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Modern Japanese History


Admission requirements

No background knowledge is required. This course is a requirement for the propedeuse in Japanese Studies. Non-major students will also be admitted so long as there is seating available.


This course offers a general introduction to Japan’s modern experience from 1868 to the present. Popular images of Japan tend to emphasize how distant and different Japan is from us. In these static images, Japan almost seems like a nation apart, a nation without history at all. Yet history, and modernity, are not Western or Eastern; they are global phenomena. For better or for worse, the forces and processes that shaped Japan’s recent past were in many ways the same forces that shaped the rest of the world: industrialization, capitalism, nation- and empire-building, war, technological change, and struggles for political and social participation. At the same time, the global phenomena of modernity have combined with Japan’s particular place in the global order and its own local cultural and social evolution to produce a fascinatingly distinctive play on the modern theme. This course explores this complex history, keeping in mind the notion of Japan not as a nation apart but as a particular site in a global process of modern change.

Course objectives

The development of:
-a basic knowledge and understanding of the history of modern Japan from 1868 to the present within the context of regional and global modern history
-an awareness of central themes and issues animating the study of the history of modern Japan, including attention to multiple social actors and their roles, political processes and tensions, changing ideas and ideologies, costs and benefits of economic development, social mobilization for modernization, war, and empire, continuity and change, and Japan’s place in the global order
-a critical awareness of historical narratives as constructed, multiple, political, and dynamic


See timetable

Mode of instruction


Course load

  • Lectures: 26 hours

  • Exam(s): 4 hours

  • Preparation: 110 hours

Assessment method

Two multiple choice exams (a midterm and final exam), which count respectively for 45% and 55% of the final grade. Those whose combined average of the above assessments is below a passing mark will be administered a combined resit examination (hertentamen) covering the entire course material. The outcome of the combined resit supersedes earlier results on the midterm and final exams.

Debriefing exam:
Students may make an individual appointment with the instructor within 30 days of the announcement of the exam grades in order to view their exam.


Enroll on Blackboard.

Reading list

  1. Andrew Gordon, A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003 (or any subsequent edition)
    1. Sources of Japanese Tradition Volume Two (Abridged) Part Two: 1868 to 2000, Second Edition, compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
      —Available for purchase at Van Stockum Books Leiden and other retailers.


Registration through uSis. Not registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr.E. Mark