SOAS University of London

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

Modern Japanese Literature

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

This module will cover literary writings from 1868 to the present day. The texts will be used to discuss the wider social and economic developments in modern Japan. Topics will address the distinct social and economic context of Japan that led to a very modern literary articulation of the relationship between people and their environment. An important question to be addressed is whether modern Japanese literary forms can be attributed mainly to the introduction of Western paradigms, or to a more native-based literary and cultural set of circumstances. Students will read background critical and theoretical writings from both Japanese and non-Japanese perspectives, and they will consider links between literary style and cultural context through a close reading of diverse literary texts.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. gain factual knowledge and theorized understanding of the major texts, authors, and the underlying literary and aesthetic developments from 1868 to the present day
  2. explore the relationship between literature and the social and political context 
  3. show knowledge and understanding of the historical framework, periodization, indigenous aesthetic terminology; students’ ability to explore their own reactions to these texts as well as “read” them in their own respective social, cultural and historical milieu.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week in lectures.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

  • Week 1: Introduction/general background
  • Week 2: Literary forms in early Meiji
  • Week 3: Western influence vs Japanese “revival”
  • Week 4: Romanticism and Naturalism
  • Week 5: Intellectual shift from Meiji to Taishô
  • Week 6: (Reading Week)
  • Week 7: The I-novel
  • Week 8:
  • Week 9: Proletarian Literature
  • Week 10: The Postwar Condition
  • Week 11: The Contemporary Scene

Method of assessment

An essay in the form of a book review of 1000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 9, in the term of teaching (30%); a critical essay of 2500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, in the term following teaching (70%).

Suggested reading

  • Belsey, C. (1988). Critical Practice. New York: Methuen & Co. 
  • Fowler, E. (1988). The Rhetoric of Confession: Shishosetsu in Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Fiction. Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • Jackson, R. (1995). Fantasy: the Literature of Subversion. London: Routledge. 
  • Keene, D. (1984). Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era (Fiction). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Rimer, T. (1978). Modern Japanese Fiction and Its Traditions: An Introduction. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
  • Pollack, D. (1992). Reading Against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.
  • Anderer, Paul.  Other Worlds: Arishima Takeo and the Bounds of Modern Japanese Fiction.   New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.




Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules