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Ethical and legal issues in teaching Japanese popular culture to undergraduate students

Profile of Mark McLelland

BA, MA (Cambridge)
Grad Dip in Japanese Language (Sheffield)
PhD (Hong Kong)


Mark McLelland is Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies in the Sociology Program, School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication at the University of Wollongong, Australia, 

He is a sociologist and cultural historian of Japan with his specialisation lying in the history of sexuality, gender theory and new media. 
He is also a member of the Institute for Social Transformation Research in the Faculty of Arts and currently involved in two research projects funded by the ARC, namely,

  1. Sexuality and Social Transformation in Japan
    Looking at how global movements of people and knowledge are impacting upon Japanese constructs of sexuality and gender. 
    (His latest publication, Love, Sex and Democracy in Japan during the America Occupation, is a result of this project) 
  2. Internet History in Australia and the Asia Pacific
    Compares the development and uses of the Internet in Australia, with those of China, Korea, and Japan.
In addition, Professor McLelland is a founding member of the AsiaPacifiQueer Research Collective, an Australian organization committed to bring together academics, research students, and activists in collective attempts to inscribe queer studies within Asian studies and to locate Asia, and the non-West, within cultural studies. Under this collective, he has assisted in the organisation of the "Genders, Sexualities and Rights: 1st International Conference of Asian queer Studies", which was held in Bangkok in the year 2005.
Together with Dr. Fran Martin from the University of Melbourne, Professor McLelland recently organised a workshop and an edited collection on Japanese Transnational Fandom. 
At the University of Wollongong , he was also involved in a long term research project (2005-2010) that led to a book titled "Kissing is a symbol of Democracy: Dating Democracy and romance in Japan under the Occupation 1945-52"

Major publications include:

and was also the editor for the following publications:
  • 2009: ‘Japanese Transnational Fandoms and Female Consumers’, guest-edited edition ofIntersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
  • 2008: AsiaPacifiQueer: Rethinking Genders and Sexualities (University of Illinois Press; with Fran Martin, Peter Jackson and Audrey Yue)
  • 2008: Internationalizing Internet Studies (Routledge; with Gerard Goggin)
  • 2007: Queer Voices from Japan (Lexington; with Katsuhiko Suganuma and James Welker) 
  • 2006 ‘Queer Japan’ special edition of Intersections;
  • 2005: Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan (Routedge; with Romit Dasgupta)
  • 2003: Japanese Cybercultures (Routledge; with Nanette Gottlie

He was also the 2007/2008 Toyota Visiting Professor of Japanese at the Center for Japanese Studies, The University of Michigan.

Below is a short video by Dr. McLelland, sharing his thoughts about the teaching environment at The University of Wollongong, his research background and inspiration for continued research in 2010.


Presentation topic in the Teaching Japanese Popular Culture Conference in National University of Singapore

In view of the increasing concern over sexualized content of Japanese media, particularly in regard to representations of characters who may "appear to be"minors, in countries such as Australia and Canada which lead to recent arrest and prosecution of manga and anime fans, Professor McLelland will be discussing the following three key questions in the conference.

  • What role (if any) do educators have in alerting students to the problematic nature of studying, consuming, producing and disseminating images of a sexualized nature?
  • How do we negotiate students’ interest in potentially problematic Japanese genres such as BL, hentai and rori in the classroom?
  • How do we support students who wish to pursue their interest in these genres, balancing the need for academic freedom against requirements to live by the ethical and legal framework set by local authorities?


Question 1:

I see that your area of specialization lies in the history of sexuality, gender theory and new media of Japan. May I know the specific classes that you teach and how do you conduct lessons in the Sociology Program, Faculty of Arts? Also, your recent research revolves around Japanese culture of sexuality and the development of Internet in Japan, does that affect the approach you take with regards to teaching methods? For example, extensive incorporation of multimedia technologies teaching materials in your lessons. 

Sociology classes consist of two models: two-hour lectures and one-hour tutorials at first year and one-hour lectures and two-hour tutorials at second and third. I teach SOC 104 (Media, Culture & Society) and, as a media subject, include many media examples (often sourced from YouTube). I also teach SOC 210 (Genders and Sexualities), SOC 327 (Body and Society) and SOC 326 (Social Transformation in Asia). All these subjects engage with the media and use examples taken from the media. SOC 326 is a student research seminar where the students research and present on a topic to do with globalization in Asia – most students select a topic that is related to the media. Recent examples have been boy bands in Japan, the Japanization of fashion (gothic Lolita), and manga and anime cultures in Asia. 


Question 2:

As we all understand, Australia has a diverse multiracial makeup, comprising of people from different racial and ethnic groups. Is this situation reflected in the student make up of your lessons? If yes, do you find any differences when teaching students from various racial and ethnic groups? Also, what are some of the difficulties that you face in the teaching of Japanese Studies in Australia? And lastly, do you see any changes or trend in the interests of your students in the area of Japanese Studies?

Most students are from European background but we have some study abroad students for one semester from the US and some European countries and also many students from mainland China and a few from Japan. Very few of my students speak Japanese or have visited Japan so this limits the kind of research they can do – limited to English-language sources. Knowledge of Japanese popular culture, especially manga and anime but also fashion and to a lesser extent music is quite common. However the students have little sense of the Japanese history or culture that is the background to these products.


Question 3:

From the Staff & Contact Details page of the University of Wollongong, I came to know that you were the 2007/08 Toyota Visiting Professor of Japanese at the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan. May I know what was the scope of your teaching as a Visiting Fellow in the University of Michigan?  Were there any differences in teaching, for example the type of approach that you have taken in these 2 universities? With regards to teaching environment and policies, do you find any major differences between the 2 universities? Lastly, how were the students different (for example, their attitude and interest) in these 2 universities? 

The University of Michigan is a much larger university than Wollongong. This meant that I was able to teach a specialist course for only 20 students – this would not be possible in Wollongong because there would be insufficient demand. I taught a fourth-year elective course entitled ‘Genders, Transgender and Sexualities in Japan’. Many of the students had studied Japanese and visited Japan so we were able to do more in-depth work using Japanese-language sources. There was not much difference in the intellectual abilities between the two groups of students, but the students’ awareness of Japanese language and experience of Japan at UM meant that less time needed to be devoted to explaining the context of Japanese society.


Question 4:

In your presentation, you will be highlighting the issue of sexualized content of Japanese media in countries such as Canada and Australia, leading to increasing arrest and prosecution of manga and anime fans. In relation to this problem, what are some of the effects, both negative and positive, that you had observed till date and possible repercussion that you foresee with regards to the attraction and future of Japanese Studies? 

So far students and fans in general are almost completely ignorant of the law regulating ‘fantasy sex’ scenarios in manga and anime. Many of the people prosecuted for contravening the law in the US, Canada and Australia were not aware that child pornography laws apply to manga for example (Christopher Handley in the US was caught with some rori manga – and some people have been caught with pornographic anime on their computers crossing the border into Canada). What is problematic about applying these laws to imaginary characters is that the law is framed in terms of characters that may ‘appear to be’ under the age of 18 – and of course manga conventions are to draw very young-looking characters irrespective of their actual age in the narrative. Given the huge popularity of manga and anime this is a growing problem, particularly with digitization, as people move around the world with digital manga and anime images on their tablets and notebooks. So far Japanese Studies as a discipline has failed to draw attention to this problem and we need to do more as Japan studies professionals to highlight these issues for students, fans and legislators.




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