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BA East Asian Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
History and Civilisation of Japan

Unit code JAPA10111
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Japanese Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course introduces Japanese Studies majors to the history of Japan. You will acquire knowledge and understanding of Japanese history from prehistoric times to the end of the Occupation in 1952. You will engage in more in-depth study of early modern and modern Japan, gaining a more detailed and analytical understanding of the foundations and process of Japan’s modernization, empire-building, and democratization. The course deals with political, social, and cultural history, including the introduction of key literary texts in their historical context.  The information you will learn will provide a contextual background for the understanding of Japan in historical and contemporary contexts. There is no linguistic requirement and all the materials are accessible in English.


  • To provide students with an understanding of the historical development of Japanese literature and its culture.
  • To introduce the major concepts and historical background necessary to develop an understanding of how Japanese people of different historical periods have understood their literary culture and key social, historical and cultural issues and engaged with them.
  • To help students understand the complexity and subtlety of cultural engagements with complex issues and to develop their ability to express this. 

Learning outcomes




The course provides an overview over the historical development of Japanese culture from the earliest traces to the 20th century. It looks at a number of key cultural texts from genres such as mythology, theatre, poetry and prose, their historical context and some of the issues raised in and by them. The engagement with the texts involves a consideration of the concept of culture as a historically changing construct. Readings include translations of key Japanese texts as well as examples or representative secondary literature that introduces the students to an academic engagement with Japanese culture and help them to contextualise the readings.  

Topic 1          Origins of Japanese Culture and Society

Topic 2          Court Culture of the Heian Period

Topic 3          Medieval Japan

Topic 4          The Chônin Culture of the Edo-Period

Topic 5          Japanese Poetry

Topic 7          The ideas of Classics and Tradition

Topic 8          The Quest for Modernity in the Meiji Period

Topic 9          Japanese Literature of the 20th Century


Course materials:

Readings will be provided on Blackboard.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures and pre-reading will set out key issues and provide the fundamental information required for students to understand and interpret the subjects addressed through the screenings and seminar discussions. Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss questions on the topics outlined within the reading material assigned each week. Selected film clips may be shown in some lectures. Seminar classes will be used to address the key issues identified within the lectures and reading material in greater depth, as well as to address essay writing techniques and processes.

Language of Teaching: English

PowerPoint slides will be used in lectures. All reading material that does not conflict with copyright law will be posted on the Blackboard site.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • understand the outlines of Japanese culture’s historical development;
  • know representative literary and cultural works and understand them in their historical context.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

  • engage in informed critical analysis of Japanese literature and culture;
  • read and think critically;
  • write analytically.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • have the skills to discover good sources independently;
  • experience reading academic texts and interpreting Japanese literature and culture building on their earlier or parallel learning in cognate course units.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • have honed their skills for reasoned thinking, discussion and argument.

Assessment methods

  • 1 essay due in week 9 - 1,500 words (50%)
  • 1.5 hour examination at the end of semester 1 (50%)

Feedback methods

  • Oral feedback on seminar contributions
  • Written feedback on essay
  • Additional one-to-one oral feedback (during the consultation hours or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

  • Kato, Shuichi. A History of Japanese Literature: From the Manyoshu to Modern Times (New Abridged Edition). London: Routledge / Curzon, 1997
  • Keene, Donald. Seeds in the Heart: Japanese Literature from Earliest Times to the Late Sixteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Keene, Donald. World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-Modern Era, 1600–1867. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Mason, Richard, John Caiger. A History of Japan [Revised Edition] North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, 2011
  • Morton, Scott W., J. Kenneth Olenik and Charlton Lewis. Japan: Its History and Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004
  • Varley, Paul. Japanese Culture [Fourth Edition]. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004

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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