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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.

Japanese Studies

Students are expected have a basic understanding of Japanese history, society and culture before starting in Michaelmas, and so we recommend the following books and essays:

  • Conrad Schirokauer, David Lurie and Suzanne Gay. A Brief History of Japanese Civilization (Wadsworth Publishing, Fourth edition 2012).
  • David Pilling. Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival (Penguin, 2014)
  • Sugimoto, Yoshio. An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (4th edition), 2015.
  • Kato Shuichi & Don Sanderson. A History of Japanese Literature: From the Manyoshu to Modern Times. (Abridged Edition), Routledge, 1997.

Further reading