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BA Film Studies and East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Bodies, Sex and Gender in Japan

Unit code JAPA33071
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Japanese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


In this course unit, we will examine a number of key issues in modern Japan through the lens of bodies, gender and sexuality. This involves understanding concepts such as nationalism and colonialism as socio-political endeavours and ideologies that shaped particular gender identities and bodily performance. With this approach, we will aim to gain fresh insights into our understanding of Japanese history and society. We will address questions such as: ‘How  and why did tolerance towards male homosexuality disappear in Meiji Japan?’; ‘How was an effort to improve women’s hygienic practices informed by nation building in the Meiji period?’; ‘How and why was sterilization justified under fascist Japan?’; or ‘What links the (in)famous Japanese work-ethos to the masculinity of salary-men?’


  • To provide students with an understanding of some of the major issues pertaining to bodies, gender and sexuality in modern Japan.
  • To introduce major concepts necessary to develop an understanding of how bodies and gender identities/roles were understood in modern and contemporary Japan.
  • To help students critically analyze primary sources.
  • To help students develop their teamwork skills.
  • (Specific to Japanese Studies students) To help students develop their translation skills.


Week 1: Erotic bodies

[Shunga in ukiyoe, shudo in late Tokugawa]

Week 2: Bodies for the nation

[The rise of a new medical administration and education system, civilized ‘posture’, infectious diseases and foreign bodies, conscription – predominantly Meiji]

Week 3: Promiscuous bodies

[Birth control, abortion, infanticide, prostitution, venereal disease control and feminism in the 1920s, ero guro nansensu]

Week 4: Healthy bodies and the Japanese state

[Cult of health, eugenics and fascism, healthy soldiers (free of VDs), healthy mothers and healthy babies (the rise of Koseisho)]

Week 5: Colonial and colonized bodies

[Colonies and the notion of tropical diseases, purity of the Japanese race, Unit 731]


Week 7: Irradiated bodies

[A-bomb, H-bomb and Fukushima]

Week 8: Reproductive bodies

[Midwifery and cult of hygiene, voluntary public health schemes in the 1920s, from umeyo fuyaseyo in the 1930s to the post-war population control]

Week 9: Queer bodies

[Male homosociality/homosexuality: from shudo to bushido, discourse of lesbianism in jogakusei, hermaphrodites, “gay boy” and commercialism, new-half boom in the 1980s and transvestites, queer movement in the 1990s]

Week 10: Overworked bodies

[Salaryman as Japan Inc., kar¿shi, education mothers and childcare neurosis]

Week 11: Unproductive bodies?

[Shoshika, bad wife and mothers (dependency, gyarumama), fr¿t¿, NEET and otaku men]

Week 12: Conclusion

Teaching and learning methods

  • Three weekly hours in the class for 11 weeks (week 12 = revision for the exam).
  • Two consultation hours per week.
  • Further consultation on demand.

Knowledge and understanding

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • systematically comprehend how specific cultural, political and social conditions shaped the perception of bodies in modern Japan;
  • see how different understandings of bodies, gender and sexuality have existed in history, thus critically evaluate Euro-centric views.

Intellectual skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • broaden intellectual interests and nurture cultural awareness for areas beyond English-speaking countries.
  • read critically about modern history of Japan.
  • write analytically about modern history of Japan.


Practical skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • have improved their skills to approach primary and secondary sources about Japan.

  • have improved their skills to read Japanese-language primary and secondary sources.

  • have improved their translation skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • have honed their skills for reasoned presentation, discussion and argument.
  • develop personal qualities of independence of mind in order to make ethical judgments.
  • have been encouraged to confront their own values as global citizens.
  • develop communication and collaborative skills to prepare students for professional and vocational work.

Employability skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to: ¿ write analytically: gain exposure and practice in appropriate presentation and written skills related to a discipline or profession ¿ develop a project in a specific topic ¿ read and translate complex Japanese literary and more scientifically-oriented texts

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative


Weighting within unit (if summative)

Literature review outline


300 words


Literature review


1,000 words


A fictional source with a commentary



1 A-4 page (fictional source) and a 2,000-word commentary




2 hours




Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

  • Oral one-to-one feedback on the literature review outline (during consultation hours or by appointment).



  • Written feedback on the literature review



  • Written feedback on the fictional source/commentary.



Recommended reading

Früstück, Sabine and Anne Walthall eds. Recreating Japanese Men (Berkeley: University of California, 2011).

Igarashi, Yoshikuni Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

Low, Morris ed. Building a Modern Japan: Science, Technology, and Medicine in the Meiji Era and Beyond (Basingstoke, Hampshire: PalgraveMacmillan, 2005).

Molony, Barbara and Kathleen Uno eds. Gendering Modern Japanese History (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, 2005).

Nakayama, Shigeru ed. A Social History of Science and Technology in Contemporary Japan, vols. 1-4 (Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press, 2001-2006).

Roberson James and Nobue Suzuki eds. Men and Masculinities in Contemporary Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa (New York: Routledge, 2003).

Tomida, Hiroko and Gordon Daniels eds. Japanese Women: Emerging from Subservience, 1868-1945 (Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental, 2005)

Further reading will be recommended in the class.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Aya Homei Unit coordinator

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