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Preparatory Reading


If you are offered a place to read Japanese Studies at Cambridge, the short period between leaving school and coming into residence offers a valuable –and necessary – window of opportunity to do some effective preparatory work.

Before you start your first term in Cambridge, you must do some preparatory language learning. You will also need to prepare yourself for the course on East Asian History, which you will take with students studying Chinese. We also strongly advise you to do some general reading on Japan, and to read some modern Japanese literature in translation.

Dr. Brigitte Steger with her edited book

Japanese language

The language course is intensive and moves very quickly. It is vital that you are completely familiar with the basic syllabaries (hiragana and katakana) before you arrive.  Your knowledge of them will be assumed from the very beginning and the course does not use Romanization. Lists of the syllabaries are given in all three books listed below. Specialist workbooks are also available.

First year text book:

  • R. Bowring and H. U. Laurie, An Introduction to Modern Japanese, 2 vols. (Cambridge University Press).

Guide to character stroke order:

  • F. Sakade, ed., A Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese (Tokyo: Tuttle) or 
  • W. Hadamitzky and M. Spahn, A Guide to Writing Kanji and Kana, 2 vols. (Tokyo: Tuttle)

Japanese dictionaries

Dictionaries are useful, but expensive if purchased in the UK. They are not essential in the early stages of language learning, and the Faculty Library is well provided for in this respect.

East Asian history

In the first year you will be following a course on East Asian history covering Japan, China and Korea. To prepare for this you should read the following before the start of your first term in Cambridge:

  • Hane, M., Premodern Japan (Westview Press) or Totman, G., Japan before Perry (Univ. of California Press)
  • Hunter, J., The Emergence of Modern Japan (Longman) or Barnhart, M., Japan and the World Since 1868 (Edward Arnold)
  • Hansen, V., The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600 (Norton) or Ebrey, P., The Cambridge Illustrated History of China (Cambridge UP)

Further reading