Modern Japanese Literature and Visual Culture:
constructions of religious and historical identity
RELG 491

               Instructor: Dr. Ronald Green
               Coastal Carolina University

PDF version of course syllabus:

Tetsuwon Atomu (Astro Boy) image

Course Description:

This course is a survey of modern Japanese literature and visual culture since the Meiji Restoration (1868). It focuses on constructions of identities within historical contexts. Our objective is to analyze ways in which writers and artists have positioned their subjects and re-imagined culture to create particular portrayals. The class examines a selection of shōsetsu (the Japanese novel) of Natsume Soseki, Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio, Murakami Haruki, and Ogawa Yōko, films of Miyazaki Hayao, and important anime.

The course promotes critical methodologies and interdisciplinary or comparative studies, combining, for example, literature with film, visual culture, gender studies, cultural history, Buddhist and Shintō studies, and so forth. Students are encouraged to work closely with the instructor and simultaneously with professors in other programs and fields to create term papers and presentations for the Celebration of Inquiry (CCU's in-house academic conference). Professors working in digital humanities should be particularly valuable resources.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Upon completion of this course, students will have:

  • Demonstrated knowledge of the philosophical, religious, literary, ethical, cultural and other humanistic concepts through which people interpret and judge themselves and their world

  • Demonstrated the ability to recognize, interpret, and evaluate varieties of humanistic thought and expression

  • Demonstrated the ability to identify important works and writers of modern Japanese literature

  • Demonstrated the ability to discuss Japanese popular culture and globalization
  • Required Texts:

    1. Natsume Soseki. Kokoro, Gateway Editions, ISBN: 0895267152
    2. Kawabata Yasunari. Thousand Cranes, Vintage, ISBN: 0679762655
    3. Mishima Yukio. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Vintage, ISBN: 0679752706.
    4. Murakami Haruki. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Vintage, ISBN: 0679743464
    5. Ogawa Yōko. The Diving Pool: Three Novellas, Picador, ISBN: 0312426836
    6. Tsutsui, William M. Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization. Association for Asian Studies, ISBN: 9780924304620

    Required films and anime

    Rurouni Kenshin
    Samurai Champloo
    Spirited Away
    Aoi Bungaku
    Kill la Kill
    Astro Boy (episode 1)
    Neon Genesis Evangelion
    Serial Experiments Lain
    Fullmetal Alchemist
    Death Note

    Required Assignments and Grading

    1. There will be two tests. Each test is worth 30% of your final grade for the term. On the two quizzes, you will be asked to provide short-essay answers to between ten and twenty questions. Some questions will be on the readings and anime, others on the lectures.

    2. Completion of the term paper or presentation is worth 30% of the grade for the term. The term paper should be a seven-page academic essay. A presentation must be the academic equivalent of this. If you are doing a presentation, you must do it during the Celebration of Inquiry, preferably as a part of our group, April 12-14. The deadline to submit a Celebration of Inquiry proposal is February 11. So, if you plan to do a presentation, you must have it approved by the instructor by the class deadline: Monday, February 8.

    For those writing a paper, it must be at least seven pages in length to be accepted for a grade, double-spaced in 12-point type, in a font such asTimes New Roman or Courier New. Chicago or MLA styles are acceptable. You must use and fully cite at least two reputable academic sources. Web sources are not acceptable unless you can show they are academically sound, such as an online peer-reviewed academic journal. That is to say, you may use any web source that supports your thesis, but you must also use at least two academic sources. If you prefer web research, consider using jstor, available through the library.

    3. There will be an oral comprehensive final exam. It will cover the content of the anime movie Metropolis as related to what we covered this term. That is to say, students must attend the screening of Metropolis during the scheduled exam time Friday, April 29 at 1:30 in our regular classroom and afterward, successfully discuss its content in terms of constructions of religious and historical identity in Japan since the Meiji Period. The final exam is worth 10% of the grade for the semester.

    Extra Credit: There will be several chances throughout the term to earn extra credit by attending a film or talk scheduled outside of class time. Each of these chances is worth an extra five percent on one of the tests. Announcements of these opportunities will be made in class.

    Summary of grading:

    Test 1 = 30%
    Test 2 = 30%
    Term Project = 30%
    Final Exam = 10%

    Based on this, students will earn a letter grade for the term according to the following system:

    A = 91 - 100%
    B+ = 88 - 90%
    B = 81 - 87%
    C+ = 78 - 80%
    C = 71 - 77%
    D+ = 68 – 70%
    D = 61 - 67%
    F = below 60%


    Following the guidelines posted in the CCU Student Handbook, students who have unexcused absences for 25% of the regularly scheduled class meetings will receive a final grade of “F” for the term.

    Schedule of Classes

    Week One

    Reading for next two weeks: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
    Monday – Introduction to the topic, what to expect from the course, and what is expected of you
    Wednesday – Historical background: Modern periods in Japan; Meiji Restoration
    Friday – Rurouni Kenshin: Trust & Betrayal (aka: Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal, first half)

    Week Two

    Monday – No Classes (student holiday)
    Wednesday – Historical background: Bakumatsu – guest speaker: Dr. Brandon Palmer, Dept. of History
    Friday – Rurouni Kenshin (concluded)

    Week Three

    Reading for next two weeks: Thousand Cranes
    Monday – Discussion of Kokoro
    Wednesday – Life and Legacy of Natsume Soseki
    Friday – Samurai Champloo (the bungaku episodes)

    Week Four

    Join the class at King Kong Sushi
    Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
    Monday – Life and Legacy of Kawabata Yasunari
    Wednesday – Japanese Buddhism and art
    Friday – Shintō

    Week Five

    Monday – Discussion of Thousand Cranes
    Wednesday – Spirited Away (first half)
    Friday – Spirited Away (concluded)

    Week Six

    Reading for next two weeks: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
    Monday – Discussion of Spirited Away, Miyazaki Hayao, and Studio Ghibli
    Wednesday – TEST 1, Meiji, Taishō, and Shōwa Bungaku
    Friday – Aoi Bungaku

    Week Seven

    Monday – Mishima Yukio
    Wednesday – Kill la Kill (critique of ecchi genre)
    Friday – Kill la Kill and the exportation of Japanese Culture – guest speaker Lanessa Salvatore, English graduate

    Week Eight

    Reading for next two weeks: Hard-Boiled Wonderland
    Monday – Discussion of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion
    Wednesday – Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu), episode 1 - Cyborg motif and mecha genre in construction of identity
    Friday – no class on Friday due to our participation in the ASIANetwork Conference

    Week Nine

    Monday – Historical developments including AUM and Space Battleship Yamato
    Wednesday – Murakami Haruki
    Friday – Neon Genesis Evangelion (critique of mecha genre)

    Week Ten

    Reading for this and next week: Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization, Intro and Chapter 1
    Monday – Discussion of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
    Wednesday – So-called "Magical Realism" – guest speaker: Dr. Anna Oldfield, Dept. of English
    Friday – no class, student holiday

    Week Eleven

    Reading for next week: Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization, Chapters 2 and 3
    Monday – TEST 2, post WWII developments
    Wednesday – Discussion: Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization, Intro and Chapter 1
    Friday – Serial Experiments Lain (part 1)

    Week Twelve

    Reading for next week: The Diving Pool: Three Novellas
    Monday – Discussion: Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization , Chapters 2 and 3
    Wednesday – Serial Experiments Lain (part 2)
    Friday – Discussion of Serial Experiments Lain (comparisons with Akira, Eva, etc.)

    Week Thirteen

    Reading for next week: Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization, Chapters 4 and 5

    Cherry Blossom Festival – Washington, DC
    (sign up if you want to go with the class)
    Monday – Discussion: The Diving Pool
    Wednesday – Celebration of Inquiry – class redirected for student presentations
    Friday – Ogawa Yōko and Konkōkyō religion

    Week Fourteen

    Monday – Discussion: Japanese Popular Culture and Globalization, Chapters 4 and 5
    Wednesday – Fullmetal Alchemist
    Friday – Discussion of FMA
    Week Fifteen
    Monday – Death Note
    Wednesday – Concluding discussion of learning outcomes
    FINAL EXAM - Metropolis - Friday, April 29 at 1:30 in our regular classroom

    Let's Go to Japan for Maymester!