Associate Professor in Asian Studies (Japanese Studies)
At Knox Since: 1999
In the 1980s, when the Japanese economy was booming, many
Americans looked to Japanese education for keys to economic success.
But starting in the 1990s the situation reversed, according to
Mat Ryohei Matsuda, associate professor of Asian Studies at Knox College,
who has received a research grant to study how Japanese educators are now adapting American ideas to their system of higher education.
An expert in comparative and international education, Matsuda received the grant from the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) and the Great Lakes Colleges Association, to travel to Japan this summer to study two institutions -- Akita International University and Waseda University -- that are pioneering a liberal arts curriculum in Japanese higher education.
"Japanese feel that their education system is in trouble. They used to be among the leaders in the world, but not any more," Matsuda said. "They are looking for a solution outside of Japan, and they are interested in American liberal arts education."
"Compared to many American and European college students, Japanese students are isolated. Japan wants to produce a new workforce that's competent to participate in international contexts and international organizations," Matsuda said. In contrast with the narrowly focused curriculum in Japanese universities, "a liberal arts college like Knox teaches students how to analyze, interpret and act upon any issue that confronts them."
Unlike Japan's large universities, Akita and Waseda are now recruiting faculty from all over the world, maintaining small classes and offering a wider curriculum, Matsuda says.
While Waseda has 45,000 students, it is unusual in Japan because it is a private school that has long focused on a wider curriculum. Knox has had a study-abroad program at Waseda through the ACM since the 1970s.
Akita is Japan's first public liberal arts university. It was founded in 2004, the same year that Waseda established its School of International Liberal Studies (SILS).
"Studying Akita and SILS at Waseda will allow me to investigate the relevance and effects of US-style liberal arts education for Japanese students," Matsuda said. "I will do both quantitative research -- to see what kinds of jobs graduates are getting -- and qualitative research involving interviews with high school and college students, to find the differences between their experiences and those of their friends who went to traditional Japanese universities."
A member of the Knox faculty since 1999, Matsuda teaches courses in Japanese language and culture. He earned a bachelor's degree at the Tokyo University of Education, master's degrees in education and in theatre at the University of Hawaii, a master's degree in comparative and international education at Indiana University, and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University.
In 2006, Matsuda and two other Knox faculty created Japan Term, a program that combines courses in language, history and philosophy with a two-week study trip to Japan. Eventually, Matsuda plans to write a book about American liberal arts education to be published in Japanese and aimed at the Japanese market. "There's nothing currently in print in Japan and only a few translations of books originally written in English," Matsuda said.