Related disciplines

The Japanese program offers courses in the Japanese language and Japanese literature (in English translation). In Japanese language courses, students build communicative skills in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing. Students also meet weekly, one-on-one, with a language assistant who supports each step in developing Japanese language proficiency. In Japanese literature courses, students explore the richness and diversity of Japanese literature from its earliest written records to contemporary fiction.

Sarah Lawrence College offers two official options to study in Japan: Tsuda (Women’s) University in Tokyo and Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka. Sarah Lawrence College students also have the opportunity to spend a year or semester in Japan on programs offered by other approved colleges and universities. For more information: http://www.sarahlawrence.edu/japan

Japanese 2024-2025 Courses

Japanese I

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

JAPN 3001

This introduction to Japanese language and culture is designed for students who have had little or no experience learning Japanese. The goal of the course is to develop four basic skills: listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing (hiragana, katakana, and some basic kanji) in modern Japanese, with an emphasis on grammatical accuracy and socially appropriate language use. Students will put these skills into practice through in-class conversation, role play and group work, and biweekly homework assignments. In addition to classes with the faculty instructor, there are weekly, one-on-one tutorials with one of the Japanese language assistants.


Japanese II

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

JAPN 3510

Prerequisite: Japanese I or its equivalent and permission of the instructor

Students will continue to develop basic skills in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing while expanding their vocabulary and knowledge of grammar. At the end of the course, students should be able to effectively handle simple communicative tasks and situations, understand simple daily conversations, write short essays, read simple essays, and discuss their content. In addition to classes with the faculty instructors, there are weekly, one-on-one tutorials with one of the Japanese language assistants.


Japanese III

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

JAPN 3700

Prerequisite: Japanese II or equivalent and permission of the instructor

The aim of this seminar is to advance students’ Japanese language proficiency in speaking and listening, reading (simple essays to authentic texts), and writing in various styles (emails, essays, and/or creative writing). In addition to classes with the faculty instructor, there are weekly, one-on-one tutorials with one of the Japanese language assistants.


Border-Crossing Japanese Media

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is the relationship between the language(s) we speak, the nation in which we live, and our understanding of ourselves? If language and place help shape our identity, what can we learn from those caught between borders and living in multiple tongues? This course examines transnational literary texts and films both to learn about the lived experiences and aesthetic experimentation of a variety of Japanese-language authors and directors and to explore how language, literature, and visual media are related more broadly to conceptions of “national belonging.” The works covered in this course highlight the destabilization of identity that accompanies both the act of border crossing and the geopolitical upheavals that cause those borders to shift and be redrawn, from the forced assimilation of colonial subjects during Japan’s imperial period, to the US military’s postwar occupation of Japan, to contemporary narratives of globalization, postmodern identity, and the internal borders that today demarcate Japan’s regional cultures and dialects. Through close readings of these texts and films, we will explore the ways that authors in Japan—who have historically been marginalized based on race and ethnicity, class, linguistic ability, and/or gender—have sought to challenge the Japanese national literary cannon and the very notion of “the nation” itself. Students are expected to develop a related research project over the course of the term through conference work that delves deeply into the production, circulation, and reception of some aspect of modern Japanese media.


The City in Modern Japanese Literature

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course examines the literary representation of urban space throughout modern and contemporary Japanese literature, considering how the figure of the city serves as a literary technique through which authors navigate issues of modernity, personal identity, the nation, and the world. Through close readings of texts written by Japanese, Korean, and Asian American authors that traverse Tokyo, Osaka, Berlin, colonized Seoul, semicolonial Shanghai, and visions of the cosmopolis of the future, we will explore the city in literature as a space that complicates and even transcends the borders of the nation in its navigation of collective histories and personal memories—with a particular focus on how representations of race, ethnicity, gender, and class intersect within the literary city. The course introduces basic concepts from urban semiotics and other philosophies of the production of space as a method for analyzing the uses of space in literature, as well as introducing recent scholarship in Japanese studies that presents new perspectives on the relationship of urban architecture, global and local geopolitics, and cultural production. We will explore a number of topics in modern, postwar, and contemporary Japanese history through the framework of “the city,” including early Japanese encounters with “the West” in the Meiji period, cosmopolitanism in the Japanese Empire, black markets in the aftermath of World War II, segregated spaces and the experiences of minority groups in the postwar period, and the social and material transformations of urban spaces in Japan after natural disasters such as the 3/11 Triple Disaster in 2011. We will also consider Japanese American engagement with the space of New York City. Through conference work, students will conduct individual research projects in service of extended creative and scholarly reflection on their own relationship to the urban space(s) they occupy and see represented in contemporary media.


Religion in Contemporary Japan

Open, Seminar—Fall

As an examination of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japanese society today, the course covers all of the major religious traditions and movements in contemporary Japan: Shinto, the various schools of Buddhism, Shugendo, Christianity, and the so-called New Religions that have flourished in the postwar period. Issues of historical development are touched on but only as an aid to understanding the current religious scene. The approach is thematic, with a focus on elements of Japanese religiosity that recur in different traditions, such as ancestor worship, beliefs in fate and karma, festivals, pilgrimages, the sanctification of natural phenomena, taboos against impurities, exorcisms, and rites of purification. Extensive use will be made in class of a variety of audiovisual materials, including animated films, documentaries, and amateur videos of ritual performances. The aim of the course is to provide insights into the intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual wellsprings of contemporary Japanese culture at large, not simply to familiarize students with the basics of Japanese religion narrowly conceived. Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.