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Modern Japanese International Political Thought


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies or the MA program in International Relations.


This seminar takes a historicist approach to the study of international political thought of modern Japan, asking how power and knowledge production have been differently linked before and after 1945. Moving beyond the framework of import and mimicry, we seek to understand how shifting notions of “theory” itself are linked to different historical moments. This is important to consider because International Relations theory has never been objective or universal. Many IR scholars today challenge the Eurocentrism of the discipline as well as the ways in which theory building became complicit with Cold War development of Area Studies. While many seek to recover indigenous IR, in this seminar we focus on how modern Japanese intellectuals absorbed, translated, reinterpreted, and challenged modern Western IR theory. To this end, we divide the course into two parts, as pre-1945 period and post-1945 period.

Some of the questions addressed are as follows: How did Japanese intellectuals’ conception of world order develop as a state facing unequal treaties, as a marginal state witnessing the demise of the traditional hegemon Qing China, and as a state internalizing the Western conception of state sovereignty? How did the image of China alter? How did Japan create its own Orient? If the period prior to the end of the Asia Pacific War is marked by what Tetsuya Sakai calls the “inherent fragility of the image of state sovereignty,” how about the reception of IR theory such as realism, liberalism, neorealism, regime theory, and transnational relations in the postwar period under Pax Americana? As Stanley Hoffmann observed decades ago, contemporary IR theory is an “American Social Science.” How can examining Japan’s historical engagement with theory contribute to recent debates on how to address the Eurocentrism of the discipline?

Course objectives

  • A critical understanding of the relation between history and theory in the development of non-Western International Relations theory

  • Improved presentation skills and writing skills

  • To build on and engage with contemporary debates on the Eurocentrism of the discipline


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Presentation/Attendance/Participation 40%
2 short essays of 1500-2000 words on the relation between history and theory in pre-1945 Japan and post-1945 Japan 30% each 60%

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Resits will be allowed only for the essay component of the course.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

To be announced closer to the start of the semester.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Vrieshof


All other information.