Course Descriptions and Faculty Profiles MA Program in Japanese and Asian Culture

Course Descriptions

( Click on instructor's name to view academic profile.)

Japanese Material Culture:

This course will introduce students to the major themes, issues, methods, and theories relevant to the study of things or material culture. We will look at the variety of ways in which scholars from diverse fields including anthropology, sociology, and history, have sought to infer meaning from things and apply these ideas to the study of Japanese culture and society. In addition to gaining familiarity with significant literature in material culture studies, students will engage in artifact analysis with particular focus on the ordinary objects that constitute the core of daily life in Japan, such as clothing, food, furniture, and housing. Instructor: Nomura

Seminar in Premodern Japanese Literature:

In this course students explore the a thousand years of Japanese literature by reading political, religious and secular compilations of prose and poetry ranging from the 8th century Ancient Matters (Kojiki) to the 19th century Forty-Eight Techniques for Success with Courtesans (Keisei kai shijūhatte). In so doing, they trace recurring themes and how they changed with the political, social and economic situation of the society in which they were created. Instructor: Bjoerk

The Traditional Performing Arts in Japan:

Students in this course read scripts, listen to recordings and watch filmed material on genres from the pre-Edo period such as kagura, gagaku, noh and kyogen, discussing how they reflect the socio-economic situation of the society in which they were created, and how the social stance of the performers changed with the political situation in the first half of the term. In the second half we focus on the two main genres of popular entertainment of the Edo period, Joruri puppet drama and kabuki, reading selected famous plays, looking at recordings and discussing their enactment and how institutionalized theaters came to act as economic centers for the surrounding businesses. This term, we focus on plays which feature topcis from the war epos Tale of Heike. Instructor: Bjoerk

Edo Culture and the “Bad Places”:

Beginning in the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) brothel districts and entertainment centers focusing on various stage arts developed hand in hand with the rise of the social strata of the urban townsmen in Kyoto. After Tokugawa Ieyasu decided to build-up the town of Edo, licenses were given to those managing prostitution and theaters. The areas of Yoshiwara (behind the Senso-ji temple in Asakusa) and Sakai-, Fukiya- and Kobiki (now Ningyo-cho and Ginza) where the theaters were, came to be called Akusho (“Bad Places”) because of their loose morals and inducement to overspending; however, they were at the same time social melting pots providing fertile ground for cultural, artistic and economic development. In this course we explore how the city of Edo developed and the role played by “Bad Places” in the development of what we know as “Edo culture.”  Instructor: Bjoerk

Justice and the Vendetta Culture in Pre-modern Japan :

Justice and the Vendetta Culture in Pre-modern Japan: When the social structures centering on the imperial court broke down toward the end of the 12th century, the legal system broke down with it. The Kamakura shogunate soon established new legal courts, but did so at that same time that the Soga brothers killed their father`s enemy at the foot of Mt. Fuji in an illegal vendetta in which the brothers were also killed. This vendetta came to be a theme enacted frequently in both Noh and Kabuki. Six hundred years later, 47 retainers of Asano Naganori took revenge for their lord and were subsequently sentenced to commit seppuku. This vendetta, too, became fodder for fiction works such as the popular puppet play and Kabuki drama Ch?shingura: the Treasury of Loyal Retainers (film versions of which are still being made both in Japan and elsewhere) and what is considered to be the origin of Japanese horror fiction The Yotsuya Ghost Story. These were illegal vendettas, but vendettas as such were accepted forms of seeking individual justice and one could apply for a license to kill for a just cause. This course analyzes the differences between the legal and illegal vendettas and the popular fiction surrounding them in order to understand attitudes toward vendettas in medieval and early modern Japan. Instructor: Bjoerk

Colloquium in Premodern Japanese History:

A graduate-level introduction to the history and historiography of classical and medieval Japan. The principal goal of the course is to prepare students for advanced study and research on premodern Japanese history, by building a foundational awareness of the current state of the field with regard to key topics and issues, and of way historians’ interests, approaches, and interpretations have evolved.

Seminar in Premodern Japanese History:

An exploration of particular issues or topics in premodern Japanese history, focusing on development of research and interpretive skills. Subjects will vary from semester to semester.

Seminar in Modern Japanese History:

This course will take the form of a directed readings seminar and thereby expose students to many of the texts and issues that one should know about in order to embark on research in the field or prepare to teach an introductory course in modern Japanese history. Our goal will be to place these works in historiographical context, comprehending the various perspectives individual historians have brought to their work and how their efforts relate to the larger field of modern Japanese historical studies. Finally, our primary focus each week will be on enhancing our critical skills rather than fleshing out detailed narratives of modern Japan’s history. Instructor: Brown

Urban Geography of Japan:
In this course, students learn about the development and characteristics of cities in Japan. It discusses their emergence and change from an historical perspective, while drawing on examples of several cities from all over Japan. The course starts with early urban settlements like the Heijō-kyō at the beginning of the 8th century. It follows the development of cities showing for instance the emerging of large urban centers during the Edo-period, or of the first complex urban planning system at the beginning of the 20th century, until reaching issues cities are confronted today. The focus lies, especially on institutions and policies that created and formed cities in Japan, providing a wide knowledge that enables to better understand urban issues and ongoing debates about their further development. Instructor: Kiener

Colloquium in Social Geography Ⅰ:
This course is concerned with social phenomena and their spatial conditions in Japanese cities. By focusing on inner city areas, inhabited by minorities like immigrants from the Korean peninsula, day laborers or outcasts (burakumin), processes of place-making are explored. Inner cities in Japan prove to be dynamic areas, which are shaped and reshaped by diverse actors, including the people inhabiting them, the government or the market. Through a wide reading of related literature, also the interpretation of these processes in academic research and major associated theories are investigated. In this course students get the possibility to deepen their knowledge about cities in Japan and learn to understand the forces that shape the disparities visible in the urban landscape from different viewpoints. Instructor: Kiener

Seminar in Contemporary Japanese Social Theory I・II:
This course approaches key issues of contemporary Japanese society from the perspective of human geography. It aims to develop and deepen the research and interpretive skills of students in preparation for writing their thesis. While the topic of the class is changing every semester, the course provides the students also a broad forum to develop their own ideas. Instructor: Kiener

Cultural Studies of Modern Japanese-European Relations:
 One of the first changes that affected the daily life of Japan after the opening to the West was the introduction of European Court and Military Uniforms and Suits by the Meiji government. The use of European fashion in a Japanese environment was and still is confusing to many western visitors. This seminar focuses mainly on the role of western clothes during the modernization of Japan and the way fashion reflects and influences social change until today. The goal of the course is to encourage students to scrutinize national identity in context of globalization by shedding light on the difference between European fashion and the vibrant fashion scene of modern day Tokyo. Instructor: Bertram

Governance and Development in Asia and Africa:

This is an advanced course examining in a comparative manner how governance may relate with development. It is said that both political and economic regimes converged into politically liberal democracies and economically free market economies. In addition, ‘good governance’ and democracy are viewed as the preconditions for achieving development. Is remarkable developmental performance in East and some Southeast Asia supported by their good governance? Or is it achieved by their authoritarianism? This course is designed for those who seek to understand the governance and development in Asia and Africa. More specifically, we will analyze the potential relationship between governance and development performance in ‘developmental states’ and patrimonial states. In the former category, we will examine several successful cases from newly industrializing economies (NIEs) and Southeast Asian countries. By contrast, we will take a look at the failed neo-patrimonial states of Bangladesh and of some countries of Sub-Saharan African. Finally, in addition to the “input” of knowledge through lectures, this course will emphasize the “output” of the same via workshop presentations and essays. Instructor: Kondoh

Contemporary Art & Media in the Asia-Pacific Region I:

This course aims to introduce key issues of contemporary art and media of countries of the Asia-Pacific region. By focusing on specific artists and art works in the genres of oil painting, mixed media, animation, performance, etc., we analyze the patterns of how modern and contemporary art and media developed in the Asia-Pacific region, with regards to specific traditional visual cultural influences. We will start with examining relevant media theory, art historical concepts and curatorial practices, and then move on to take a look at Asian influences in Western art (from the Silk Road to the Ottoman Empire), and, in return, Western influences in Asian art (colonialism, post-colonialism, Meiji Era). Then we examine the development pattern of modern art as well as trends in contemporary art and media in China, before we expand our view on East Asia, including the Koreas, Japan and Taiwan. Instructor: Zara-Papp

Contemporary Art & Media in the Asia-Pacific Region II:

This course builds on the course Contemporary Art and Media in the Asia-Pacific Region I. In this course we further examine the development patterns of modern and contemporary art in the Asia-Pacific region. In this course, we expand our view to Central Asia (Mongolia in the Post-War years), South East Asia (mixed media art in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia), South Asia (building on heritage: India, Pakistan and the Himalaya borderlands), West Asia (the former Soviet states) and the Pacific Region (media productions and cultural identity in Aboriginal Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, the French overseas territories and the independent Oceanic nations). Active class participation is expected. Instructor: Zara-Papp

MA Program: Japanese and Asian Culture

Core Faculty Members


Tove BJOERK is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University. She earned a doctorate in Japanese literature from Rikkyō University with a dissertation focusing on the diary of the Edo Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjūrō II and the development of the early modern entertainment industry. Publications in Japanese include “Ni daime Ichikawa Danjūrō to gekijō keiei: Kyōhō jū-kyū no Edo kabuki (Ichikawa Danjūrō II and Theater Management: Edo Kabuki in the Nineteenth Year of the Kyōhō Era),” Rikkyō daigaku Nihon bungaku (Japanese Literature [Rikkyō University]) No. 109 (2013), pp. 110-123, and “Ni daime Danjūrō to Edo no kaichō kōgyō - Fudō myōō wo chūshin ni (Danjūrō II and the Staging of Buddhist Images in the Edo Period: The Case of the Fudō Myōō Deity),” Taishū bunka (Popular Culture) No. 9 (2013), pp. 30-45, “Ni daime Ichikawa Danjūrō no senden katsudo – Mogusa uri shoen ya Kyōhō ki serifu shōhon chūshin ni (Ichikawa Danjūrō II’s Commercials and Product Placements: Focusing on the first enactment of the Moxa seller and the publication of line-books during the Kyōhō Era),” Kabuki – kenkyū to hihyō (Kabuki –Research and Critics [Association for Kabuki Research]) No.52 (2014), pp 50-70. Publications in English include “The Economic Structure of Edo Kabuki Theatres - Ichikawa Danjūrō II as a Kyōhō period Manager” Japonica Humbolditana 16 (2013), pp. 5-45 and “Edo Kabuki and Money,” Andon 96 (2014), pp. 65-79.

Roger H. BROWN

Roger H. BROWN is professor of modern Japanese history and US-Japan relations in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University. He earned an M.A. in U. S. history from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Ph.D. in Japanese history from the University of Southern California, and has taught Japanese and East Asian history at Temple University Japan and Waseda University. His research focuses on prewar and wartime Japan, and his publications include “Yasuoka Masahiro no Taishō-Shōwa shoki ni okeru jinkakuron (Yasuoka Masahiro’s Taishō-Early Shōwa Era Discourse on Personal Character),” Kyōgaku 42 (2003), pp. 52-61, “Visions of a Virtuous Manifest Destiny: Yasuoka Masahiro and Japan’s Kingly Way,” in Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History, edited by Sven Saaler & J. Victor Koschmann, (Routledge, 2007), pp. 133-150, “Shepherds of the People: Yasuoka Masahiro and the New Bureaucrats in Early Showa Japan,” The Journal of Japanese Studies 35(2) (2009), pp. 285-319, several chapters of commentaries and translations for Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History, Volume 2, 1920-Present, edited by Sven Saaler & Christopher W. A. Szpilman, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), “(The Other) Yoshida Shigeru and the Expansion of Bureaucratic Power in Prewar Japan,” Monumenta Nipponica 67(2) (2012), pp. 283-327, “Yasuoka Masahiro’s ‘New Discourse on Bushidō Philosophy’: Cultivating Samurai Spirit and Men of Character for Imperial Japan,” Social Science Japan Journal 16(1) (2013), pp. 107-129, “Desiring to Inaugurate Great Peace: Yasuoka Masahiro, Kokutai Preservation, and Japan’s Imperial Rescript of Surrender,” Saitama University Review 50(2) (2015), pp. 199-231, and “The Bureaucracy and Politics,” in Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese History, edited by Sven Saaler & Christopher W. A. Szpilman, (Routledge, forthcoming 2017).

Johannes KIENER

Johannes KIENER is associate professor for contemporary Japanese social theory at the graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University. He earned an M.A. from the University of Vienna in Japanese Studies, and a Ph.D. from Osaka City University in Human Geography. He has taught courses on geography at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Osaka City University and Osaka University for Economics and Law. Publications in Japanese include “Basho no jiba o umidasu rinobēshon: Ōsakashi Kitaku nakazakichō kaiwai no jirei kara (Creating a Place’s Magnetic Field through Renovation: From the Example of the Nakazaki Neighborhood in Osaka City, Kita Ward),” Shisei kenkyũ (Journal of Municipal Research) 186 (2015), pp. 54-65, and “Innāshiti ni okeru gaikokujin muke gesutohausu jigyō no jittai to chiiki e no inpakuto: Ōsakashi, Nishinariku hokubu no jirei ni (Guesthouses for Foreigners Businesses in the Inner City and their Neighborhood Impact’ The Case of North Nishinari, Osaka City)”, Jinbun chiri (Japanese Journal of Human Geography) 67(5) (2015), pp. 25-41. Publications in English include “Social Networks of Homeless People under the Influence of Homeless Self-sufficiency Support Centres in Japan,” Vienna Journal of East Asian Studies 5 (2014), pp. 77-109, “Homelessness and Homeless Policies in the Context of the Residual Japanese Welfare State,” in Faces of Homelessness in the Asia Pacific, edited by Carole Zufferey and Nilan Yu, Routledge (2017), pp. 9-27, and “Innovations in Gearing the Housing Market to Welfare Benefit Recipients in Osaka’s Inner City: A Resilient Strategy?” Housing, Theory and Society 35(4) (2018), pp. 410-431.


Zilia ZARA-PAPP is associate professor of Media Studies at the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University. She earned her BDes and MDes degrees in visual communication design from Kyushu Institute of Design, Kyushu University, Japan, and received her PhD in Media and Communication Studies from the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her research interests include modern and contemporary art, and media and design of the Asia-Pacific region, with a special focus on sequential and animated art and design in Japan and the Asia-Pacific region. She has been associate researcher at Waseda University, Japan, and assistant professor at Hosei University, Japan, before assuming her current position at Saitama University. Her publications include two academic books, Traditional Monster Imagery in Manga, Anime and Japanese Cinema (Brill, 2011) and Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art (Global Oriental, 2010), and several book chapters and academic journal articles. Prof. Zara-Papp has been contributing articles to several newspapers as well, including The Japan Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Yomiuri and The Age newspapers.

Supporting Faculty*

(*Supporting faculty do not serve as supervisors to MA program students as a rule.)


Lars BERTRAM holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in Japanese and Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Hamburg and is a professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University. His research focuses on the role of Western Fashion during the Modernization in Japan, the development of Japanese Fashion Design and the influence of Japanese Fashion in Thailand. His publications include “The Spread of Western Fashion in Modern Japan and its development during the Heisei Period,” Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Press Carl von Ossietzky, 2010), “History of Fashion Schools in Japan,” Saitama University Review (43)(2) (2007), pp. 93-108, “Fashion Scene in Bangkok since the 1990s,” Saitama University Review (47)(1) (2011), pp. 145-63.

KONDOH Hisahiro

KONDOH Hisahiro is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Saitama University. He holds a master degree in development studies from the University of East Anglia, and a Ph.D. from the University of Leeds, UK. He has published a number of articles on governance and development as well as on emerging donor issues, including papers published by such journals as the Pacific Review. Besides his academic career, he has experience working in the civil service at the local government level and in professional development consultancy.


NOMURA Nao is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University and specializes in the study of material culture. Before joining academia, she served as Collections Manager at the International Quilt Study Center and Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her publications include “The Development of Quiltmaking in Japan Since the 1970s,” Uncoverings 31 (2010): 105-130, and 「ミュージアムにおける「ナラティヴ」の展示:日系人ミュージアムの展示比較からみる日系人表象のありかた」(2016年)山崎敬一他編 『日本人と日系人の物語 ― 会話分析 会話分析 ・ナラティヴ ナラティヴ・語られる歴史』世織書房、180-196. (“Exhibiting Narratives in Museums: Comparative Analysis of Japanese American Representation in Museums of Japanese Americans,” in Stories of Japanese and Japanese Americans, eds. Yamazaki Keiichi, et al. (Tokyo: Seori Shobō, 2016), 180-196.)