21H.155 | Spring 2017 | Undergraduate

Modern Japan: 1868 to Present


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

How did a geopolitically isolated, “feudal” society become the first modern, non-western empire within just a few decades? How did a despised World War II foe become one of the most important U.S. allies in Asia? Why is historical memory such a politically charged topic in today’s Northeast Asia? The history of modern Japan, and the region surrounding it, is made up of some of the most striking social, political, and cultural transformations seen in world history. Through critical reading of primary and secondary sources, group discussions, and analytical writings, this subject not only examines how Japan became a “modern” society but also how such a process was inseparable from the broader global modernity. We will also explore how such experiences have been understood by contemporaries and reinterpreted by historians and other interested parties with significant consequences.

Required Text

de Bary, William Theodore, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann, eds. Sources of Japanese Tradition, Volume 2, 1600 to 2000: Part 2: 1868 to 2000. 2nd ed. Columbia University Press, 2006.  ISBN: 9780231139199. [Preview with Google Books]

Gordon, Andrew. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780199930159.

For additional readings, see the Readings section.

Requirements and Expectations

Active class participation is central to the success of our work together and is expected of every student. Participation will be evaluated on factors including attendance, timely arrival to class, preparation, active listening, and contribution to in-class discussions in the course of the semester. Attendance is mandatory and missed class sessions cannot be made up by other means.

Because we will discuss the assigned readings in detail during class, each student is expected to bring hard copies of the readings, along with their notes, to each class session. Good notetaking is not only essential for a productive participation in in-class discussions but will also be indispensable for the successful completion of the assigned essays.

Grading Policy

Participation 20%
Presentations 15%
Essay 1 (1,250 words) 15%
Essay 2 (1,500 words) 20%
Essay 3 (2,500 words) 30%

For detailed information on the presentations and the essays, see the Assignments section.

Note on Japanese Names and Pronunciation

In Japanese, surname precedes the given name. The instructor’s name, for example, would be rendered as “Nagahara Hiromu.” Please note that almost all of the assigned readings follow this convention for Japanese names.

Vowels in Japanese are pronounced approximately as in Italian (they are pure vowels). Hence: a as in father; i as in magazine; u as in flute; e as in et cetera; o as in note.

Vowels with macrons (ā, ī, ū, ē, ō) are held longer than those without, but their sound values remain unchanged. For example: kōshō means “negotiations,” while koshō means “pepper.”

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2017
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Lecture Notes