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HIST241: Pre-Modern Northeast Asia

Unit 4: Japan   Countries on China’s borders, including Japan, were deeply influenced by their powerful neighbor.  Not only did China attempt to expand its power into these regions, but these areas also attempted to emulate many aspects of Chinese society. 

In Japan, the influence of Chinese civilization was most evident during the Imperial Age.  Between the seventh and ninth centuries, bureaucratic reforms borrowed heavily from those initiated in China.  In addition, intellectuals and aristocrats embraced Chinese literary, artistic, and religious traditions.  Many Japanese, heavily influenced by Chinese Buddhism, integrated it into their indigenous Shinto belief system.  But as imperial Japan weakened and the provincial aristocracy gained power, Chinese customs were increasingly disregarded.  The rise of Heian aristocracy led to a “flowering” of art and literature, along with a departure from the Chinese writing system. This unit will analyze the early development of Japanese social, political and cultural systems.

Unit 4 Time Advisory
Time Advisory: This unit should take you 10.5 hours to complete.

Subunit 4.1: 1.25 hours

Subunit 4.2: 7.25 hours Subunit 4.2.2: 2.25 hours

Subunit 4.2.3: 4.5 hours

Subunit 4.2.4: 1 hour

Subunit 4.2.6: 0.5 hour

Subunit 4.3: 3.75 hours Introduction: 1.75 hours

Subunit 4.3.1: 1 hour

Subunit 4.3.2: 1 hour

Unit4 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:
- Connect the mythical founding of Japan with its early reliance on clan-based political structures. - Connect the rise of the Nara period and imperial rule with the continuing emphasis on heredity and clan affiliation. - Contextualize the abundant literary and artistic works of the Heian period. - Explain the influence of Buddhism and its cycles on the political culture during the Kamakura period. - Explain political tension and power struggles between the Bakufu and the emperor in the Kamakura period. - Describe how the efforts of Oda Nabunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan and brought about the Tokugawa or Edo Period.

4.1 Early Japan   - Reading: The Ohio State University: Professor Mark Bender’s Module 2: Histories of East Asia: “Japanese History” Link: The Ohio State University: Professor Mark Bender’s Module 2: Histories of East Asia: “Japanese History” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Click on the link above to access the Ohio State University website, and then click on the link entitled “Japanese History” on the left-hand side of the page.  Read the sections entitled “Introduction,” “Prehistory,” and “Early Kingdoms and Classical Age” in order to examine the social, political, and cultural development of Japanese civilization.  Please note that this resource covers the topics outlined in Subunits 4.1.1 and 4.1.2, as well as subunit 4.2 and inclusive Subunits 4.2.1-4.2.4.  Keep this background context in mind while reading excerpts from the Kojiki (the Japanese Creation Myth) in Subunit 4.2.2.  This reading should take you approximately 30 minutes to complete.
 
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4.1.1 Jomon and Yayoi   - Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “Yayoi Culture (ca. 4th century B.C.-3rd century A.D.)”  Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “Yayoi Culture (ca. 4th century B.C.-3rd century A.D.)" (HTML)
 
nstructions: Please read this entire webpage to explore the pottery and metallurgy of the Yayoi period.  View the slideshow in order to examine some of the material culture of the era including jars and a bell.  You may click on each item in the slideshow to learn more about the object.  Reading this text and viewing the slideshow should take you approximately 45 minutes to complete.
 
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4.1.2 The Tombs Periods and the Yamato Kings   Note: This subunit is covered by the reading assigned beneath subunit 4.1.  Focus specifically on the sub-section entitled “Early Kingdoms and Classical Age – Tomb Period.”

4.2 Imperial Japan   4.2.1 Taika Reforms   Note: This topic is covered by the reading assigned beneath subunit 4.1.  Focus specifically on the sub-section entitled “Early Kingdoms and Classical Age - Age of Reform.”

4.2.2 Nara   - Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “The Legendary Past: The Age of Gods” Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ “The Legendary Past: The Age of Gods” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this page to examine the context of the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki and their importance in Japanese history.  As you read the paraphrase of the document, be sure to think about and answer the study questions presented at the bottom of the page.  This reading and these questions should take you approximately 1 hour to complete.
 
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  • Reading: University of California at Berkeley’s Japanese Historical Text Initiative: Dr. Delmer Brown’s “Commentary on the Kojiki 712 C.E.”  Link: University of California at Berkeley’s Japanese Historical Text Initiative: Dr. Delmer Brown’s “Commentary on the Kojiki 712 C.E.” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this webpage in its entirety to gain a contextual understanding of one of Japan’s most important chronicles.  Originally written down during the Nara period, the Kojiki is the Japanese creation myth.  Presumably it had been passed down as a story for generations before it was finally committed to writing.  The exploits of these gods and goddesses have profoundly shaped the cultural makeup of Japanese society.  What do these stories tell us about Japanese culture, the geography of the islands, and the relationship between nature and people in Japan?  This reading and question should take you approximately 45 minutes to complete.
     
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  • Reading: University of California at Berkeley’s Japanese Historical Text Initiative: Dr. Delmer Brown’s “Commentary on the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki), 720 C.E.” Link: University of California at Berkeley’s Japanese Historical Text Initiative: Dr. Delmer Brown’s “Commentary on the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki), 720 C.E.” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this webpage in its entirety to gain a contextual understanding of one of Japan’s most important documents.  Written during the Nara period and contemporary to the first written account of the Kojiki, the Nihon Shoki mixes both historical accounts and mythical stories of Japan’s formative years in order to form the Imperial Chronicles.  This reading and note-taking should take you approximately 30 minutes to complete.
     
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4.2.3 Heian Court Life and Culture   - Reading: Princeton University Art Museum’s Asian Art Collection: “Classic Court Culture: Media of Reception and Identity: Heian Period (794-1185)” Link: Princeton University Art Museum’s Asian Art Collection: “Classic Court Culture: Media of Reception and Identity: Heian Period (794-1185)” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read all sections of this page in order to examine the aristocratic, religious, and cultural developments of the Heian Period in Japan.  Be sure to click on the icon at the top of the page titled “Selections from the Collection.”  In this collection, view the several religious objects from the period including a decorative Buddhist sutra, an item that would have been made by members of the aristocracy that functioned as both a gift and a religious act.  Click on each item to get a more detailed understanding of its contextual background.   You should dedicate approximately 1 hour to reading this text and viewing and studying the images in the collection.

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  • Reading: Penn State University: Professor Gregory James Smits’ Topics in Medieval Japanese History: “Chapter 8: Heian Period Literature” Link: Penn State University: Professor Gregory James Smits’ Topics in Medieval Japanese History: “Chapter 8: Heian Period Literature” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this entire chapter, which contains numerous excerpts from Japanese Heian literature including poetry, music, and a section of the famous novel Tale of the Genji.  Click on any embedded hyperlinks to explore associated content.  Think about the previous reading on Heian aristocrats as you go through this chapter.  How did aristocratic and religious life in the Heian court affect the growth of literature during this period?  Do these stories and poems represent the lives of all Japanese people or just those living in Heian-kyo?  Why did this period produce an abundance of artist and literary works?  This reading and these questions should take you approximately 3 hours to complete.
     
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  • Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators: Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of the Genji Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators: Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of the Genji (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this brief chapter from the Tale of the Genji, which is generally attributed as being the first novel.  Use the study questions at the bottom of the page to examine how this prominent piece of literature is demonstrative of the aristocratic life of the Heian court.  This reading and these questions should take you approximately 30 minutes to complete.
     
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4.2.4 Decline of Imperial Power   - Reading: Penn State University: Professor Gregory James Smits’ Topics in Pre-Modern Japanese History: “Chapter 5: The Rise of the Warriors and the ‘Age of Anxiety’” Link: Penn State University: Professor Gregory James Smits’ Topics in Pre-Modern Japanese HistoryChapter 5: The Rise of the Warriors and the ‘Age of Anxiety’” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please click on the links entitled “The End of the Heian Period,” “The Kamakura Period,” and “Mappo,” and read these sections in order to examine the fall of the Heian aristocracy and the rise of the Taira and Minamoto clans amidst the end of the Buddhist cycle of mappo.  Note that this reading will cover the material you need to know for Subunits 4.2.4 through 4.2.6.  Some of the embedded hyperlinks in the text are broken, but most links provide images and additional resources for exploring.  This reading should take you approximately 1 hour to complete.

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4.2.5 Rise of the Provincial Warrior Elite   Note: This subunit is covered by the reading assigned beneath Subunit 4.2.4.  Focus specifically on the section entitled “The Kamakura Period.”

4.2.6 Mappo, Buddhism, and Religion in Early Japan   - Reading: Columbia University’s East Asian Curriculum Project: Kamo no Chomei’s “H?j?ki (An Account of My Hut)” Link: Columbia University’s East Asian Curriculum Project: Kamo no Chomei’s “H?j?ki (An Account of My Hut)” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this excerpt from a classic work of the Kamakura period in Japan.  Compare the Buddhist notion of “mappo” or the ending of a cosmic cycle with all of the disasters that befall the author.  The work, with its powerful opening lines, is still taught today in Japanese schools.  Take a moment to think about why they might resonate so strongly not only with the Japanese but also with people from all over the world.  Try to answer the exercises at the bottom of the page to test your knowledge. This reading should take you approximately 30 minutes to complete.
 
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4.3 Feudal Japan   - Reading: The Ohio State University: Professor Mark Bender’s Module 2: Histories of East Asia: “Japanese History” Link: The Ohio State University: Professor Mark Bender’s Module 2: Histories of East Asia: “Japanese History” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Click on the link above to access the Ohio State University website, and then click on the link entitled “Japanese History” on the left-hand side of the page.  Read the section entitled “Feudal Era in Japan” in order to examine the social, political, and cultural development of Japanese civilization.  With the establishment of the bakufu and the role of the shogun, Japan became dominated by a warrior society during the medieval period.  Please note that this resource covers the topics outlined in Subunits 4.3.1 and 4.3.2.  This reading and note-taking should take you approximately 45 minutes to complete.
 
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  • Reading: The University of Colorado’s The Center for Asian Studies: The Program for Teaching East Asia: Ethan Segal’s “Medieval Japan: An Introductory Lesson” Link: The University of Colorado’s The Center for Asian Studies: The Program for Teaching East Asia: Ethan Segal’s “Medieval Japan: An Introductory Lesson” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Read the entire webpage up to (but not including) the section entitled, “Europeans in Japan.”  This reading and note-taking should take you approximately 1 hour to complete.
     
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4.3.1 Cultural Impact of the Samurai   - Reading: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ The Tale of the Heike Link: Columbia University: Asia for Educators’ The Tale of the Heike (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read these excerpts from The Tale of the Heike, and review the discussion questions at the bottom of the page.  One of the most popular war epics in Japanese history, The Tale of the Heike, is a re-telling of the actual conflict between the Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) clans in the Genpei War of the 12th century.  Though a work of fiction based in part on real people and events, the story vividly describes the samurai warrior culture of Japan during the period.  As you read these passages, think about the ways in which the characters viewed death and honor.  How might they differ from contemporary stigmas associated with suicide?  Reading this text, taking notes, and answering the discussion questions in this set of instructions and on the webpage should take you approximately 1 hour to complete.
           
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4.3.2 Ashikaga/Muromachi Period and the Origins of Japan’s Unification   - Reading: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “Muromachi Period (1392-1573)” Link: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Department of Asian Art’s “Muromachi Period (1392-1573)” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read this entire webpage to explore the politically unstable Muromachi or Ashikaga Period that led to the Onin war and the eventual unification of Japan.  View the slideshow in order to examine some of the material culture of the period including sculpture, weaponry, clothing, scrollwork, and painting.  Click on each individual item in the slideshow for more detail about the object.  Reading this main text and viewing the slideshow should take approximately 1 hour to complete.
 
Note that this topic is also covered by the reading by Mark Bendler assigned beneath subunit 4.3.  Focus specifically on the sub-section entitled “Feudal Era in Japan – Ashikaga Period.”  It is also discussed in the essay from Ethan Segal, specifically the sections beginning with “Kamakura’s Demise and the Muromachi Bakufu.”
 
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