Modern Japan: An Introduction

Curriculum Guideline

Effective Date:
Course Code
HIST 2251
Modern Japan: An Introduction
Humanities & Social Sciences
Start Date
End Term
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Contact Hours
Lecture: 2 hrs. per week / semester Seminar: 2 hrs. per week / semester
Method Of Instruction
Methods Of Instruction

Class sections will be divided between lectures and seminar discussions. The seminar discussion sessions will serve as a forum for the analysis and discussion of scholarly literature and as a testing ground for student hypotheses. The instructor will encourage students to elaborate, refine and revise ideas. Discussion sessions will also include tutorials in conducting historical research, the exploration of primary source documents, and practice in oral presentations. Participation in both lectures and seminar discussions is required for the successful completion of the course.

Course Description
This course deals with modern Japanese history from the end of the Tokugawa era to the present. After considering briefly Japanese geography, language, and cultural traditions, the course concentrates on the late nineteenth-century transformation of the state and society, the military adventures of the early twentieth century, and change in the postwar period. Topics include the domestication of the samurai ethic, the Meiji Restoration, the military ascendancy of the 1930s, the Pacific War from Japan’s side, the changing roles of women after 1945, the post 1945 economic “miracle”, education as a tool of national advancement, and the collapse of the “bubble” economy.
Course Content

A sample course outline would include the following topics.

Note: Content may vary according to the instructor’s selection of topics.


  1. Language, Religion, Culture and Tradition
  2. Western Intrusion and the Collapse of the Bakufu
  3. Meiji Restoration
  4. Modernization: the Economy and the Military
  5. Education and Culture
  6. Foreign Policy and Wars: China, Russia, and Korea
  7. Showa and the Great Depression
  8. Military Ascendancy and the Road to Pearl Harbour
  9. War and Surrender from Japan’s Side
  10. Occupation
  11. Economic Miracle
  12. Politics and Japanese-American Relations in Postwar Japan
  13. Education as Tool for National Advancement
  14. Struggle for Public Memory: War Crimes, Textbooks, and Politics
  15. Women and Modern Japan
  16. The slow growth era
Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course the successful student will be able to:

  1. Examine historical sources critically and analytically (reading history). These sources include not only survey texts and scholarly articles, but also short monographs and extended primary sources.
  2. Create and communicate personal interpretations of historical problems (writing history). Forms for communication of personal interpretations include medium-length essays (from 1500-3000 words), comparative book reviews, short interpretive essays, primary source studies, and final examinations.
  3. Independently analyze the ideas of other students and the instructor in class in both tutorials and seminars (discussing history).
Means of Assessment

Assessment will be in accord with the Douglas College student evaluation policy. Specific components of evaluation will include some of the following: mid-term and final exams consisting of short answer questions and essay questions; in-class written work, quizzes, research paper; seminar presentations; short debate/position papers; participation in class discussions.


Specific evaluation criteria will be provided by the instructor at the beginning of the semester and will vary according to the instructor’s assessment of appropriate evaluation methods.


An example of one evaluation scheme:

Any combination of the following totalling 100%


Book review essay  15%
Research proposal  10%
Research essay  25%
Class/seminar participation          15%
Midterm exam  15%
Final exam  20%
Textbook Materials

Textbooks and Materials to be Purchased by Students:


Texts will be chosen from the following list, to be updated periodically:

An instructor’s Course Reader may be required.


Duus, Peter. Modern Japan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.


Gordon, Andres. A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.


Huffman, James L. Modern Japan: A History in Documents.2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.


Kingston, Jeff. Japan in Transformation, 1952-2000. 2nd ed. New York : Longman, 2011


McClain, James L. Japan: A Modern History. New ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002.


Pyle, Kenneth B. Japan Rising. New York: Public Affairs, 2007.


Pyle, Kenneth B. The Making of Modern Japan. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 1996.


Tipton, Elise. Modern Japan. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.