SOAS University of London

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

Survey of Modern Japanese Literature in Translation

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

This is an introductory module that covers the main developments and movements in Japanese literature from 1868 to the present day. A range of representative writers and major works will be read and discussed. All texts are in English translation. The texts vary year by year. The module is available as an open option.

Class time consists of two weekly sessions. The one-hour session consists of an introductory lecture in which the theme for the week is set out. The two-hour session builds on the weekly theme by some additional lecturing, individual student presentations on the weekly theme, followed by a group discussion on specific literary texts related to the theme. Short stories are provided and are required reading. All students MUST come to class ready to discuss them in the group discussions.


It is designed primarily for year 1 or 2 BA Japanese students, but it could be offered as an open option to students in year 1 or 2 from other BA degrees.  All Japanese literary works assigned will be in English translation.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, a student should be familiar with the main developments and movements in Japanese literature from 1868 until the present day.  By reading a range of novels and short stories, they should become more sensitive to the variety of literary approaches of modern Japanese writers. They will have developed a critical vocabulary with which to discuss literature in general, but they will have become more sensitive to specific cultural differences expressed through Japanese literature. They will also be more confident in participating in class discussions and presenting their opinions in front of other students. This module will also prepare students who might take a literature module during year 3 in Japan, or in year 4 when they return to SOAS.


Total of 10 weeks teaching consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar per week.

Scope and syllabus

The module will be taught through a number of approaches. Lectures will provide a thorough background to specific literary movements and particularly important writers in the modern period, as well as alert students to the reader’s own cultural expectations when approaching the distinctive style of modern Japanese literature. An important aim is to set literature within the broader context of Japanese culture and history.  All students will be expected to read set literary texts before class, and then discuss them in group discussions in class.  This module is taught in English and therefore there is no Japanese language difficulty. 

Method of assessment

An essay in the form of a book review of 2,500 words to be submitted in week 5, term 2 (40%); a critical essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on week 1, term 3 (60%). 

Suggested reading

It is recommended, but not required, that students read Donald Keene's Dawn to the West (Fiction). It is 1200 pages long, but well worth it!


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules