Next Generation Talent:
Sophia's Global Studies Program Promises Bright Future for History Student

Pursuing his interest in Japanese history in the Graduate Program in Global Studies (GPGS) at Sophia University has set Yannick Muellhaupt from Switzerland on a path to an exciting future.
The wide variety of classes taught at the University's GPGS allow graduate student Yannick Muellhaupt to explore Japan's history and its contemporary culture.

Yannick Muellhaupt's first taste of Japanese history came through an unlikely source. As a child in Switzerland, he watched Takeshi's Castle, a TV game show starring Japanese comedian Beat Takeshi (better known internationally as the filmmaker Kitano Takeshi) playing the part of a Japanese lord who sets up physical challenges for the contestants. The show went on to become a worldwide hit.  "Nearly everyone in my class watched it after school and that was my first exposure to the history of Japan!" he recalls. "It was actually on German TV, but we could get the channel in Switzerland. The show was made even funnier with the German commentary."

Muellhaupt earned a bachelor's degree in history and English in Canada. "I started university in my hometown of Basel, but I wanted to focus on Asian history, so I moved to Vancouver because they had the courses that I wanted," he explains. "My interest in studying Japanese history grew from there. However, before that I had spent time both in Canada and the USA during a gap year, and I got to know a lot of Japanese people during that period."

Muellhaupt says that Tokyo's wealth of opportunities and resources makes it an ideal base to pursue a graduate degree.

A Soft Spot for Asakusa

Muellhaupt started his graduate degree in Japanese Studies at Sophia University two years ago. He had already reached an intermediate level of proficiency in Japanese through a combination of self-study and language courses, but felt unprepared to study full-time in Japanese. To this end, the wide variety of courses in English made Sophia's GPGS a very attractive option. Among his classes, he has particularly enjoyed one that focused on social issues in contemporary Japan, providing deeper insights and context for his daily life here.

He greatly appreciates the guidance of his thesis advisor at Sophia, Japanese history specialist Professor Sven Saaler. In his graduation thesis, Yannick investigated the history of Asakusa, a neighborhood on the northeast side of Tokyo that still retains a traditional atmosphere. It is also home to the iconic Sensoji Temple, one of the city's best-known temples. "After leaving the airport on my initial visit several years ago, Asakusa was where I gained my first impressions of Japan," Muellhaupt says. "My hotel was right next-door to Sensoji Temple and Asakusa has remained close to my heart."

Muellhaupt enjoys chances for social interaction with Japanese students through his part-time work as a tutor in Sophia's Language Learning Center.

Considering Multiple Perspectives

Sophia's academic programs offer students a diverse environment in which to explore and share various perspectives, and this aligns well with Muellhaupt's worldview. "I feel that nowadays there is often so much focus on being 'right' in terms of our opinion," he states. "Taking a step back and looking at a problem from another person's point of view could be helpful. Growing up, for example, I never had much contact with people from Asian cultures, so it has been interesting and beneficial to learn through cultural exchange." 

The keen scholar hopes to continue on to the PhD level at Sophia, with a view to pursuing an academic career teaching Japanese history. He has received valuable advice from his thesis advisor on this topic. "If I go down that road, it's very likely that l will stay in Japan," he says. "As Professor Saaler pointed out to me, the job opportunities in this field are far more plentiful in Japan than in, say, Europe or the U.S. There is a growing trend towards an international perspective in academic programs in Japanese universities and an increasing number of English programs, too."

A City of Many Opportunities

As someone considering a possible future in Tokyo, Muellhaupt feels it can be challenging for young people, since salaries are often not so high for those in the early stages of their career. On the other hand, he notes that various benefits and allowances may be available through local city offices. He encourages fellow international students to proactively seek information or enlist the help of the student affairs office on campus.

In his spare time Muellhaupt tutors Japanese students in English and German at Sophia's Language Learning Center, and coaches preschool and elementary-school children at a soccer school. Not only do these jobs help to fund his studies and provide valuable experience, they also bring opportunities for enjoyable social interaction with Japanese people. 

Muellhaupt says Tokyo is a city with "something for everyone" and makes an ideal base for those pursuing graduate studies. "Depending on your field, there are so many resources, and you can access a wealth of archives and information," he points out. Another big plus is that people display a friendly and genuine interest in both him and his research. "Their first assumption is usually that I am an exchange student, but when I tell them I am a full-time student based here in Tokyo, they ask about my studies and are eager to hear my thoughts on their culture!"

Yannick Muellhaupt

Hailing from Basel in Switzerland, Muellhaupt completed his undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and then entered the GPGS at Sophia University. As a keen student of Japanese history he advocates for cultural preservation and architectural movements to share Tokyo's history with the next generation.

Graduate School of Global Studies

Established in 2006, the Grafuate School of Global Studies embodies Sophia University's dedication to area studies, cultural comparison, and issues relating to globalization. Including the GPGS, the school offers four graduate programs each deploying interdisciplinary frameworks and methodologies, facilitating original analysis under expert faculty guidance.
Interview and writing by Louise George Kittaka
Photos by Miyaji Shingo