examples of Japan’s rich cultural heritage to teach about something else, like history, sociology, anthropology, geography, politics, international relations, marketing, business, and more. Anyone who relies on Japanese popular culture to make a point, provide an example, define a term, or even entertain, needs to be cognisant of how MOOCs might shape what they do and how they do it.

I hope to stimulate discussion about MOOCs in Japanese Studies. Although there is very little peer-reviewed scholarship on MOOCs, there has been a media explosion of news reports, commentaries, essays, videos, and interviews with MOOC advocates and skeptics. In this paper I draw on dozens of mostly online materials, as well as email correspondence with several scholars who have developed or are developing popular culture-rich MOOCs, in order to: 1) define MOOCs and trace their recent growth, acclaim, and controversy; 2) discuss challenges that must be overcome to take advantage of MOOCs, most notably copyright; and 3) raise some questions about MOOCs that have yet to be widely discussed, but may affect us all in the future. Overall, I question the ability of MOOCs to democratise education and fear they may create a fissure between institutions, departments, and scholars who can capitalise on their promise and those who cannot.

Read the rest of the article here:

Publication in “Landscape Journal”

I just received word that my paper A Landscape of “Undesigned Design” in Rural Japan will be published in Landscape Journal, in early 2014 (33:1). I will provide more information when it is printed. In the meantime, here is the abstract:

ABSTRACT  Rural landscapes have long stimulated nostalgia for a simpler time and place. In contemporary Japan, real economic and social problems in the countryside have brought new attention to the role of rural communities in the formation of Japanese identity. In this paper I introduce Kurokawa, a hot springs resort that has spent the past three decades emulating the rural idyll through what it calls fūkeizukuri, or “landscape design,” en route to becoming one of Japan’s best known rural tourist destinations. I contextualize Kurokawa’s adoption of a themed landscape in the mid-1980s, and I explain the design choices that have gained Kurokawa so much attention, including those found in the built and natural environment. Here, I emphasize the role local actors have played in creating and enacting the landscape. I conclude by showing how the village’s adoption of a nostalgic rural theme has strengthened its status as not only an exemplar of the idealized aesthetics and social relations of the past, but also a rare rural community successfully adapting to the present.

Publication news – just out in Mobilities

My most recent publication was posted online today, in the journal Mobilities. I believe it is a highly readable account of work in a Japanese inn, told through a critical lens of mobilities studies that has been largely ignored since the founding of this journal. I welcome any feedback.

Access it here at the publisher or contact me directly:

Mobilities Amid the Production of Fixities: Labor in a Japanese Inn


Building on recent interest in fixities within mobilities studies, this article analyzes

the ‘production of fixities’ in Japanese inns, or ryokan. I describe the complex ways

that different scales and regimes of mobility interact on the bodies, personal lives, careers,

and aspirations of inn employees. I show how the daily grind of producing fixity for tourists

engenders ambivalence toward both movement and stasis, mediated through gender, age,

and other circumstances. Ultimately, I argue that mobility and fixity should not be seen as

opposites, but as mutually constitutive conditions that intermingle in nuanced ways in the

everyday lives of individuals.

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