AAS Member Spotlight: Deborah Shamoon

Return to Member Spotlight page

Dr. Deborah Shamoon Associate Professor, Department of Japanese Studies National University of Singapore  

modern Japanese literature, film and popular culture

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Over ten years.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined as a graduate student to help develop professionalization, to experience sharing my work with serious, like-minded scholars, and to network before beginning my job search. Now I find it crucial to staying abreast of the latest research and trends in my field, and to keeping in touch with colleagues from around the world. I definitely recommend AAS to my colleagues and to graduate students, for those same reasons. Now that I am located in Singapore, I was very glad to see AAS reach beyond the US with AAS-in-Asia. I hope that it continues to grow.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I majored in Japanese as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and spent a year at the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies, which had only just opened a few years previously. Actually, I began studying Japanese on my own in high school and spent a summer in Tokyo with AFS. I was the stereotypical manga and anime nerd--I had watched dubbed anime on TV as a child, and wanted to learn more. Now it's the way many of our students come into the Japanese Studies major, but at the time it was a bit unusual. 

What do you enjoy most or what were your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I love hearing my students say that I changed the way they think about Japan and Japanese popular culture. I'm especially pleased when I get the hardcore fans or otaku to see manga or anime in a deeper way, or when I get them interested in some other aspect of Japanese culture. I know sometimes otaku can be a disruptive presence in the classroom, but I think it's important for us to direct their energy and enthusiasm rather than discouraging them.

Even though I work on popular culture, in my research I always find myself drawn to texts that are obscure even in Japan. I find the explosion of creativity in the 1920s and in the late 1960s/early 1970s particularly interesting. My research is text-based so I don't really do fieldwork, but it's always fun to travel in Japan and see traces of those earlier times.

Tell us about your current or past research.

I work on representations of girls (shojo) in film, anime and manga. My book, Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls' Culture in Japan (2012), traces the narrative and aesthetic roots of shojo manga to girls' literary magazines of the 1920s. My most recent publication is "The Superflat Space of Japanese Anime" in Asian Cinema and the Use of Space: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Edited by Lilian Chee and Edna Lim, Routledge 2015.

Right now I'm doing more research into female shojo manga artists of the 1960s. I also have become interested in the pedagogy of teaching Japanese popular culture. I have an edited volume forthcoming from the AAS Asia Past and Present Series called Approaches to Teaching Japanese Popular Culture. It is a collection of essays discussing pedagogy and practical advice for many different kinds of courses that teach about or with popular culture.

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Just go for it! But make sure you understand how the institutions work. Throughout my graduate career, I was told by more than one senior advisor that I would never get a job if I specialized in popular culture. For those of us in Asian Studies, it can sometimes seem to others that our research interests are too narrow, but I find it's really a matter of positioning yourself within larger disciplines so that others can see the relevance of your work. This is why understanding how academia functions is so crucial, but it isn't something that's taught in graduate seminars. You have to treat graduate school as an apprenticeship, and make sure you are not just learning your discipline but also how the university works and how to position yourself for the kind of job you want.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself (your interests, hobbies, skills, etc).

I am a trained opera singer. I have been a chorus member of two semi-professional companies, Lamplighters Music Theater in San Francisco and Singapore Lyric Opera. I've also sung in community choruses wherever I was living in the US and Japan. It's a great way to meet artistic, creative people in any city. I've put singing on hold since I gave birth to twins in November of last year, but I hope to go back to it when they are older. 

"For those of us in Asian Studies, it can sometimes seem to others that our research interests are too narrow, but I find it's really a matter of positioning yourself within larger disciplines so that others can see the relevance of your work."

— Deborah Shamoon