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Student Spotlight Interview: Mackenzie McMillan

May 18, 2018

Please introduce yourself

My name is Mackenzie McMillan and I am a second year student in the Japan Studies MA Program. Although originally from Wisconsin, I completed my undergraduate studies at Loyola University New Orleans and at Chukyo University in Nagoya, Japan. Before attending the University of Washington I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher in Chiba Prefecture, Japan on the JET Program from 2013-2016. During this time I volunteered with the Tokyo Rainbow Pride organization. These experiences ultimately led me to apply for the Japan Studies program and influenced my areas of academic interest – LGBT issues and English education in Japan.

Outside of the Japan realm, I have a passion for international travel and learning languages, including French, Norwegian, Danish, Korean, and most recently, German. On my days off you can find me taking photos of Seattle’s gorgeous scenery while exploring the city’s neighborhoods or indulging in a sandwich at Flowers Restaurant in the U-District.


Why did you choose the Japan Studies program?

Given my life-long interest in the Japanese language and 5+ years spent living in the country, it seemed like a natural fit to pursue an MA in Japan Studies. I studied Political Science and Southern U.S. History as an undergraduate, but for my MA I wanted to contextualize my experiences in Japan, as well as gain the academic framework and cultural understanding that I perceive as necessary for a career in Japan-related fields. The University of Washington’s Japan Studies Program consistently reinforces its reputation as one of the best of such programs in the country, so it was a natural top choice. Also, the Seattle area offers plenty of Japan-related career prospects and has a large and active Japanese community, meaning there are plenty of opportunities to practice the language and to make new friends.


Would you say that you the have changed (intellectually, personally, etc.) as a result of attending the Japan Studies program?

I would absolutely say that I have changed intellectually and personally as a result of the Japan Studies Programs in ways that I never could have imagined. The program not only challenged me to learn new concepts and historical facts, but has also called into question what I thought I already knew.

It has been a process of intellectual and emotional maturation that I strongly believe have changed my personality for the better. Of course the changes experienced will be different for everyone, but in an MA program like this I think it would be hard not to leave not only with a greater understanding of Japan, but a new conceptualization of the world in general.


What were your research topics for your MA completion?

Drawing on my previous experience, I decided to focus one paper on LGBT Japan and one on the JET Program.

While living in Japan I often heard the phrase “Gay people don’t exist here [in Japan],” yet through my volunteer experiences at Tokyo Rainbow Pride I saw tens of thousands of LGBT people rally in plain site at Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo. Professor Andrea Arai advised my research to explore this confusing contradiction, which included academic sources and was greater contextualized by my own ethnographic experiences.

Under the guidance of Professor Kenneth Pyle I explored the implications of the JET Program on the U.S.-Japan alliance, and assert that the JET Program was originally crafted as a tool to strengthen the alliance at a time when it was seemingly in danger due to precarious economic circumstances. I also make some larger suggestions about Japan’s use of soft power. I was again able to draw upon academic sources, as well as my own experiences with the JET Program as ethnographic research.


What are your plans after graduation? How do you see you time the Japan Studies Program as helping you in the future?

I went into the Japan Studies Program with the ultimate goal of eventually getting a PhD in either History or Anthropology. After careful thought and consideration, I postponed my PhD aspirations for a few years and am applied to several Japan-related jobs in Seattle, as well as other cities in the United States. Moreover, I may pursue a second MA degree at a university abroad.

I feel that the Japan Studies Program has absolutely given me the tools necessary to be successful not only in a Japan-related career track, but in any career track I choose to pursue. I believe that the analytical skills and careful thought processes I have learned in the program are universally applicable, and have prepared me for future challenges, both academic and professional.


What advice would you give prospective Japan Studies MA students?

I have two main pieces of advice for prospective students:

  1. Spend as much time learning the Japanese language as you can! Not everyone has the opportunity to travel to Japan before entering the program, but I recommend finding a way to improve your language skills before starting the program. The University of Washington has an amazing Japanese language program, but it will be beneficial to be well acquainted with the language from the beginning, as this unlocks several doorways to research opportunities, social connections, and ultimately to employment opportunities – not to mention it will save time and valuable credits!
  2. Take the time to think about your more specific areas of interest within the field of Japan Studies. The required general Japan Studies and History courses were extremely valuable. In elective courses, however, I recommend to sit down and think about why you would like to pursue an MA and what subjects are of particular interest. Again, this will save time and valuable credits.



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