HISTORY 450 - Japan to 1700: Origin Myth to Shogun Dynasty
Fall 2023, Section 001
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: History (HISTORY)
Department: LSA History
See additional student enrollment and course instructor information to guide you in your decision making.


Waitlist Capacity:
May not be repeated for credit.
Rackham Information:
Rackham credit requires additional work.
Primary Instructor:
Start/End Date:
Full Term 8/28/23 - 12/6/23 (see other Sections below)
NOTE: Drop/Add deadlines are dependent on the class meeting dates and will differ for full term versus partial term offerings.
For information on drop/add deadlines, see the Office of the Registrar and search Registration Deadlines.


This course covers the complex and intriguing history of the Japanese archipelago from about 300 BCE to 1700 CE. You might have wondered how the Sun Goddess became the ancestral deity of today's imperial family; if the samurai really flaunted bushido and committed seppuku; or if today's manga dates back in style to a 12th century scroll of wrestling animals; and, finally, if there is any truth to Ghost of Tsushima. We consider these and other questions by examining patterns of transformation along the twin axes of time and theme.

  • prehistoric creation of land and deities;
  • ancient state-making with tools from the continent;
  • aristocrats' aesthetic power and prestige;
  • political rise of the samurai;
  • medieval militarism supported by land rights, urban economy, and piracy;
  • growing gendered inequity in times of violence;
  • rising autonomy of the commoners;
  • coming of the Portuguese and Spanish trader-missionaries;
  • the country-at-war (sengoku), final peace settlement, and invasion of Korea;
  • the early modern consolidation of the realm with heavy use of Confucianism.

Along the way, we consider the issues of environment and climate, blood and pollution, sexuality and religion, family and gender, death and dying, and cultural power and prestige.

We read translated primary sources, such as tales, chronicles, diaries, and documents, and a scroll intimately narrated by a samurai who fought against the Mongols. Films and video clips will help expand our visual understanding of the intricacies of the history. Scholarly essays encourage the reader to think analytically and evaluate our own perception of how history can be written and presented. These materials should show the diversity of ideas and practices, different from the universalistic assumptions about the "Japanese traditions," many of which were invented in the 19th century partly to meet the challenge from the West. Students will come to appreciate Japanese history beneath the veneer of fuzzy robots, ramen, and Toto toilets.

Course Requirements:

Required weekly readings include minimum of two chapters in the textbook (about 20 to 30 pages), two scholarly articles and some historical sources, which we often read together in class. Students write one critical review of a scholarly article chosen from the separate list on the syllabus.  Short in-class quizzes and a final take home exam are also required. Active participation in class, especially in analyzing historical sources, is highly valued.

Registered graduate students (HISTORY 592) write an additional paper of about ten to fifteen pages in length. 

Intended Audience:

Intended audience: upper level undergraduate students who love history and graduate students

Class Format:



HISTORY 450 - Japan to 1700: Origin Myth to Shogun Dynasty
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
 In Person
Tu 4:00PM - 7:00PM
8/28/23 - 12/6/23

Textbooks/Other Materials

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Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

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