Self, City and Sexuality in Modern Japanese Literature 1868 to present day

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module introduces students to the work of modern Japanese writers in detailed historical context, and devotes considerable time to reading texts in original Japanese.  In addition, literary texts will be placed in the context of general themes that address the broader social and political environment.  The module will concentrate on modern Japanese literature between 1868 and 1945 because this is the period in which modern Japanese identity was forged.  In particular, the module addresses three aspects of the modern experience that fundamentally shaped what it meant to be Japanese in the modern period:

  1. self-identity
  2. the urban environment
  3. the changing norms of gender and sexuality

Students will learn about these aspects through lectures and group discussions on literary, historical and cultural texts. Works in the original Japanese as well as short stories and novels translated into English are required reading. 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 of 10 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 2 hour seminar.

During the two-hour weekly seminar, three or four weeks will be devoted to reading together in class the text of a particular writer in original Japanese.  This seminar will also give students the chance to present book reviews or essay presentations. The one-hour weekly lecture sessions will consist of lectures as well as group discussions in which full student participation is expected. Students MUST prepare by reading required texts for each week.

Scope and syllabus

The following syllabus is for guidance only and is subject to alteration at the discretion of the module convenor.

Week 1: Lecture: Introduction/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 2: Lecture: Theories of the Self/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 3: Lecture: Group discussion/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 4: Lecture: The Modern City/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 5:Lecture: The Urban Experience in Literature/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 6: Reading Week

Week 7: Lecture: Group Discussion/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 8: Lecture: Gender and Sexuality/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 9: Lecture: Male and Female Literature/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 10: Lecture: Group discussion/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Week 11: Lecture: Self, City and Sexuality Refocused/Seminar: Read Japanese text

Method of assessment

A book review of 1000 words to be submitted on day 5, week 5, in the term of teaching (20%); a translation of 500 words (Japanese to English) to be submitted on day 5, week 9, in the term of teaching (20%); a research essay of 2000 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, in the term following teaching (60%).

Suggested reading

Dodd, Stephen.  “Different Feelings: The Intellectual Shift between Meiji and Taishô” in Heinrich, A. (ed.), Currents in Japanese Culture: Translations and Transformations, pp.263-277.

Dodd, Stephen.  “The Significance of Bodies in Sôseki’s Kokoro” in Monumenta Nipponica 53, no.4 (Winter, 1998): pp.473-498.

Fowler, Edward.  “Shiga Naoya: The Hero as Sage,” in The Rhetoric of Confession, pp.187-247.

Fujii, James.  “Death, Empire, and the Search for History in Natsume Sôseki’s Kokoro,” in Complicit Fictions, pp.126-150.

Harotoonian, H. D. “A Sense of Ending and the Problem of Taishô.” In Japan in Crisis: Essays in Taishô Democracy, ed. Bernard S. Silberman and H. D. Harotoonian, pp.3-28. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Ito, Ken.  “Writing Time in Sôseki’s Kokoro,” in Washburn (ed.), Studies in Modern Japanese Literature, pp.3-21.

Karatani, Kojin.  “The Discovery of Interiority,” in Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, pp.45-75.

Pollack, David.  “Constructions of the Self,” in Reading Against Culture, pp.39-86.

Roden, Donald.  “Taishô Culture and the Problem of Gender Ambivalence,” in Rimer (ed.), Culture and Identity, pp.37-55.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules