Writing from the Margins: Minority and "Outsider" Texts in Modern Japanese Literature

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Final Year
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module looks at a range of Japanese literary works written from an outsider perspective, whether culturally, ethnically, or socially. The texts selected challenge notions of a supposedly homogeneous and monolithic modern Japanese identity. They articulate the experiences of "marginal" or peripheral identities, such as Okinawa, the "untouchable" Burakumin, queer writing, but also the precarious youth struggling to survive in contemporary society. While it includes references to important texts in the late 19th century, the module focuses on works from the 20th century to the present day, as manifestations of different cultural identities, and perspectives of marginality, in literature develop crucially in this period. 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 and references to relevant popular culture (manga and anime), shedding light on the visions and general debates in the contemporary Japanese landscape. The literary texts will be placed within the broader context of the social, historical, and political environment from which they emerged.   

Each class session consists of a seminar and a lecture. Assigned readings for each week include primary (literature) and secondary texts (history and criticism).  

No prior knowledge of Japanese language or literature is required, as all materials studied in the module are in English translation. Students with a high proficiency of Japanese who wish to do so, can request additional guidance on Japanese-language texts and research materials. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will:

1. demonstrate an understanding of crucial themes and issues in modern Japanese literature with respect to socio-historical context and cultural developments 

2. become familiar with the general historical and social background to modern Japan 

3. formulate appropriate research questions, propose, and evaluate analyses and present evidence (for and/or against) these analyses 

4. assess data and evidence critically from primary and secondary sources 


  • Total taught hours: 20 hours. 1 hours of lectures 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: Hokkaido 

3. Lecture: Okinawa 

4. Lecture: Gender 

5. Lecture: Queer visions 

6. Reading Week 

7. Lecture: Burakumin 

8. Lecture: Zainichi Koreans 

9. Lecture: Centre and periphery 

10. Lecture: Visions of precarity 

11. Lecture: Beyond Japan 

Method of assessment

Book review (20%)

Research essay (80%)

Suggested reading

• 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, James 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. 

Mason, Michelle. Dominant narratives of colonial Hokkaido and imperial Japan: envisioning the periphery and the modern nation state 

• 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 Subversion 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