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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Part IB | Core subject

J5A: Introduction to Pre-modern Japanese (Dr Moretti, Michaelmas Term)

This compulsory one-term language paper is an introduction to premodern and early modern written Japanese, a type of written language used well into modernity. While reading and translating a varied selection of texts, students gain solid knowledge of the basic grammar of Classical Japanese (bungo).

Solid grounding in Classical Japanese is key to read all sorts of primary sources well into the twentieth century. This compulsory one-term language paper is designed to effectively teach you the basics of Classical Japanese, enabling you to comprehend and translate texts produced from premodern times into modernity. This knowledge, in turn, will strengthen your understanding of modern Japanese.

The paper is designed to teach you in a well-paced manner, making your study manageable and enjoyable. You learn new, complex grammar patterns by reading a generous number of interesting and engaging short texts. A bespoke website has been created to give you access to easy, yet rigorous and comprehensive, explanations of the necessary grammatical structures. Friendly work sheets, which include vocabulary lists, accompany each text and support your learning process. The way in which we teach classical Japanese at Cambridge is unique. We start with Edo-period texts and move back in time to Heian-period texts. This means that you first tackle texts whose vocabulary is not too far from modern Japanese but whose grammar is almost completely new. Once you have gained sufficient grounding in the grammar towards the middle of Michaelmas Term, you will be in an ideal position to deal with texts whose vocabulary is challenging. This original pedagogical approach might appear unconventional, but it has proven very effective over the years. We will read a wealth of texts, from a wide range of genres covering canonical texts as well as less known works. The syllabus and all the texts are available on Moodle at the beginning of Michaelmas Term. The pedagogical goals of the paper are as follows: 1. Gain solid knowledge of the classical Japanese grammar (bungo). 2. Familiarize yourself with a wide range of premodern and early modern texts. 3. Familiarize yourself with several online resources that are useful to read not only premodern and early modern texts but also modern and contemporary texts. 4. Get exposure to a variety of texts, including fictional prose, non-fictional prose, and poetry. 5. Complement the study of Japanese literature by reading some key premodern and early modern texts in their original language. 6. Deepen your understanding of modern Japanese by studying expressions and grammar patterns in Classical Japanese that survive in modern Japanese. 7. Reflect on how to translate effectively Japanese into English.

The classes are taught in seminar format. All students are expected to attend seminars regularly and prepare the analysis of the texts and their translation in advance. Sessions to practice working on unseen texts will also be scheduled.

Form and Conduct

The paper is assessed by a two-hour written exam with a selection of seen texts (30% of the mark) and unseen texts (70% of the mark). The exam will be scheduled in week 0 of Lent Term, after NPR has started and before teaching resumes.


This description is subject to change, for the latest information, students should consult the Undergraduate Handbook available on the Faculty Intranet.


J5B: Modern Japanese Texts (Japanese Studies Staff tbc, Lent Term)

Reading selected contemporary Japanese literary and non-literary texts, with attention to style and content, the aim being to gain proficiency in reading, pronouncing, translating, and interpreting modern prose.

This paper is designed for second-year students and exposes them to a wide range of real- world texts in Japanese, written in a variety of styles on diverse topics. Classes expose you to two main activities.

1. Close reading and translation of texts in a variety of genres.
2. Fast reading of long passages from beginning to end and reading comprehension in English.

The paper as a whole trains you in reading a variety of Japanese texts in an independent manner.

Form and Conduct

The paper is assessed by a three-hour written exam with a selection of texts, which may consist of seen and/or unseen texts. The exam will be scheduled at the end of Easter Term.


This description is subject to change, for the latest information, students should consult the Undergraduate Handbook available on the Faculty Intranet.

Terms taught
Michaelmas, Lent
Michaelmas, Lent