SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Japanese Cultural History to 1600: Power, Belief, Creativity

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Term 1
Lectures and seminars will focus on continuity and change in Japanese cultural history from ancient times to the start of the early modern period. Topics such as aristocrats and the development of Japanese taste, warrior rule and warrior culture, the imperial institution and Japanese religions in their ancient and medieval manifestations will be considered.



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module:

  1. Students will acquire familiarity with issues in the political, social, intellectual, literary and religious history of Japan.
  2. Students will learn how to identify and evaluate arguments and the use of evidence in academic writing.
  3. Students will learn how to construct convincing arguments, combing critical insight and a command of relevant evidence.   


Total of 11 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact. Teaching is by means of interactive lectures, tutorials, and student presentations.

Scope and syllabus

This modules is structured both chronologically and thematically and deals with the following topics:

Early Japan in East Asia; imperial institution; Nara literature; Nara religion; Heian society; Heian literature; Heian religion; warrior culture in Kamakura; Kamakura literature; Kamakura religion; warrior culture in Muromachi; Muromachi society; Muromachi literature; Muromachi religion; state unification.

Method of assessment

A book review of 2000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 5, in the term of teaching (40%); an essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 11 in the term of teaching (60%).

Suggested reading

Required Reading:
  • William Wayne Farris, Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History (University of Hawai'i Press, 2009)
Recommending Reading:
  • The Cambridge History of Japan (Cambridge University Press, 1988-99)
  • Collcutt et al., Cultural Atlas of Japan (Phaidon, 1988)
  • Eisenstadt, S., Japanese civilisation: a comparative view (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
  • Friday, Karl, Japan Emerging: Premodern History to 1850 (Westview Press, 2012)
  • Lu, David J., Japan a Documentary History (M.E. Sharpe, 2005)
  • Reischauer and Craig, Japan: Tradition and Transformation (Tuttle, 1978)
  • Totman, Conrad, A History of Japan (Blackwell, 2005)
  • Varley, H.P., Japanese Culture - 4th edition (University of Hawaii Press, 2000)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules