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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Part IB

Course Description 2023-24

Do you wish to gain the linguistic skills that are necessary for you to read independently a wide range of Japanese texts written well into the twentieth century? Do you wish to push your knowledge of the Japanese language to higher proficiency? Do you wish to impress Japanese people by showing a level of education akin to their own? If so, Premodern Japanese Texts is the paper for you!

This one-term paper builds on J5A and is designed to make you proficient in reading Classical Japanese (bungo). It offers a rich syllabus that exposes you to a much wider selection of premodern and early modern texts than the one covered in Michaelmas Term. This allows you to both consolidate and expand your knowledge of the Classical Grammar as well as to gain confidence in reading and translating all sorts of primary sources.

The syllabus and all texts will be available on Moodle at the beginning of Michaelmas term. In 2023-24 we will be translating excerpts from the materials below (not necessarily in this order), among others, and we will read about several topics that are still relevant today. o Torikaebaya monogatari (Heian period): male or female? o Henjō nanshi (late Edo period; ukiyo-e print): switching gender o Saikaku shokoku banashi (early Edo period): a cool woman working as a carpenter o Hōjōki (medieval period): on natural disasters o Kanameishi (Edo period): human dramas in natural disasters o Genji monogatari (Heian period): a suspicious murder o Toinhiji (early Edo period, Japan’s first collection of detective fiction): solving crimes o Kawaraban news sheet (late Edo period) and passages from illustrated Meiji-period newspapers: reporting shocking news o Neko no sōshi (medieval period): animals take over o Mi no ue (early Edo period): ethical issues in keeping pets o Jigabachi monogatari (early Edo period): turning into an animal o Selections of passages from early modern graphic narratives (often viewed as precursors to manga…but is it so?!?) o Selection of humorous stories that inspire contemporary rakugo comic storytelling o Selection of poetry (waka, kyōka, senryū) * Please note that minor changes could be made before the start of the paper.

The pedagogical goals of the paper are as follows:

  1. Consolidate and expand knowledge of Classical Japanese (bungo), both in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

  2. Develop strategies to read a wide range of pre-modern and early modern texts on your own.

  3. Become proficient in using several online resources that are useful to read not only pre-modern and early modern texts but also modern and contemporary texts.

  4. Delve into a wider range of texts, including fictional prose, non-fictional prose, and poetry.

  5. Expand the study of Japanese literature by reading texts that you do not necessarily encounter in J8B.

  6. Develop knowledge on how to track down and access pre-modern and early modern primary sources.

  7. Reflect on how to translate effectively Japanese into English.

Form and Conduct

The paper is assessed by coursework to be submitted digitally by the first day (Tuesday) of Easter Term. The coursework assignment consists of translating unseen pre-modern text(s), contextualising them within their cultural context, and delineating the translation strategies. The length of the contextualisation should be no more than 800 words. The word count for the translation is not set.


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


Terms taught