SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Introduction to Pre-Modern Japanese language

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


Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students should be able to read basic classical texts with the aid of a reference grammar and a classical dictionary.  The knowledge gained about classical grammar and styles should also give students skills in understanding modern Japanese and in reading Japanese texts of all kinds and all eras.


This is a one term course taught over 10 weeks with a 2-hour lecture and a 1-hour tutorial per week.

Scope and syllabus

Students will be introduced to the fundamentals of classical Japanese grammar and the use of a classical Japanese dictionary. Students will then read and translate short extracts from representative classical literary texts, including Hôjôki, Tales of Ise, Tale of the Heike, as well as waka and haiku.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination in May/June (70%); one x 1,000 word translation from Japanese into English to be submitted on the last day of term in which the course is taught (15%); one mid-term test (week 6) on classical grammar (15%).

Suggested reading

Students will be required to acquire a dictionary of classical Japanese (全訳古語辞典). Those recommended are the dictionaries published by Shogakukan (小学館), Benesse, and Obunsha (旺文社. The following grammars are also useful:

  • McCullough, Helen Craig (1988. 3rd printing with index, 1993): Bungo Manual: Selected Reference Materials for Students of Classical Japanese. Ithaca, N.Y. : East Asia Program, Cornell University.
  • O'Neill, P. G (1968): A Programmed Introduction to Literary-style Japanese. London: SOAS.
  • Pigeot, Jacqueline (1998): Manuel de japonais classique: Initiation au bungo. Paris: Langues et Mondes / L’Asiathèque.
  • Shirane, Haruo (2005): Classical Japanese: A Grammar. Columbia University Press.
  • Wixted, John Timothy (2006): A Handbook to Classical Japanese. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program Cornell University.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules