SOAS University of London

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

Modern and Contemporary 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 2

This module examines the history of modern and contemporary Japan -- in regional and global context -- from the asscention of the Meiji Emperor in 1868 to the bursting of the Bubble Economy in the early 1990s. Together we survey social and political epochs such as the social and political contexts of modernization, industrialization, and the establishment of an overseas empire; the First Sino-Japanese and Pacific Wars; and the start and end of Japan’s postwar ‘economic miracle’. Students consider historical narrative alongside film and literature as a means of examining the simultaneous transformations that defined modern and contemporary Japan.


No pre-requisites needed for this module.  This is also available as an open option.

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 - Introductions: Modernity in a Nutshell

Week 2 - Social and Political Protest in Imperial Japan

Week 3 - Empire and Imperial Subjecthood

Week 4 - Nationalism and Pan-Asianism

Week 5 - The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere

Week 6 - Reading Week

Week 7 - War and War Crimes

Week 8 - The Allied Occupation

Week 9 - The Postwar Constitution

Week 10 - Rapid Growth and the Postwar Miracle

Week 11 - Popular Culture in Contemporary Japan

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

  • Beasley, W. G. Japanese Imperialism 1894-1945. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
  • Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II. London: Penguin, 2000.
  • Dower, John W. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. ACLS Humanities E-Book. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.
  • Gerteis, Christopher, and Timothy S. George. Japan Since 1945: From Postwar to Post-Bubble. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Gessel, Van C., and Tomone Matsumoto. The Shōwa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1985.
  • Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules