BA Japanese Studies

Year of entry: 2022

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 Japan’s historical development from prehistoric times to the twentieth century
  • To enable students to gain an analytic understanding of major features of early modern and modern Japan’s political, social, and cultural history.

  • To develop students’ abilities to engage critically with historical analysis and formulate cogent, well-structured arguments in answer to historical questions.

Learning outcomes




The course will cover the following major periods of Japanese history:

  • Prehistoric and ancient Japan (Jomon to Nara periods)
  • Medieval Japan (Heian to Muromachi periods)
  • Early Modern Japan (Azuchi-Momoyama and Tokugawa periods)
  • Modern Japan (Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods)

The first two sections will be dealt with more briefly, while the last two sections will be dealt with in more depth.

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture classes will set out the key issues and provide fundamental information, while indicating means of understanding and interpreting the subjects treated. Seminars will be used to consider key issues and reading in greater depth. Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned readings.


The course unit will provide information and guidance to at least Blackboard minimum requirements. PowerPoint slides used in lectures and as many readings for seminars and essays as copyright law allows will be made available via Blackboard.

Knowledge and understanding

• Understand the outlines of Japan’s historical development

• Know and understand the major features of early modern and modern Japan’s political, social, and cultural history

Intellectual skills

• engage in informed critical analysis of the early modern and modern history of Japan

• read and think critically

• write analytically

Practical skills

  • Use library, electronic, and online resources.
  • Organise notes derived from lectures, seminars, and reading.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

Employability skills

The course will develop a range of abilities that are essential for much higher-level employment. These include gathering, critically selecting, and organizing information and ideas; analytical, critical thinking; interpreting and assessing sources; articulating coherent, logical and convincing arguments and supporting them by relevant evidence; articulate participation in oral discussion; working independently and to deadlines.

Assessment methods

Essay - 50%

Exam - 50%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Peer review and teacher’s comments in class on bibliography and writing exercise


Written comments on coursework essay

Students are also welcome to come to see the teacher to discuss their essay assignments and comments on them, once the essay has been returned to them, on the understanding that this de-anonymises the marking.

Formative and summative

Written comments on final examination

All feedback will be returned within the time limits specified in the relevant Faculty and SALC feedback policies.


Recommended reading

Friday, Karl. (Ed.) (2012) Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


Totman, Conrad (2005). A History of Japan, Second Edition (Blackwell).


Kinmonth, Earl H. (1981). The Self-Made Man in Meiji Japanese Thought: From Samurai to Salary Man. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Partner, Simon (2004). Toshie: A Story of Village Life in Twentieth-Century Japan. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Mason, Michele, and Helen J.S. Lee (2012) Reading Colonial Japan: Text, context, and critique. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.


Young, Louise (1998). Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Kato¿, Sh¿ichi. (1997). A history of Japanese literature : From the Man'yo¿shu¿ to modern times / Shuichi Kato ; translated & edited by Don Sanderson. (New ed.). Richmond: Japan Library. 

Study hours

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

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Peter Cave Unit coordinator

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