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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


Information for Prospective Students


Students who are enrolled in the MPhil by Advanced Studies must choose three papers after discussing and agreeing them with their supervisor. All postgraduate students, including research students (MPhil by research and PhD first year) are required to take the core paper, JM1 Researcher Development Seminar.

Please note that papers are usually only offered if there are at least two takers. Modules offered vary according to the staff available each academic year and the interests of students. Additional papers may be introduced. Please consult your potential supervisor to discuss the options available.


Core paper

Researcher Development Seminar (required paper for all Postgraduate students of Japanese Studies)*

The theory and methodology seminar meets throughout the first two terms, connecting Japanese studies to various disciplinary approaches and theories. Over the two terms, each instructor in Japanese Studies will introduce key themes within their own specialty to students in the goal of offering students a wide introduction to the field. Students will also receive training on sources and resources, library searches, academic writing, analysis and presentation skills, writing a research proposal or grant application, career planning etc., and will have opportunities to engage in peer review as they present their dissertation proposals.


Advanced research seminar papers in Japanese Studies

Historical Narratives of Ancient and Medieval Japan

This seminar offers graduate students an opportunity to critique and analyse Japanese narratives of the pre-1600 era and to work directly with primary sources. Students will initially be introduced to sources, methods, approaches and tools used by scholars in the field of pre-modern Japanese history and will subsequently read and interpret a variety of pre-modern Japanese sources, working towards an independent translation and analysis.


Modern Japanese Cultural History

This seminar-style paper will explore specific facets, approaches and methodologies of modern and contemporary works of Japanese literature and culture. Topics may vary from year to year but will generally cover a range of works that have been produced within contexts deemed ‘other’ or marginal vis-à-vis the mainstream, and will pay particular attention to issues of social, gendered, and ethnic difference that these works present. Informed by feminist, postcolonial, and translational approaches, this course aims to broaden your awareness of the kinds of texts produced in Japanese. Moreover, by drawing on key concepts and works of literary criticism, this course aims to hone your critical reading skills and enable you to engage with key questions pertaining to identity and difference in the study of a non-western literature.


Topics in Pre-modern Japanese History

This advanced seminar-based course will explore approaches to and topics in recent scholarship of pre-modern Japanese history. The focus may vary from year to year but the coverage will sample Japanese and some English-language scholarship from early history to the late Tokugawa period. The focus will be on the critical reading of a variety of narratives, which will be discussed during our weekly meetings. Students will also develop their analytical skills, write brief reports, and work on their presentation skills.


Topics in Modern Japanese History

This course focuses on the process of '"de-imperialization" and reorder of East Asia following the end of the war and surrender of Japan's empire in August 1945. How did power and authority in postwar East Asia transform and what forces shaped the regional postwar hierarchy when Japanese power and command dissolved? How were political and social stability re-established and within what framework, employing what ideology to gain public support? This is a discussion-based seminar that meets in 2-hour sessions for 16 weeks across the three terms allowing students enough time to prepare readings and work on their projects. The meetings will begin with a critical summary of the reading by one or two students, who will also offer a supplemental bibliography of western language readings relevant to the theme. This duty will rotate among students in the seminar.


Contemporary Japanese Society

This is an advanced seminar-based course focusing on contemporary Japanese society. The focus will vary from year to year, and will cover issues such as learning and education, family, time, space and gender, investigating these topics from a wide range of angles. In each instance the emphasis will be on situating the study of Japan within the disciplinary context of social anthropology and sociology. In the academic year 2018-19 the topic was ‘Religion in Japanese Daily Life’. The course is aimed at deepening students’ understanding of selected aspects of Japanese society as well as developing research and writing skills. It will involve working with both secondary and primary source materials (in Japanese).


Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture

Japanese premodern literature often confronts us with texts that challenge our expectations vis-à-vis the literary and asks us to rethink how we read. The topics and the genres covered in this seminar-style paper may vary from year to year, but the focus will be on early modern prose with a view to develop analytical skills that prove adequate in probing this corpus. Attention will be given to issues that include the epistemic function of literature, intertextuality, multimodality, humour, playfulness, and storyworlds among others. We will also reflect upon how the literary canon is constructed and what is at stake in the process. While gaining solid knowledge about the historical development of specific genres of early modern prose and reading a wide variety of primary sources in translation, this paper trains students to question claims made by secondary literature and fosters reflection on important methodological issues that apply to the study of written texts regardless of culture and epoch.

Students are expected to come to class having read the assigned readings, both primary and secondary sources, and ready to discuss them. All primary sources will be available in English translation. Occasionally students may be asked to give presentations. In Michaelmas Term students will produce a short essay (ca. 1500-2000 words) on a specific text assigned by the instructor. This essay does not count toward the final mark. During the winter break and in Lent Term on top of preparations for the classes, students will be asked to start working on their research essay and there will be supervisions geared toward this. The course will finish with individual presentations on the essay topics.


The Cold War in East Asia

This seminar-based course employs a comparative approach. It concentrates on thematic and policy issues relevant to understanding Japan, the Korean peninsula, China (broadly defined) and Southeast Asia, as well as the role of the United States in East Asia. The course runs over two terms and draws explicitly on historical research and social science methodology in addressing how best to conceptualise ‘East Asia’ as a region. Topics addressed will vary from year to year, depending on the research interests of the teaching officers involved, but an indicative list of subjects would include some, but not necessarily all, of the following issues: the Cold War as a historical phenomenon; conflict and war in East Asia and contemporary security challenges; comparative models of economic development in East Asia and the role of "plan-rational" policy-making; the role of the nation-state and competing models of historical identity; multilateralism, the emergence of trans-national actors and economic integration in East Asia; political legitimacy, contrasting models of authoritarian rule, and democratisation as a political movement; demographic change; energy and environmental policy and technological change.


Asia in Theory (from Chinese Studies)

This paper is from Chinese Studies and has a limited enrolment.


Language papers (maximum one)


Literary Japanese

An introduction to the grammar of literary pre-modern Japanese, followed by readings of simple prose and poetry. Intermediate Japanese ability is required. This is an introduction to the world of pre-modern and early-modern written Japanese. We will read a variety of primary sources, beginning with the Edo period (graphic prose, humorous prose, didactic prose) and working backwards through the Muromachi period (otogizōshi), the Kamakura period (Tsurezuregusa and Hōjōki) to the Heian period (Ise monogatari and/or Genji monogatari and waka poetry). You will gain an in-depth knowledge of Japanese classical grammar that will enable you to read texts produced up to the 1910s, while developing an understanding of pre-Meiji culture and literature (both learned and popular). You will also receive instruction on translating literary texts into English and have a chance to practice translation from classical Japanese into contemporary Japanese, thus helping to improve your modern Japanese language skills. For further details about this paper, examples of classes/supervisions and comments by former students, please browse the website.


Modern Japanese Texts

This paper consists of reading texts in advanced modern Japanese with attention given not only to grammar and syntax but also to context. Supplementary reading will also be expected.


Classical Japanese Texts

This is a language-based paper for which you will read a variety of pre-modern and early-modern texts, thereby providing an opportunity to explore a range of topics related, more or less directly, to pre-Meiji Japan (e.g. intralingual translation, parody, national identity, news, popular medicine, popular Buddhism, humour, visual culture, graphic prose, etc). The topic (or topics), and consequently the choice of the primary sources, is decided in consultation with students as the aim is to accommodate individual research interests. If you are planning to write a dissertation that deals with the Meiji or pre-Meiji period, you will find this paper extremely useful as it will help you acquire the necessary skills for reading primary sources. It will also enable you to consolidate and extend your knowledge of modern Japanese as a result of extensive reading of secondary sources in Japanese on the topic(s). This paper requires previous knowledge of classical Japanese, obtained either by having taken Literary Japanese (see language options) or simply by having studied and mastered Haruo Shirane’s Classical Japanese (2005).


Classical and literary Chinese texts (from Chinese Studies)

Guided readings of philosophical and other selected texts from pre-imperial and early imperial China. Assessment by examination in June.


Readings in Elementary Korean

This course will cover the basic grammar of modern written Korean with a view to developing reading fluency. Students will mainly be reading materials in hangul script, but some texts in mixed script (with Chinese characters) will also be used.



Theory and methods, papers borrowed from other faculties (maximum one) and alternative papers/exercises

Papers in the discipline related to the research topic of the dissertation. These papers will be mainly borrowed from other faculties, e.g. Anthropology, Literature Studies, History, Politics, Gender Studies. Please note that borrowing papers from other faculties needs to be negotiated and approved by the Degree Committee. If you are interested in taking a paper offered by another faculty, please contact your prospective supervisor as soon as you have been offered a place.

There might be specialised designed papers arranged with the student’s dissertation supervisor.