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HIS2140 : Survey History of Japan

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Philip Garrett
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This course aims to survey the broad sweep of history in Japan, from the earliest societies to the advent of the modern period. What were the patterns of governance, society, and culture? What influenced the political structure of the country spatially and institutionally in different periods? How did developments on the Asian continent affect Japan, and how did Japan interact with its neighbours? The survey will consider the big themes in Japanese history while examining the workings of its varied societies in detail.
We will look at Japan across the longue duree, but this big picture is balanced out by primary source readings which bring us back in close to the lived experiences of individuals across the span of history. If you ever wanted to know what an emperor thought of his cat's poetic sensibilities, how Chinese visitors described Japan's earliest societies, or why the sacred deer of Mt Mikasa are painted with trees on their backs, then this is the module for you. We will approach the study of Japan from cross-disciplinary perspectives, bringing archaeology, literature, and religion into the study of history. No previous experience of any of these is required.

The aims of this module are:
1. To introduce students to Japanese History and to the Japanese islands, from deep prehistory and the world’s first pottery to the dawn of the modern period. [The shorter teaching term in 2020 means that we will cover Japan from prehistory to 1850 rather than all the way to the present - but the present will intrude from time to time as we cannot study the past without being aware of the contemporary situation]
2. To provide students with an opportunity to understand history from a non-European perspective.
3. To enrich students’ understanding of East Asian cultural exchange and politics.
4. To encourage students to consider comparative links and difficulties between occidental and oriental history and historiography.

Outline Of Syllabus

The following is a guide only. Actual lecture titles may differ from those listed here.

Week 1: Approaching the Study of Japan
This week starts us off by examining what 'Japan' is and how we can study it. What does Japan mean in Time and Space, and what are the historiographical and methodological approaches that structure that? This week acts as an introduction to the study of Japan for those who have not studied it before, while also providing new approaches for those with a background in the field.
Discussion topic 1: Approaching the study of Japan

Week 2: Protohistory
This week examines what we know of Japan's earliest organised societies, using a range of textual and archaeological sources and approaches. We will look at the emergence of a stratified society in the Yayoi period, together with what we know of Yayoi culture and belief, before moving on to the Kofun era, in which the emerging protohistoric society of Japan built the largest tombs in the world.
Discussion topic 2: Protohistoric Japan and the Japanese islands in the Chinese Histories

Week 3: The Centralised State
Week 3 discusses the formation of the centralised state, and the transformation of the protohistoric confederation into a centralised, bureaucratic nation.
Discussion topic 3: From the Age of Reform to Imperial Capital

Week 4: Classical culture and politics
This week examines the transition from bureaucracy to aristocracy, and the lives and structures of capital and countryside. Our primary source readings expose the remarkable detail of the literate world classical Japan by reading the diaries of women and men of the Heian court.
Discussion topic 4: Lady Murasaki, Sei Sh?nagon, and Imperial Diaries

[Buffer Week]

Week 5: Belief and Practice in classical and medieval Japan
This week pauses the chronological structure of the module to look back and forward across the classical and medieval periods to understand the role of 'religion', and whether the term is even applicable outside the modern context. Understanding belief, ritual, and the relationship between land, people, and the gods and Buddhas, is fundamental to understanding premodern Japanese society.
Discussion topic 5: 'religion' in Japan, with iconographic primary materials

Week 6: The rise of the warriors
This week covers the emergence of the warriors from aristocratic agents and servants to national authority. Week 6 follows this thread from the mid Heian period to the Kamakura Shogunate, 1185/92-1333
Discussion topic 6: The War Tales and The Mongol Invasion Scrolls

Week 7: The late medieval world
The late medieval period saw the emergence or dominance of many things we consider quintessentially Japanese: Tea, Zen Buddhism, Noh theatre, and true warrior rule. This week covers the cultural high points between the Nanbokuch? Civil War which ended the early medieval period, and the collapse of the polity into war again in the ?nin War.
Discussion topic 7: Late Medieval Japan

Week 8: The disappearance and re-emergence of Japan
Between 1477 and 1600, Japan fragmented politically and militarily. This period, the Sengoku era, is often described as the 'age of the country at war', but it was also an era of supercharged cultural flowering, internationalisation and urbanisation. New forms of government and religion emerged, and the remnants of older institutions found ways to survive the cultural and political turbulence of the age.
Discussion topic 8: Sixteenth-century Japan seen through Japanese and European eyes.

Week 9: Early modernity
The result of the journey back towards reunification was the Tokugawa period, an era of great stability and of change, the apex of samurai culture in a time of peace. The early modern period witnessed the formation of the building blocks of the modern nation state in Europe, but took a very different path in Japan.
Discussion topic 9: The Tokugawa Period 1600-1868

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists