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 2023-2024 Courses

Japanese I

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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. 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

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

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.


Concepts of the Mind: How Language and Culture Challenge Cognitive Science

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

How does the human mind represent the world? And how do these representations vary across people? Could knowing a different language change how we experience time or even how we see color? Even seemingly simple concepts like “in” vs. “on” mean different things in different cultures, and words like “one” and “two” may not be linguistically universal. Indeed, the very course description that you are reading makes culturally-specific assumptions about psychology and implicitly assumes objectivity. At the same time, humans seem to share certain core experiences, such as perceiving events, creating categories, and recalling the past. Which aspects are shared, and which are unique? In this course, we will draw on research from psycholinguistics, cognitive development, and cultural psychology to learn cognitive science in a larger context. Critically, we will consider how each of those fields have been severely constrained by an emphasis on white, Western, industrialized experiences. We will investigate the broader social and ethical consequences of these assumptions and explore insights and challenges that emerge when we step out of this limited perspective. We’ll draw on primary and secondary sources, including research articles, literature, videos, raw experimental data, and audio recordings. Students will develop projects in conference work that combine their interests with the course content, such as designing an experiment to test cross-linguistic differences in visual attention, analyzing vocabulary from languages other than English, or replicating and reinterpreting an existing experiment using culturally-responsive practices.


Chan and Zen Buddhism

Open, Seminar—Year

This course is an in-depth, historical examination of the philosophy, mythology, literature, institutional arrangements, religious practices, art, and architecture associated with this most famous and widely misunderstood branch of East Asian Buddhism. The Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism arose in China as the result of a cross-cultural exchange of epic proportions: the gradual intrusion of an alien set of religious ideas, values, and practices—those belonging to Indian Buddhism—into China between the first and eighth centuries of the Common Era and the subsequent efforts of some 20 generations of Chinese Buddhists to defend, adapt, domesticate, and finally make the foreign religion entirely their own. Chan became the most “Chinese” school of Buddhism by defining itself in terms of indigenous concepts of clan genealogy; by exalting members of its spiritual lineage as native-born buddhas; and by allowing those buddhas to speak in the vernacular, using a mode of rhetoric that was heavily influenced by the Confucian and Daoist traditions. We will begin by outlining the Indian Buddhist doctrines and practices that were imported into China and summarizing the indigenous cultural milieu that was initially quite hostile to the alien religion. We will then explore the various compromises and adaptations of Indian Buddhist teachings, practices, and institutions that took shape within the Chan tradition and enabled it to emerge in the Song dynasty (960-1278) as the predominant school of Chinese Buddhism. The main theme of the second semester will be the transmission of the Chan school of Buddhism to Japan, where it became known as Zen, and the subsequent development of the tradition in that country from the 13th century to the present. Background knowledge of East Asian history, languages, or religions is desirable but not required.


Creative Nonfiction

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This is a course for creative writers who are interested in exploring nonfiction as an art form. We will focus on reading and interpreting outside work—essays, articles, and journalism by some of our best writers—in order to understand what good nonfiction is and how it is created. During the first part of the semester, writing will be comprised mostly of exercises and short pieces aimed at putting into practice what is being illuminated in the readings; in the second half of the semester, students will create longer, formal essays to be presented in workshop.


Yearlong Poetry Workshop: The Zuihitsu

Open, Seminar—Year

There is nothing like a zuihitsu, and its definition slips through our fingers. It is a classical Japanese genre that allows a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way. —Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Following Millenium

The name zuihitsu is derived from two Kanji: “at will” and “pen.” In this class, we’ll explore the Japanese poetic form of the zuihitsu via six required texts—The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon; Kenko’s Essays in Idleness; Chomei’s The Ten-Foot-Square Hut; two versions of Narrow Road to the Interior, one by Bashō and one by Kimiko Hahn; and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee—and, as writers, using the materials of haiku, lists, interviews, dialogues, travelogues, monologues, letters, maps, orts, scraps, fragments, and poems of all varieties. Participants will be required to make an individual zuihitsu and to contribute to the making of a collective one. The only prerequisites are a desire to be challenged, a thirst for reading that equals your thirst for writing, the courage to give up spectatorhood for active participation, a willingness to do in-class writing exercises, a willingness to work with a partner, and a willingness to undertake whatever labors might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.