Syllabus: Hist 534: Early Japan to 1700 (Fall 2013)

History 524/700-02: Early Japan
Fall 2013

Prof. Jonathan Dresner
Phone: 235-4315

Class Meetings: MWF 10-11, RH 407
Office Hours: MWF 11-12, 1-2, Tu 9-11,1-3
Office: RH 406F

“The course of History reflects a continual contest
between limited, orderly processes of development
and historical accident.” — H. Cord Meyer

Course Description

This face-to-face course covers the history and culture of Japan from pre-history through the 17th century. Topics include: the origins of Japanese people and culture, both indigenous and continental; the Imperial state’s formation and decline; trade and cultural contacts and conflicts with China and Korea as well as periods of relative isolation; aristocratic rule and culture, particularly the role of women; agriculture as economic and social nexus; the gradual development of the samurai class and the overlay of the Shogunates onto the Imperial structure; importation and nativization of Buddhism and the effects on indigenous Shinto; late medieval disorder and the social, economic and political developments which arise from relative chaos; unification and pacification under a newly aristocratized samurai system; early modern intellectual, cultural and social development.

Though this is a history course, the enduring power of the cultural developments of this era are worth particularly close attention, and so literature will be a prominent feature of this semester, both as historical source and as aesthetic endeavor.

Course Goals

In addition to historical and cultural content, students will demonstrate increasing mastery of critical reading of primary and secondary sources in writing and discussion. “Critical” does not mean “attacking” but “analytical”: putting material in historical and cultural context, drawing appropriate inferences and deductions from the evidence of the text, and raising relevant questions for further inquiry.

Course Prerequisites and Application

World History to 1500, equivalent or permission of instructor is required before taking this course. This course counts towards the History major or minor as a non-Western course.

History is about real peoples, diverse cultures, interesting theories, strongly held belief systems, complex situations and often-dramatic actions. This information may be disturbing. Such is the nature of historical study.


In the event of a disparity between the original syllabus and online schedule, the online schedule will be correct. I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester.



Reading assignments — textbook and documents — must be done before class on the day indicated. Lectures will be rare; discussions will require that the reading has been done. Reading assignments may be supplemented with online image viewing assignments, video viewing. I reserve the right to assign homework, implement pop quizzes or impose grade penalties if readings are not done on a regular basis.

Regular and substantive participation in discussions is an integral component of this course. I will try to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak up, and if you have trouble speaking up, talk to me privately and we’ll work on opportunities.

Texts for purchase

  • William Wayne Farris, Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, U Hawaii Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0824833794
  • David J. Lu, Japan: A Documentary History. Volume 1: The Dawn of History to the Late Tokugawa Period. M. E. Sharpe/East Gate, 1997. ISBN 9781563249075
  • Mary E. Berry, Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period, University of California Press, 2007. ISBN 9780520254176
  • Helen Craig McCullough, trans., Genji & Heike: Selections from The Tale of Genji and The Tale of Heike. Stanford University Press, 1994. ISBN 9780804722582

ACLS E-Books via Axe Library

  • Tsunoda, Ryūsaku, De Bary, William Theodore, Keene, Donald. Sources of the Japanese tradition, Columbia University Press, 1958
  • Keene, Donald., Tyler, Royall. Twenty plays of the Nō theatre, Columbia University Press, 1970.

Graduate Student Reading

  • Hall, John Whitney, Government and local power in Japan, 500 to 1700: a study based on Bizen Province, Princeton UP, 1966. (ACLS E-Book available via Axe Library)

Geography Quiz

At the beginning of the second week (Monday, 8/29) I will give a quick ten (10) question quiz on the geography of modern Japan: neighboring countries, islands, major cities. Any student who gets fewer than nine (9) correct, will need to retake the quiz until they get a passing score. I will give the quiz in my office, during office hours or by appointment. Students may take the quiz once a week for the entire semester if necessary, but everyone in the class will pass this geography quiz, and have at least one ‘A’.


Undergraduates will pick two works on Japan to 1700 to present and review, one in each half of the course: the first will be a scholarly article; the second, a book. You will have a great deal of freedom to pick topics, but the article must be from a scholarly journal or a chapter from an edited academic book: footnotes, primary sources, the whole works. The book can be on any topic as well, but should be either a primary source in translation or serious research project (journalistic or academic). Students will present the work to the class, briefly.

Graduate Students will do the same presentations and reviews as the undergraduates, except that they will be responsible for writing two article reviews and two book reviews. The reviews will be longer, and expectations will be appropriate to graduate work.

Grading Standard: Your review grades will be based on the quality, clarity, completeness and effectiveness of your writing. Most important is the quality of your analysis of the article or book: is it thorough, balanced and convincing? Is it a coherent essay? Can your reader learn from your review what is in the book and whether it would be worth reading? The presentation will not be graded, but is a required element of the assignment. See the Review assignment for more details.

Midterms and Final Exam

The course is divided roughly into three segments: Berry, survey, and literature. The midterm exam for each segment will be in the form of a take-home essay assignment. The third essay will be due at the same time as the Final Exam essay, which will be comprehensive.

Grading Standard: The grade is based primarily on the strength of your argument as an answer to the question: thesis, evidence (completeness and handling), logic, clarity.

Graduate Essay

Graduate students, in addition to the additional reviews and presentations, will write an essay (3000-4000 words) reviewing John Whitney Hall’s Government and Local Power using the other scholarship and sources from this semester as a basis for comparison. The book is almost a half-century old: how well has it stood up in light of subsequent scholarship? Although the due date for this is the same as the Final Exam, it is recommended that students read Hall along with Farris and Lu, rather than waiting until the end.

Grading Standard: The grade is based primarily on the strength of your argument as an answer to the question: thesis, evidence (completeness and handling), logic, clarity.

Professionalism: Preparation, Attendance and Preparation

This is not just a classroom: it is a work space, and you are adults. You are expected to be present and prepared for class time, not only physically but intellectually, and to carry out your assignments in a timely and careful fashion. You are responsible for keeping track of assignments, due dates, and announcements made through the course website.

The essence of scholarship is constructive engagement; the best learning comes from doing. It is very important that everyone keep up with the readings, and come to class prepared to think and talk and question and listen. Asking good questions is an important form of participation. Asking questions which can be easily answered by referencing the syllabus, course website or textbook is not.

Absences may be excused for unusual school-related events (not athletic practices), illness or family-related problems, but only if I am informed in advance (email is fine) or you have documentation (such as a doctor’s note). Unexcused absences will affect your professionalism grade. Failure to complete assignments, or consistently sloppy or incorrect work, will also affect your professionalism grade.

There may be days on which there will be a video lecture available online rather than an in-class lecture. Students are not required to come to class on those days. Recorded lectures may also be used to make up a day lost to weather or instructor absence; these are also required.

There will sometimes be homework assignments which do not fall into the above categories which will be considered part of the professionalism grade. The first assignment is to find the student information form on the course website, complete it, and email it to the instructor before the next class.

Final Grade Calculation

5%       Map Quiz
20%     Attendance/Participation
10%     Article Review
30%     Midterm Exams (3)
20%     Book Review
15%     Final Exam
2.5%    Map Quiz
20%     Attendance/Participation
15%     Article Reviews
15%     Midterm Exams (3)
25%     Book Reviews
12.5%  Graduate Essay
10%     Final Exam

 Course Administration


Students are expected to behave respectfully towards their peers and instructor. Disruptive behavior, including failing to turn off cell phones during class, will result in penalties and possibly removal from the classroom. This does not mean that there can’t be lively discussions and disagreements, but personal attacks, excessive volume, threatening gestures or words, and failure to give others a chance to speak and be heard are not acceptable.

Technology in the classroom

The use of laptop computers, tablet computers, phones and other devices is not permitted.  While there are legitimate educational uses for these tools, most research on classroom use shows that they are more distracting than enabling, especially to fellow students. Students using computers or cell phones without permission will be asked to leave and will not get credit for attendance. Exceptions may be made by the instructor only for disability accomodation and official note-takers.

The use of audio, photographic or video recording equipment, or speech-to-text transcription software is not permitted. Arrangements may be made for students with documented disabilities. Students violating this restriction will be asked to leave and may face grade penalties and disciplinary action.

You should check your email and Canvas at least daily: if you don’t use your university email account regularly, set it to forward mail to your preferred address. I check email regularly: you should hear back from me within 24 hours. Writing assignments will be submitted through Canvas: make sure you know how it works and that your submissions were successful.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in this course.

Plagiarism is the use of the words or ideas of another person without proper acknowledgement. Plagiarism is intellectual theft; in an educational setting it is particularly repugnant. Plagiarism in my courses will be punished. It’s simple: Anytime you copy words into your own work, you must clearly mark them and acknowledge the source of those words. Anytime you use someone else’s ideas, you must admit it. There are three options: put it in quotation marks and footnote; paraphrase and footnote; or be original. If you have any questions or any concerns about citation format or necessity, ask someone who knows what they’re doing.

Other forms of academic misconduct will not be tolerated either, including the use of unauthorized aid on tests, failing to write one’s own papers, using papers for more than one course without permission. None of this precludes group study and discussion: those are actually really good ideas.

Academic misconduct will result in zero credit for an assignment, and may result in failure of the course or other penalties. For more detail, see the relevant sections of the University Catalog:


Advising is a very important resource designed to help students complete the requirements of the University and their individual majors. Students should consult with their advisor at least once a semester to decide on courses, check progress towards graduation, and discuss career options and other educational opportunities. Advising is a shared responsibility, but students have final responsibility for meeting degree requirements.

Syllabus Supplement

For official PSU policies and information about campus resources, notifications, attendance, financial aid, expectations, grades, etc., see: (Fall 2013)

Student Accommodation

Any student with a documented disability who would like to request accommodations should contact the instructor as early in the semester as possible. For more information, contact the Center for Student Accomodations (235-4309,

Grade Policies

  • Grades are generally calculated and recorded on a traditional 4-point scale. Canvas doesn’t allow 4-point scale grading, so I will translate them to the usual 100-point scale for recording in the online gradebook.
  • The Canvas gradebook is only being used to allow you to keep track of assignments completed and graded. Because of the difference in grading scales, and the portion of your grade determined under “professionalism”, your course grade as determined by Canvas doesn’t accurately represent your grade in this class. Ask me if you have questions about your grade that aren’t covered in the syllabus, assignments, or feedback.
  • Assignment format, requirements and due dates will be included in the assignment instructions: read them carefully, and ask questions well in advance of the due date if there is anything you do not understand.
  • Most assignments will either be submitted through Canvas or written and turned in during class. If hard copy (printed) is required, email will only be accepted as proof of completion in emergencies: the student is still responsible to get a printed copy to the instructor as soon as possible. For assignments which are to be turned in by email, I will send a confirmation email; If you have not gotten one in a reasonable amount of time (a day or so), it is your responsibility to confirm that your assignment was received.
  • Unexcused late assignments or tests, due to absence, technical problems, etc., will be penalized one-half grade level (4.0 to 3.5, etc.) per class period late.
  • In the event of an excused absence on an assignment due date, the student is responsible for turning in the work no later than the next class, unless other arrangements have been made. Tests must be made up at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • Even very, very bad (or very late) work is still going to get an F, which is better than a zero. Plagiarism or other violations of academic honesty will result in zero credit on that assignment and may result in an F or XF for the semester depending on circumstances.
  • I reserve the right to adjust assignment grade scales upwards (to students’ advantage) to reflect the performance of the class as a whole; I do not “curve” grades towards a target distribution, nor do I adjust grade scales downwards.

Reading and Assignment Schedule

I reserve the right to change readings, test dates, due dates, grade weights and assignments as necessary throughout the semester

  • Farris = Farris, Japan to 1600
  • Docs = Lu, Japan: A Documentary History. Volume 1
  • Genji = McCullough, Genji & Heike, pp. 3-242
  • Heike = McCullough, Genji & Heike, pp. 245-458
  • Berry = Berry, Japan in Print
  • Sources = Sources of the Japanese Tradition (ACLS E-book)
  • Nō = Twenty Plays of the Nō Theater (ACLS E-book)

Administrative Deadlines and Instructional Holidays are in Italics

Assignments and Tests are in Bold

M (8/19)
W (8/21) Student Information Form Due
F (8/23) Berry, acknowledgements and chapter 1
M (8/26) Last day to enroll or add without instructor permission.
Last day for online enrollment.
Tuition and fees must be paid by 3:30pm.
Last day for full tuition refund

Map Quiz
Berry, chapter 2
W (8/28) Berry, chapter 3
F (8/30) Berry, chapter 4
Last Day to drop without ‘W’
M (9/2) Labor Day holiday
W (9/4) Instructor Absent: Rosh Hashanah
F (9/6) Instructor Absent: Rosh Hashanah
M (9/9) Berry, chapter 5
W (9/11) Berry, chapters 6, 7
F (9/13) Catch-up/Review
M (9/16) Historical Scrolls: Heiji Disturbance and Mongol Invasions
First Midterm due
W (9/18) Article Selection Due
Farris, Ch. 1
Docs, sec I, “Dawn of Japanese History” pp. 3-20.
F (9/20) Farris, Ch.2
M (9/23) Last day for half tuition refund
, sec. II, “The Impact of Chinese Civilization” pt. 1, pp. 21-36.
W (9/25) Docs, sec. II, “The Impact of Chinese Civilization” pt. 2, pp. 36-50.
F (9/27) Farris, Ch. 3
M (9/30) Docs, sec III, “The Early Heian Period” pp. 51-80.
W (10/2) Article Presentations
F (10/4) Article Presentations / Article Review Due
M (10/7) Farris, Ch. 4
W (10/9) Docs, sec. IV, “Rise of Feudal Institutions” pt. 1, pp. 81-106.
F (10/11) Fall Break
M (10/14) Columbus Day (not a holiday)
Midsemester D/F Grades Due by Noon
Farris, Ch. 5
Docs, sec. IV, “Rise of Feudal Institutions” pt. 2, pp. 106-116.
W (10/16) Docs, sec V, “Kamakura Buddhism”, pp. 117-146.
F (10/18) Farris, Ch. 6
M (10/21) Docs, sec. VI, “The Development of Feudal Institutions through the Muromachi Period” pp. 147-170.
W (10/23) Farris, Ch. 7
F (10/25) Docs, sec, VII, “From Civil Wars to Unification” pp. 171-202.
Last day to apply for December graduation
M (10/28) Farris, Epilogue
Docs, sec VIII, “Tokugawa: Era of Peace” pp. 203-242.
Docs, sec IX, “Intellectual Currents in Tokugawa Japan”
W (10/30) Catch-up/Review
F (11/1) Catch-up/Review
M (11/4) Second Midterm Due
Last day to drop single course.
Early Enrollment for Spring begins
W (11/6) Book Selection Due
Sources, 184-185, Fujiwara No Teika, “Introduction to the Guide to the Composition of Poetry”
Genji, intro, Chapter 1
F (11/8) Genji, Chapters 2-4
M (11/11) Genji, Chapters 5-7
W (11/13) Genji, Chapters 8-10
F (11/15) Heike, intro, chaps. 4-5
M (11/18) Heike, chaps. 6, 9
W (11/20) Heike, chaps. 10-11
F (11/22) Sources, Chapter XIV: The Vocabulary of Japanese Aesthetics II, pages 283-303
Nō, “Introduction: The Conventions of the Nō Drama,” pp. 1-15, and “Komachi at Sekidera (Sekidera Komachi),” pp. 65-80
M (11/25) Nō, “Komachi and the Hundred Nights (Kayoi Komachi),” pp. 51-63 and “Kanehira,” pp. 265-280
W (11/27) Last day to withdraw from entire term.
Thanksgiving Holiday
F (11/29) Thanksgiving Holiday
M (12/2) Book Presentations
W (12/4) Book Presentations / Book Review Due
F (12/6) Last Day of instruction
F (12/13) Third Midterm/Final Exam/Graduate Essay Due, Noon

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