Japan to 1600

Required Books:

  • M. Hane, Premodern Japan. A Historical Study. Westview Press pb.
  • D. J. Lu, Japan. A Documentary History, vol. I. M. E. Sharpe/East Gate pb.
  • D. Keene, ed., Anthology of Japanese Literature. Grove Press pb.
  • R. Tyler, tr., The Tale of Genji (by) Murasaki Shikibu. Penguin Classic pb.

Scope of the Course:

At a point early in the 17th century – in the aftermath of the climactic battle of Sekigahara (1600), the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate (1603 - 1868), and the storming of Osaka Castle (1615) – Japan was at last unified and largely free from the persistent civil warfare that had marked its history since the 12th century. The new regime soon decided that it would be best for Japan to isolate itself from virtually all external influences – especially those of the Western imperial powers – and to eliminate Christianity, in their minds the vanguard of Western control. Much later, as Japan was opened to the outside world, modernized, and became a world ‘player’, the Japanese became interested once again in their early history and, in the service of a national self-image, to reinvent it.

This course examines Japanese history, society, and culture from its prehistoric origins until the early 17th century. Employing primary historical and literary sources, as well as the fruits of research by modern Japanese and non-Japanese scholars, we will explore such issues as: state and power; Chinese and Korean influences; religion (Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity); Confucian models; the roles of emperors, warriors, regents and shogun; values; masterpieces of Japanese literature (poetry, novels, mythic narratives, historical records, diaries, and drama); economy; class (aristocrats, samurai, daimyo, peasants, and merchants), and art & architecture.


You are responsible for all the assigned readings and materials covered in class. I will introduce a lot of material not dealt with extensively, if at all, in the textbook. Missing class is not a good idea; if you must, get the notes from someone else in class.

There will be two examinations: an in-class mid-term (one essay) and a final (two essays). On both examinations, you will have a choice of questions. The final will not be cumulative. In addition, all students will be expected to write a 5-7 page paper on The Tale of Genji; this is not a research paper and you may use the book in writing your essay. A list of topic suggestions appears on the last page of this syllabus.

Last Updated: 8/12/16