SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Japanese Art

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 1

This module aims to introduce students to the major works and movements in the history of Japanese visual culture through the examination of selected works of art dating from early times to the 1800s in relation to religious, literary, historical and social contexts.

Material covered ranges from religious paintings, sculpture and architure to the secular arts, such as prints and textiles. Students will be exposed to the collections of Japanese art in the British Museum and the V&A Museum and they will have the opportunity to study the objects in depth, developing both connoisseurship and critical knowledge in the process. Classroom discussion will be complemented by study-visits to museums.  

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

LO1) develop advanced knowledge and understanding of the themes, issues and debates of Japanese art relating to: social contexts; processes of representation; and ways in which meaning is constituted, through in depth examples
LO2) compare and evaluate different approaches to understanding art traditions in Japan
LO3) assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course through the use of particular examples from Japan.
LO4) apply a range of skills used in art history, including independent study and research and presentation skills.

The learning outcomes for this module are in line with those of the BA History of Art program as a whole with its emphasis on the analysis of visual and material culture from a range of themes and within an understanding of the social, political, religious and cultural contexts for the production and use of art.  


  • Lectures: 2hrs per week
  • Independent study: 130 hrs (over 10 weeks)

Scope and syllabus

Depending on staff availability, the module may either offer a chronological exploration of selected artworks, or it may focus on one or more themes linked to the module LOs.

Potential themes include:

  • Art and religious culture
  • State patronage and the imagery of state power
  • Lives and social roles of artists
  • Audiences and patrons of art

Method of assessment

  • 700-word crtical image analysis for second year and 900 words for final year (worth 20% of marks)
  • 1,500-1,700-word essay for second year and 1,700-2,000 words for final year (worth 30%)
  • Exam: 2 hours (worth 50%)

Suggested reading

  • Mason P,History of Japanese Art (New York, 1993/2005)
  • Stanley-Baker J, Japanese Art (London, revised ed. 2000)
  • Varley P H, Japanese Culture (New York, 1984, 4th ed., 2000)
  • Coaldrake, William Howard. Architecture and Authority in Japan. London ; New York: Routledge, 1996. [e-book available]
  • Screech, Timon. Tokyo Before Tokyo: Power and Magic in the Shogun 's City of Edo. London, UK: Reaktion Books, 2020. [e-book available]
  • Screech, Timon. Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700-1820. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.
  • Mason, Penelope E., and Donald Dinwiddie. History of Japanese Art. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005.
  • Entries on Japanese art in Oxford Art online


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules