SOAS University of London

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

Nation and Identity in Contemporary Japan

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1
No prior knowledge of Japanese culture and/or history is required but it would be an advantage. This module is designed to offer a critical introduction to issues in contemporary Japanese society. It will both complement and enhance the offerings available within the section by incorporating a contemporary perspective which is essential for preparing students for their year abroad. 


No pre-requisites are required.  This module is available as an open option to students on other SOAS programmes.  There is no language requirement for this module.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate a clear knowledge about ‘issues’ dominating the discourse in 20th/21st century Japanese society.  The module will be topical, covering mainly political and social aspects and their impact on Japanese culture and society. It is to sharpen their critical awareness of what is happening in Japan before they engage further with the country.

Classroom discussions will encourage the students to develop a critical awareness of present-day Japan and question their own stereotypes and images – which will be underlined by the essay, in which the students will be familiarised with bibliographic methods, taking also into account how sources from the world wide web should be dealt with. Furthermore, in the essay the students will be encouraged to make critical use of a wide range of media, such as books, academic journals and newspapers.  The module is essential for anyone planning to further investigate contemporary Japanese culture and society in module of their degree.


Total of 10 weeks teaching consisting of a 2 hour lecture and one hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The study of Japan will be focused on post-war Japanese society and politics. The pre-war manifestations of some of the issues shall be taken into account in order to facilitate the understanding of some of the phenomena in present day Japan. The module will be topical rather than following a historical timeline, dealing with separate issues, including

  • National identity and national symbols
  • Japanese self-images (nihonjinron)
  • The rise and influence of political parties
  • Japanese minorities
  • Japan’s relations to the wider world and vice versa
  • Japan’s memory of the Second World War

Method of assessment

A marked outline and bibliography of 1500 words to be submitted on day 5, week 7 in the term of teaching (30%); an essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1 in the term following teaching (70%).

Suggested reading

  • Gordon, Andrew (2003): A Modern History of Japan. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • Ruoff. Kenneth (2001): The People’s Emperor. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP.
  • Weiner, Michael (ed.) (1997): Japan's Minorities. The Illusion of Homogeneity. London: Routledge.
  • Pharr, Susan J. and Krauss Ellis S. (eds.) (1996): Media and Politics in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  • Breen, John (ed.) (2008): Yasukuni, the War Dead and the Struggle for Japan’s Past. New York: Columbia UP.
  • Segers, Rien T. (2008): A New Japan for the 21st Century. An Inside Overview of Current Fundamental Changes. Milton Park et al.: Routledge.
  • Nozaki Yoshiko (2008): War Memory, Nationalism and Education in Post-War Japan, 1945-2007. The Japanese History Textbook Controversy and Ienaga Saburo’s Court Challenges. New York: Routledge.
  • Befu Harumi (2001): Hegemony of Homogeneity. An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.
  • Oguma Eiji (2002): A Genealogy of 'Japanese' Self-images. Translated by David Askew. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.
  • Clammer, John (2001): Japan and its Others. Globalization, Difference and the Critique of Modernity. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.
  • Hook, Glenn D. (et al.) (2001): Japan's International Relations: Politics, Economics and Security. London: Routledge.
  • Takashi Inoguchi (2005): Japanese Politics. An Introduction. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules