The study of Japan at the University of Oxford started in St Antony’s College in the 1950s, and the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies was established there in 1981, making it the sixth oldest of the college's seven centres.
The Institute is located in the grounds of St Antony's College and consists of offices for staff and academic visitors, teaching rooms, and a 150-seat lecture theatre. It also houses the Bodleian Japanese Library, which is one of the principal collections on Japan in the UK. The Institute runs MSc and MPhil graduate programmes in Japanese Studies.
The academic study of Japan was well-established at the University of Oxford by the end of the 1970s when Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. decided to provide a generous endowment, resulting in the creation of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies in 1981. The Nissan Benefaction initially provided funding for a political scientist, an economist, and a modern historian. In the 1990s, a social anthropologist and another economist were added, and in 2007/2008, two sociologists joined. This breadth in social science complements the focus on pre-modern history, Japanese language, and literature found in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.
A second endowment from Nissan, received in the early 1990s, not only funded the expansion of positions but also financed the construction of the Nissan Institute building within St Antony's College grounds.
Members of the Institute contribute to undergraduate teaching in their departments and the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, as well as supervising doctoral students. The Institute hosts a long-running Graduate Research Seminar, which meets weekly during term time, providing a forum for discussion and exchange of ideas among graduate students studying Japan, irrespective of their discipline or college affiliation.
The MSc and MPhil in Modern Japanese Studies programmes were launched in 2007, and in 2017-2018, the MSc and MPhil degrees in Modern Japanese Studies were merged to create new MSc and MPhil programmes in Japanese Studies. This introduced options from the humanities in the fields of linguistics, classical literature, and modern literature alongside existing options in the social sciences.
Since its inception in the 1980s, the Institute has organised a series of Nissan Seminars in Japanese Studies. These seminars run weekly in Michaelmas and Trinity terms on Fridays from 5.00 p.m. to 6.30 p.m., and in Hilary term on Thursdays from 2.00 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. Each week, speakers with a national and international reputation in Japanese studies are invited to present a paper about their current research. Members of the general public are welcome to attend.
Additionally, since the 1980s, the Institute has been responsible for the publication of two series on Japan. The Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series has now published more than 100 volumes, making it the largest single series of academic work on Japan in the world. Meanwhile, the Institute has also produced an Occasional Papers Series, which has enabled papers first presented in the Seminar Series to reach a wider readership. The last paper in this series was published in 2010, and there are hopes to relaunch the series in the future.