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Introduction to Japanese Culture

This course aims at a twofold and, at first sight, paradoxical, goal. On the one hand, the course seeks to equip students with adequate contextual vocabulary to analyse and appreciate key cultural artefacts associated with the geopolitical formation that is today the Japanese archipelago. On the other hand, the course simultaneously seeks to interrogate the limits of the terms “Japan” and “culture." What kinds of domestic tensions and divisions, as well as global connections and entanglements, does a unitary term such as “Japan” obscure? What forces consecrate cultural canons, and how can attention to the contestations and hybrid expressions at work in creating canons help revise not only our concept of “Japanese culture,” but “culture” at large?

Held across both Michaelmas and Epiphany terms, the course follows a basic historical timeline from the development of writing in the early Japanese state down through the worldwide wave of manga and anime. Standard works of literature and visual art, e.g. the Tale of Genji and the prints of Hokusai, will be considered alongside culinary practices and video games. No prior knowledge of Japan or Japanese is necessary, although students without such background may find it beneficial to audit or enrol in the course Imagining East Asia in the Modern World within the History Department. There will be, by the way, no readings from Murakami Haruki.

Co-ordinator:  Dr Hansun Hsuing, Room ER279, Elvet Riverside II

Further details of pre-requisites, co-requisites, aims, contact hours and assessment.