SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Survey of Pre-Modern Japanese Literature in Translation

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1


Year 1 Japanese or equivalent.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course the students should have gained a broad knowledge of historical developments in Japanese literature and aesthetics from the eighth to nineteenth centuries.  They will have read extracts in English translation from each of the major genres and periods of Japanese literary history, and they will also have read one longer work (The Tale of Genji) in its entirety.

The students should have become familiar with the major works, authors, styles and a wide variety of native literary terminology. They will be expected to have gained an insight and appreciation into different ways of perceiving, experiencing and re-creating the world as recorded by people remote in time and place. The students will also have gained competence in a variety of different critical and theoretical approaches to these works, and will be able to use these approaches to formulate their own readings of classical literature.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 3 classroom contact hours per week.  Teaching will be based around formal lectures, augmented by class presentations on essays and supplementary texts, and class discussion.

Scope and syllabus

The course will be taught as a survey of pre-modern Japanese literature over its first millennium, from the eighth to nineteenth centuries. Students will read, in English translation, examples of representative works from the classical, medieval and early modern periods, including myths, tales, poetry, drama, novellas, essays, diaries and memoirs, military epics, nô dramas, haiku, kabuki and puppet plays, ghost stories, and comic books. Students will be expected to develop critical readings of these texts, based around a selection of major themes such as: poetry and poetics; religious and aesthetic ethos; and gender, sexuality and subjectivity.

Method of assessment

Two essays of 2500 words each (50% each). The first essay to be submitted on day 5, week 5, term 1 and the second on day 1, week 1, term 2.

Suggested reading

Students are required to read an unabridged translation of The Tale of Genji in preparation for the course. The recommended translations are those by Edwards Seidensticker (Knopf, 1976), Royall Tyler (Penguin, 2003), and Dennis Washburn (Norton, 2015). Please do not read the older Waley translation. As a guide to reading the text, Richard Bowring's Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji (Cambridge University Press, 2004) is also recommended.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules