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I'm completely lost on how university studies work in Japan, and I don't know what exactly Japanese university students mean when they talk about 科 (か). Often when they mention the studies they are doing, I see things like:

私は文学部史学科に通っています。

I go to the Faculty of Letters, to the "Department"? of History.

私は理工学部機械工学科に通っています。

I go to the Faculty of Sciences and Engineering, to the "Department"? of Mechanical Engineering.

In all the dictionaries I have consulted, 科 (か) always appears translated as "department", but making a comparison with what it would be in other countries (at least in mine), wouldn't 科 (か) be rather the Bachelor's Degree you are studying (i.e. the undergraduate course generally of 4 years, divided in x subjects each year)? For example, Bachelor's Degree in History or Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering.

However, from how they express it, it seems that 科 (か) is a physical place where they go, as if inside the building that is the faculty (文学部 or 理工学部) there were several sections, and each one of these sections It was a "department" with x assigned classrooms.

On the other hand, I have never heard or read a word they use to say "Bachelor's Degree". If the "Department" of History (史学科) or the "Department" of Mechanical Engineering (機械工学科) are physical locations, I have to assume that each of those departments offers a range of Bachelor's Degrees (courses to study), right? So I wonder how (with which word) Japanese university students refer to the Bachelor's Degree they study.

2 Answers 2

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Here are the words you need when taking about something like this:

  • 学部 (がくぶ): Faculty
  • 学科 (がっか): Department (subcategory of 学部)
  • 学位 (がくい): (academic) degree

Notice that they all have 学 as the first character to avoid confusion. ぶ, か and い are too short and ambiguous, especially in speech.

Wouldn't 科 (か) be rather the Bachelor's Degree you are studying

No. Bachelor's Degree is translated as 学士, which is one of 学位. Other common Japanese 学位 include 修士 (Master) and 博士 (Ph.D). These are something you obtain when graduating, but not something you belong to as a student. For example, you enter as a 文学部の学生, and you obtain 文学部の学士 when you graduate.

However, from how they express it, it seems that 科 (か) is a physical place where they go

No. 学部/学科 might refer to a specific building depending on the context (in a large campus with lots of buildings, it's safe to ask 看護科はどこですか instead of bothering to say 看護科の建物はどこですか), but it's not the primary meaning of 学部/学科. If you are a student and someone asks you 学部はどこですか, you have to respond with your faculty name (e.g., 文学部です), not the place name of a building (e.g., 新宿です).

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  • Thank you for your answer. Then, you enter in university, for example, as 文学部の学生, but isn't that too generic? I mean, in the Faculty of Letters, you can study a lot of things: Japanese (or another country) Literature, Japanese (or another country) Linguistics, History, an so on. I suppose each one of the specializations you can do in the faculty corresponds with each one of the departments there are in the faculty. Would that be correct?
    – Rick
    May 8, 2023 at 14:43
  • If so, is correct to say "I'm studying a 史学科の学士” (lit. "a degree from the department of History") in the same way I would say "I'm studying a Bachelor's Degree in History"?
    – Rick
    May 8, 2023 at 14:43
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    @Rick As I explained in my answer, 学士 is not something you're enrolled in or you study. (~の)学士を勉強しています sounds very puzzling. 文学部の学生です may or may not be too generic depending on the context, but if you want to be specific, you can say (文学部)史学科の学生です, 史学科で世界史を学んでいます, and so on. For 修士 and 博士, you can also say something like 博士課程 (近代日本文学を) 学んでいます, but we don't say 学士課程 for whatever reason.
    – naruto
    May 8, 2023 at 15:02
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Ultimately it depends on universities (as a body awarding degrees), but traditionally 学士 is subdivided only to the faculty level as in 理学士, 文学士. To my knowledge, this continues and Bachelor comes with the major at the faculty level in parentheses as you can see in Wikipedia. This should be a convention (I'm aware of no strict regulations for what can come as xx in 学士(xx). )

So I guess you are assuming that the title is fine-grained, which it is not. If you attend "Dept of History, Faculty of Letters, University A" for 4 years, you usually get 学士(文学). The fact you are educated in history is only recognized by the name of the department on CV.

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  • Thank you for your answer. Than, if titles don't have names and the specialization of your studies is the department you go, is correct to say "I'm studying a 史学科の学士” (lit. "a degree from the department of History") in the same way I would say "I'm studying a Bachelor's Degree in History"?
    – Rick
    May 8, 2023 at 14:44
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    I guess that is a discrepancy in idiomaticity between languages. Semantically 'studying a degree' sounds odd to me as 学士の勉強をする is odd. A大学B学部C学科の学士課程に在籍しています should be fine, although normally people don't detail it that way (just say A大学に通っています). Note in Japan, emphasis is on which university you attend rather than which subject you are studying (at least compared with Western countries).
    – sundowner
    May 9, 2023 at 1:04
  • Can't we be a "student of literature", "student of physics"? 私は文学大学生です; 物理学大学生
    – Starckman
    Aug 4, 2023 at 5:15
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    @Starckman No, you would need の:文学部の大学生. For physics, it is usually 理学部の大学生 (No 'Faculty of Physics'). Another possibility is to use 'major': 文学専攻/物理学専攻の大学生.
    – sundowner
    Aug 5, 2023 at 7:39

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