SOAS University of London

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

Writing from the Margins: Minority Voices in Modern Japanese Literature, 1945 to the Present

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

This module looks at a range of Japanese literary works, written from an “outsider” perspective from 1945 to the present day.  The texts are selected because they ask challenging questions about a supposedly homogeneous modern Japanese identity.  These texts articulate the experiences of several "peripheral" Japanese identities: they are written from the perspectives of anti-modernization, Hokkaido, Okinawa, queer desire, 'untouchable' burakumin, Zainichi Kankokujin authors, and women.  These literary texts will be placed within the broader context of the postwar social, historical and political environment from which they emerged.  Introductory lectures will set out the general frame of references for these texts, but student participation in group discussions is absolutely central to this class.  All students must be willing to read the assigned weekly texts and be prepared to participate fully in group discussions. An extensive bibliography is also provided.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will:

  1. become familiar with the general historical and social background to modern Japan
  2. become aware of a range of approaches and theoretical frameworks in the various disciplines, and the ability to critically question and evaluate scholarship and data
  3. gain the opportunity to specialise in the subject of interest, without missing the bigger picture
  4. assimilate and synthesise prior knowledge while also developing original critical views
  5. formulate appropriate research questions, propose and evaluate analyses and present evidence (for and/or against) these analyses
  6. assess data and evidence critically from primary and secondary sources; learn how how to solve problems of conflicting sources and conflicting interpretations
  7. develop research techniques in the library and through tutor consultation
  8. retrieve and select information from a variety of sources, such as specialised papers, digital material and reference books


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 2 hour seminar.

During the two-hour session, three or four weeks will be devoted to reading together in class the text of a particular writer in original Japanese.  Students will also be required to prepare book reviews or essay presentations. The one-hour sessions will consist of lectures and group discussions in which full student participation is expected. Students MUST prepare by reading required texts for each week. 

Scope and syllabus

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

  1. Lecture: Introduction/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  2. Lecture: Reactions against modernization/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  3. Lecture: Group discussion/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  4. Lecture: The Hokkaido Experience/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  5. Lecture: Okinawan Literature/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  6. Reading Week
  7. Lecture: Queer Visions/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  8. Lecture: The Burakumin Experience/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  9. Lecture: The Zainichi Kankokujin View of Japan/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  10. Lecture: Postwar Women's Literature/Seminar: Read Japanese text
  11. Lecture: Group discussion/Seminar: Read Japanese text


Method of assessment

A book review of 1000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 5, in the term of teaching (20%); a translation of 500 words (Japanese to English) to be submitted on day 5, week 9, in the term of teaching (20%); a research essay of 2000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, in the term following teaching (60%).

Suggested reading

Core Readings
  • Seidensticker, E.  Kafu the scribbler : the life and writings of Nagai Kafu, 1879-1959
  • Mason, Michele. Dominant narratives of colonial Hokkaido and imperial Japan : envisioning the periphery and the modern nation-state.
  • Molasky, Michael.  Southern exposure modern Japanese literature from Okinawa
    Yu Miri.  Gold Rush.
  • Shimahara, Nobuo.  Burakumin : a Japanese minority and education
  • Masami, Yuki.  Foodscapes of contemporary Japanese women writers : an ecocritical journey around the hearth of modernity.
Additional Reading
  • Suzuki, Michiko.  Becoming modern women love and female identity in prewar Japanese literature and culture.
  • Molasky, Michael.  The American occupation of Japan and Okinawa : literature and memory
    Chapman, David.  Zainichi Korean identity and ethnicity
  • Amos, Timothy.  Embodying difference : the making of burakumin in modern Japan.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules