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Faculty in Focus - Mieko Yamada

Associate Professor Mieko Yamada joined COAS’s Department of Sociology in 2007. She specializes in multiculturalism and diversity in Japanese culture and recently published a book on teaching English in Japan, entitled The Role of English Teaching in Modern Japan: Diversity and Multiculturalism through English Language Education in a Globalized Era.

Yamada was not always interested in sociology. In fact, she had never heard of sociology until she was a graduate student. After studying English linguistics as an undergraduate in Japan, she successfully pursued a master's degree in education at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Her experiences studying abroad first piqued her interest in cultural sociology, specifically the practice of tattooing.

As Yamada explains, it was difficult for her to accept that in some cultures tattoos are an acceptable expression of identity construction. “I came up with my master’s thesis because of my cultural bias. In Japan, tattoos are often associated with criminal activity; you can still find pools or spas with ‘no tattooed people allowed’ signs. So when I went to Canada, I didn’t really like to see people with tattoos—that was my first reaction. My classmates thought it was fascinating and a form of art or identity, but I just couldn’t believe it or accept it. As I began immersing myself in the new culture, I became really interested in the cultural differences. I started interviewing people, asking why they got their tattoos. And thus began my thesis topic.”

Though her master’s thesis was in education, the sociology department at Western Michigan University invited Yamada to speak at the “Tattoo Forum” conference. There, she spoke with sociologists for the first time, and in 2001, she was accepted into the sociology Ph.D. program at Western Michigan.

Interestingly, much of Yamada’s sociological research involves English language education and the complex nature of Japan's promotion of English learning and teaching in a globalized era. Her dissertation, “The Representation of Race and Ethnic Relations: An Analysis of Japanese Junior High School English Language Textbooks from 1987 to 2002,” and aforementioned book both focus on multiculturalism and diversity in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Japan. Currently, Yamada is writing about "teaching English as education for diversity and social justice."

To learn more about Yamada's recently published book or future plans, watch the Faculty in Focus video. For more information, contact Yamada or the sociology department.