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Word and Image in Premodern Japanese Culture (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant research MA programme. Students from other programmes are kindly referred to the course description of the regular MA course.


The interaction between word and image has played a pivotal role in the production of Japanese culture from court poetry to contemporary manga and anime. This course examines the historical role of literacy and knowledge of literary classics in the field of cultural production in premodern Japan. It uses a multidisciplinary approach combining literary, visual and material culture analysis. We will explore how standard themes, often taken from court literature, were continuously reworked and adapted, including through dialogic combinations of word and image and through humorous, fashionable and eroticised repackaging in the popular culture of early modern Japan. A particular focus will be on the related cultural performances of calligraphy, poetry and the pictorial arts. We will consider how people in premodern Japan used these cultural performances to create a sense of cultured community, temporarily crossing time and social status divides. Based on detailed case studies, we will explore how these cultural practices manifested themselves in cultured objects (scrolls, screens, albums, popular prints) and cultured spaces (parlors, gardens). By analysing the various ways in which the classics were reworked, we will consider more generally the cultural meanings of creativity and eccentricity in premodern Japan. In addition to detailed case studies, the course also introduces students to a range of exemplary scholarly texts in literary studies and in visual and material culture studies in English and (for those who are able) Japanese; to develop an awareness of relevant approaches, methodologies and schools; to develop a knowledge of the multidisciplinary way in which such approaches interact in the academic study of Japanese premodern cultures and societies; to give students the capacity to react critically to different approaches and form their own scholarly responses.

Course objectives

The course aims to

  • introduce students to a range of exemplary scholarly texts in visual, art historical and literary studies in English and (for those who are able) Japanese;

  • develop an awareness of relevant approaches, methodologies and schools;

  • develop a knowledge of the multi-disciplinary way in which such approaches interact in the academic study of Japanese pre-modern cultures and societies;

  • give students the capacity to react critically to different approaches and form their own scholarly responses.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

Seminar (werkgroep) with lecture elements.

Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC * 28 hours 280 hours
Weekly seminars: 4 hours per week 28 hours
Extra contact hours Research MA students 6 hours
Preparation for classwork: 6 hours per week 84 hours
Preparation for presentation 20 hours
Written work 142 hours

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to Brightspace through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
participation (including presentation) 35%
4 position papers 25%
1 term paper (± 3,000 words) 40%

Term Paper
The paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version.

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the term paper is possible (40%). In that case the convener of the course may assign a (new) topic and give a new deadline.

A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible.

Exam Review

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.

Reading List


For the Research MA students additional readings will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. The extra sessions will be used to discuss the additional literature.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. More information on uSis is available in Dutch and English. You can also have a look at the FAQ.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.


Prof.dr. Ivo Smits.


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.