SOAS University of London

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

Writing from the Margins: Voices of change in Modern Japanese Literature (PG)

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module looks at a range of Japanese literary works, written from or addressing the perspective of change from the late 19th century to the present day. The texts are selected because they signify important changes and differences (political, cultural, social, and the like), challenging notions of a supposedly homogeneous and monolithic modern Japanese identity. The module is wide-ranging; while it explores seminal texts by core writers against the background of key movements in the evolution of the literary field, it also actively includes more recent literature, shedding light on the literary visions and general debates in the contemporary Japanese landscape. It diachronically covers fundamental themes such as reactions to modernity, articulations gender issues, up to visions of the struggles, professional and emotional, of contemporary life. The literary texts will be placed within the broader context of the social, historical and political environment from which they emerged. The module is taught in English, with core readings in English. It is open to students with all kinds of Japanese language proficiency, from no Japanese at all to Japanese mother-tongue. 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 taught hours: 20 hours. 1 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar per week for 10 weeks.

Independent study: 130 hours

Total hours for module: 150 hours

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 - Contextualising modern Japanese literature
  2. Lecture: Reactions to modernity
  3. Lecture: Fantasies
  4. Lecture: Modernism
  5. Lecture: Writing politics
  6. Reading Week
  7. Lecture: Writing the war
  8. Lecture: Gender
  9. Lecture: Centre and periphery/minorities
  10. Lecture: Visions of precarity
  11. Lecture: Beyond Japan

Method of assessment

Book review (20%)

Research essay (80%)

Suggested reading

 Core Readings

• Birnbaum, Alfred. (Ed.) Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1993.
• Chapman, David. Zainichi Korean identity and ethnicity, 2007.
• Fowler, E. The Rhetoric of Confession: Shishosetsu in Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Fiction. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988.
• Fujii, Jamaes A. (1993). Complicit Fictions: The Subject in the Modern Japanese Prose Narrative. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.
• Geilhorn, Barbara; Iwata-Weickgenannt, Kristina, K. (eds.). Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster. New York: Routledge, 2016.
• Gessel, V. C., & Matsumoto, T. (Ed.). The Shôwa Anthology: Modern Japanese Short Stories. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989.
• Goossen, Thedore W (ed). The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
• Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature of the Modern Era (Fiction). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.
• Inouye, C. Japanese Gothic Tales: Izumi Kyoka. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1996.
• Iwata-Weickgenannt, Kristina.; Rosenbaum, Roman. (eds.). Visions of Precarity in Japanese Popular Culture and Literature. New York: Routledge, 2015.
• Lippit, Noriko M. Reality and Fiction in Modern Japanese Fiction. White Plains: M.E. Sharpe Inc., 1980.
• Masami, Yuki. Foodscapes of contemporary Japanese women writers : an ecocritical journey around the hearth of modernity, 2015.
• McLelland, M.; Suganuma, K.; Welker, J. (eds.). Queer Voices from Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007.
• Molasky, Michael. The American occupation of Japan and Okinawa : literature and memory, 1999.
• Napier, Susan. The Fantastic in Modern Japanese Literature: The Subeversion of Modernity. London: Routledge, 1996.
• Schalow, P., & Walker, J. (Ed.). The Woman's Hand: Gender and Theory in Japanese Women's Writing. Stanford: Stanford University Press., 1996.
• Selden, Kyoko I.; Mizuta, Noriko (eds.). More Stories by Japanese Women Writers. An Anthology. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2011.
• Shimahara, Nobuo. Burakumin : a Japanese minority and education, 1971.
• Suzuki, Michiko. Becoming modern women love and female identity in prewar Japanese literature and culture, 2010.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules