Students may explore both Japanese language and Japanese literature at Sarah Lawrence College. In beginning and intermediate-level language courses, students master the basic skills in speaking, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and writing. By the end of the first year, students should be able to use their skills to express themselves in a variety of situations and have reading comprehension of the hiragana, katakana, and approximately 150 kanji (Chinese characters). In the second year, students continue to broaden their knowledge of Japanese grammar, vocabulary, and kanji. Learning Japanese also involves developing an awareness of expressions without direct English equivalents, such as honorific and modest verbal forms. Through intensive practice both in class and with language assistants in smaller groups, students are given the opportunity to actively practice their skills and reinforce their understanding in ways that relate to their own experiences.
Courses offered in Japanese literature include Modern Japanese Literature, Postwar Japanese Literature, and Representations of Ethnicity in Japanese Literature and Film. In these courses, students are introduced to a variety of Japanese literary texts in English translation. From Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s plays of love suicides, to the mysterious worlds created by Izumi Kyoka to Ooka Shohei's depiction of a soldier’s struggle to survive in the Philippines at the end of the Pacific War and the existential fiction of Abe Kobo in the postwar period, students explore different authors’ writings in terms of style, as well as in relation to social and historical contexts. In addition to literature, courses include screenings of films (including dramas, anime, and documentaries) that are directly relevant to the literary texts and their themes. Such themes include the representation of social obligation (duty) versus emotional desire, the alienation of the modern self, Westernization, the experience of war and memory, and the search for meaningful existence in the postwar era.