SOAS University of London

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

Modern and Contemporary Japan

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This module offers students an introduction to the English language historiography on modern and contemporary Japan from the early 1900s to the late-1990s. Students will read and discuss topics in Japanese history addressing the covalent relationship between modernity, empire and industrialization in twentieth century Japan, East Asia and the Pacific Basin.

Much of the early English-language work in the field took Japan to be the exception that proved the rule of modernization as an exclusively Western achievement. It therefore sought to explain the reasons for Japanese success (in terms of nation-state formation and industrialization) or failure (the drift to militarism and war) by isolating the archipelago from its East Asian context, comparing it to an often implicit Anglo-American norm, and seeking in the Japanese past either analogues for or the absence of those factors thought necessary for any country to succeed. More recent scholarship has started from the premise that modernity is a global phenomenon, rather than a Western invention; that it is structured by transnational dynamics of capitalism and imperialism, rather than a unilinear process of national development; and that the Japanese experience of these can only be understood in its local and regional context. In this light, Japan is a compelling case-study of both the broader logic and process of modernization and the tensions to which it gives rise.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  1. demonstrate understanding of the main debates in the historiography of modern and contemporary Japan
  2. identify the theoretical underpinnings to historical scholarship and relate the Japanese case to the global experience of modernization and modernity
  3. demonstrate command of the state of the field on a particular topic and ability to design a research project on that basis
  4. present their work effectively in both oral and written form


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

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introductions (Japan as an Historical Subject)
  2. Imperial Democracy and the Interwar Era (Social and Political Protest in Imperial Japan)
  3. Borders of Subjectivity (Outcasts, Empire and Imperial Subjecthood)
  4. Nationalism, Pan-Asianism and Fascism (What is a Nation and Who Belongs?)
  5. Co-Prosperity and War (The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere)
  6. Reading Week
  7. War, War Crimes and Historical Memory (The Never-ending Pacific War)
  8. Legacies of the Allied Occupation (Revising America's Occupation of Japan)
  9. The Postwar Constitution (Law and Social Reform)
  10. Reading Rapid Growth (Postindustrial State and Industrial Policy)
  11. Looking Forward by Looking Back (Marketing History as Social Responsibility)

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 3 (60%).

Suggested reading

Core Reading

  • Barclay, Paul D. Outcasts of Empire: Japan's Rule on Taiwan's "Savage Border," 1874-1945. 2018
  • 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.
  • Jansen, Marius B. The Making of Modern Japan. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000.
  • Mihalopoulos, Bill. Sex in Japan's Globalization, 1870-1930: Prostitutes, Emigration and Nation Building. London: Pickering & Chatto (Publishers), 2011.
  • Ravina, Mark. To Stand with the Nations of the World: Japan's Meiji Restoration in World History. 2017.
  • Vlastos, Stephen. Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules