SOAS University of London

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

Early Modern Japan

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This module examines the history of early modern and modern Japan from the rise of the Tokugawa Shogunate to the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. Together we survey social and political epochs such as the social and economic contexts of proto-industrialization, first contact with the West, the advance of the European Neo-Imperialists and the drive to establish a Japanese overseas empire. Students consider historical narrative alongside film and literature as a means of examining the historical convergences that defined early modern and modern Japan.

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Early Modern Japan

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  1. critique and analyse arguments, identify intellectual assumptions and rhetorical strategies;
  2. collate and analyse information through multi-factorial historical analysis;
  3. evaluate the use of historical evidence in appropriate context;
  4. evaluate and synthesize relevant secondary literature;
  5. analyse texts and images as historical sources, placing them in relevant context and identifying their historical significance;
  6. problem-solve by identifying unexamined questions, suggest possible answers, and determine relevant evidence;
  7. participate in group discussions and collective development of analysis;
  8. present reasoned arguments in both oral and written form.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact consisting of a one hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial. 

Scope and syllabus

Week 1 - Introduction to Early Modern Japan

Week 2 - The Tokugawa Polity

Week 3 - Edo Culture

Week 4 - 士魂商才 (samurai spirit, heart of a merchant)

Week 5 - Samurai in New York

Week 6 - Reading Week

Week 7 - Bakumatsu Trade and Treaty Ports

Week 8 - Dismantling Feudalism

Week 9 - Ideology and Imperial Japan

Week 10 - Meiji Industrialization

Week 11 - Rural People and Rural Lives

Method of assessment

An essay of 2,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 7, in the term of teaching (40%); an essay of 3,000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1 in the term following teaching (60%).

Suggested reading

  • De Bary, Wm. Theodore, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann. Sources of Japanese Tradition. Vol. 2, 1600 to 2000, Abridged Vol. 2, 1600 to 2000, Abridged. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
  • Jansen, Marius B. Warrior Rule in Japan. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Karatani, Kōjin. Origins of modern Japanese literature. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.
  • Katsu Kokichi, Musu's Story- Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai, 1991.
  • Miyoshi, Masao. As We Saw Them: The First Japanese Embassy to the United States. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Book, 2005
  • Nagatsuka, The Soil: A Portrait of Rural Life in Meiji Japan (University of California Press 1993).
  • Totman, Conrad D. Early Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules