SOAS University of London

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

Aspects of Japanese Culture 1

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

Objectives:  an introduction to themes in pre-modern Japanese history employing multiple methodologies.

Learning outcomes: 

  1. students will acquire familiarity with issues in political, social, intellectual, literary and religious history. 
  2. students will develop - through presentations and essays - critical skills in speaking, discussing, thinking and writing.


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

Scope and syllabus

Aspects of Japanese Culture 1 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

One two-hour written examination taken in May/June (60%); one 2,500 word essay (40%) to be submitted on the last Monday, term 1.

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