Japanese Literature Courses

The Fantastic and Demonic in Japanese Literature (Asian 246)

From possessing spirits and serpentine creatures to hungry ghosts and spectral visions, Japanese literary history is alive with supernatural beings. The focus of study ranges from the earliest times to modernity, examining these motifs in both historical and theoretical contexts. Readings pose the following broad questions: How do representations of the supernatural function in both creation myths of the ancient past and the rational narratives of the modern nation? What is the relationship between liminal beings and a society’s notion of purity? How may we understand the uncanny return of dead spirits in medieval Japanese drama? How does the construction of demonic female sexuality vary between medieval and modern Japan? Draws on various genres of representation, from legends and novels to drama, paintings, and cinema. Students develop an appreciation of the hold that creatures from the “other” side maintain over our cultural and social imagination.


Modern Japanese Literature (Asian 244)

As a latecomer to industrial modernity, Japan underwent rapid changes in the early part of the twentieth century. Examines how the creative minds of this period responded to the debates surrounding these sweeping technological and social changes, pondering, among other things, the place of the West in modern Japan, the changing status of women, and the place of minorities. Many of the writers from this period chose to write “I-novels” or first-person fiction. How is the inward turn in narrative tied to modern ideas of the self and its relationship to society? What sorts of quests does this self embark on and how is the end of the journey conceptualized? How do the romantic objects of this (male) self help express notions of stability/instability in a changing world? No prior knowledge of Japanese language, history, or culture is required. All readings in English.


Japanese Animation: History, Culture, and Society

Animation is a dominant cultural force in Japan, and perhaps its most important cultural export. Examines the ways Japanese animation represents Japan's history and society and the diverse ways in which it is consumed abroad. How does animation showcase Japanese views of childhood, sexuality, national identity, and gender roles? How does its mode of story-telling build upon traditional pictorial forms in Japan? Focusies on the aesthetic, thematic, social and historical characteristics of Japanese animation films, provides a broad survey of the place of animation in twentieth-century Japan. Films include Grave of the Fireflies, Spirited Away, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Princess Kaguya.


Samurai in History, Literature, and Film

An examination of representations of samurai in historical, literary, and filmic texts from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries. Topics include the changing understanding of “the way of the warrior,” the influence of warrior culture on the arts in medieval Japan and the modern appropriation of the martial arts. Analyzes the romanticization of samurai ethos in wartime writings, and the nostalgic longing for a heroic past in contemporary films. Focus on the reimagining of the samurai as a cultural icon throughout Japanese history, and the relationship of these discourses to gender, class, and nationalism.  Readings will include the Tale of the Heike, Legends of the Samurai, Hagakure and Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Films may include Genroku Chushingura, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and the animation series Samurai 7.


Literature of World War II and the Atomic Bomb in Japan: History, Memory, and Empire (Asian 201)

A study of Japan’s coming to terms with its imperialist past. Literary representations of Japan’s war in East Asia are particularly interesting because of the curious mixture of remembering and forgetting that mark its pages. Postwar fiction delves deep into what it meant for the Japanese people to fight a losing war, to be bombed by a nuclear weapon, to face surrender, and to experience Occupation. Sheds light on the pacifist discourse that emerges in atomic bomb literature and the simultaneous critique directed towards the emperor system and wartime military leadership. Also examines what is missing in these narratives—Japan’s history of colonialism and sexual slavery—by analyzing writings from the colonies (China, Korea, and Taiwan). Tackles the highly political nature of remembering in Japan. Writers include the Nobel prize-winning author Ôe Kenzaburô, Ôoka Shôhei, Kojima Nobuo, Shimao Toshio, Hayashi Kyoko, and East Asian literati like Yu Dafu, Lu Heruo, Ding Ling, and Wu Zhou Liu.