History of Modern Japan

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLS2HS2094

Semester and Year Offered: Winter Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr Dharitri Narzary

Email of course coordinator: dharitri[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: NONE

Aim: To help students understand the contemporary concerns of a country that has its problems rooted in the representation of history itself. The course is premised within the larger context of understanding the dominant political and cultural ideology of Japan that detremined its historical journey. Japanese concept of modernity, the notion of ‘self’ and the ‘other’, the emergence of a national perspective on social and cultural minorities, the ‘nihonjinron’ discourse or ‘Japaneseness’ that is related to the idea of ‘homogeneity’ – one nation, one culture, are some of the dominant ideologies that made Japan what it is today. In the process the course also reflects on the representation of Japan in the writings of scholars from outside, particularly the western literature and how this representation influenced the understanding of Japan by the world. While the course reflects on important historical milestones during the 19th and early 20th century (Japanese imperialism/colonialism), the contemporary social and cultural concerns, for instance, traditional understanding of family (ie), women’s position/status in society, education, ageing and population issues, as well as traditional and post World War II popular culture like the history of Japanese performing arts (Noh and Kyogen), manga (comic book), street fashion, cuisine, etc. will form integral parts of the course to highlight the transformations the country is undergoing.

Course Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of the course, the student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate understanding of the history of Japan and its relevance in regional and global context
  2. Draw comparative analysis in historical study
  3. Engage critically with literary and historical traditions of Japan
  4. Demonstrate skills to present thoughts and ideas coherently orally and in written form

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module 1: Political History

  • Early Modern Japan: Tokugawa polity of a closed nation, class society with a feudal structure, promotion of samurai culture, early notion of ‘nation’, intellectual history of early modern Japan, controlled contact with the outside world and its impact
  • Meiji Restoration: A historical watershed? Imperial ideology, transition of power, Japanese understanding of modernity, emergence of a nation-state, national education system, industrialization process
  • Early 20th century Japan: Taisho democracy, transition in party politics, emergence of socialist ideology, women’s organisations/feminist movement/s, liberal ideas
  • Japan in war: Imperialism and Japanese colonialism, Japanese Pan Asianism, regionalism, Japanese nationalism/ultra nationalism, post-war democratization of institutions

Module 2: Society and culture

  • 19th Century Japan in transition, change in ‘ie’ system, relevance of family in nation building, emergence of working /middle class, role of education in the transformation of Japanese society, status of women in Japan
  • The notion of ‘self’ and the ‘other’, assimilation of minority culture(s), Japanising the non-Japanese, reinstating Shinto as the state religion, influence and role of Christianity in Japan
  • Japanese notion of modernity, westernization and changing aspects of Japanese culture, invention of traditions
  • Issues and concerns of Japanese society: Continuity and change, post –war transitions under occupation

Module 3: Contemporary Japan

  • 20th century Japan as an industrialized capitalist country, internationalization of Japan,
  • Japan as role model for developing Asian countries
  • Contemporary Japan: Back to Asia, new regionalism, social and cultural milieu, popular culture: tradition and modernity, emergence of new trends in the popular culture, representation of Japan in literary works within and outside the country
  • Assessment Details with weights:
  • is compulsory and is an integral part of the assessment (10%) which include bi-weekly thought pieces submitted by students based on their understanding of the lectures delivered. The thought pices are module specific and intended to assess students’ ability to grasp the subject matter. One take-home assignments (25 %) on a given topic from the modules, one class presentation on a topic of student’s choice (25%) with the focus being on student’s ability to express his/her understanding orally and an end semester examination (40%) that cover all the modules from the course to assess how coherently a student is able to present his ideas, and understanding of the subject in written form.

Reading List:

  • Gordon, Andrew, 2003. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa to the Present. OUP, USA.
  • Jansen, Marius B., The Making of Modern Japan. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002
  • Beasley, 1987. Japanese Imperialism 1894-1945. Clarendon Publications,
  • Reischauer, Edwin O; Fairbank, John King and Craig, Albert M., eds., 1960. A History of East Asian Civilization. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
  • Jansen, Marius B and Rozman, Gilbert, eds., 1986. Japan in Transition: From Tokugawa to Meiji. New Jersey: Princeton University Press,.
  • Horio, Teruhisa, 1988. Educational Thought and Ideology in Modern Japan. University of Tokyo Press,
  • Saaler, Sven and Koschmann, J. Victor , eds., 2007. Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders. Routledge,.
  • Sugimoto, Yoshio, An introduction to Japanese society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003.
  • Hall, John Whitney, 1989. The Cambridge History of Japan: The Twentieth Century. Cambridge University Press,
  • Calman, Donald, 1992, The Nature and Origins of Japanese Imperialism: A reinterpretation of the Great Crisis of 1873, London & New York, Routledge.
  • Cummings, William K., 1988, Education and Equality in Japan, New Jersey, Princeton University Press. Articles
  • Chang, Yunshik , “Colonization as Planned Changed: The Korea Case”, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1971.
  • Bukh, Alexander, “Japan’s History Textbooks Debate: National Identity in Narratives in Victimhood and Victimization”, Asian Survey, Vol. 57, No. 5, 2007.
  • Hane, Mikiso, “Early Meiji Liberalism: An Assessment”, Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 24, No.4, 1969.
  • Esenbel, Selcuk, “Japan’s Global Claim to Asia and the World of Islam: Transnational Nationalism and World Power, 1900-1945”, The American Historical Review, Vol. 109, No. 4, 2004.
  • Marion, J Levi, Jr., “Some Implications of Japanese Social Structure”, The American Sociologist, Vol.31, No. 2, 2000.
  • Doak, Kevin M., “Ethnic Nationalism and Romanticism in Early Twentieth-Century Japan”, Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, 1996 (Winter).
  • Howell, David L., “Ethnicity and Culture in Contemporary Japan”, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 3, 1996.

ADDITIONAL REFERENCE: Films and documentaries