Japanese

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 other programs offered by other approved colleges and universities. For more information: http://www.sarahlawrence.edu/japan

2020-2021 Courses

Japanese

Beginning Japanese

Open , Seminar—Year

Beginning Japanese is an introduction to Japanese language and culture, designed for students who have had little to 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.

Faculty

Advanced Beginning Japanese

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is for students who have completed Beginning Japanese or its equivalent. 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 handle simple communicative tasks and situations effectively, 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.

Faculty

Butoh

Component—Spring

This class is open to dance, theatre, and any other students who are curious and interested in discovering alternative approaches to body and movement practices.

In this class, students will engage in a series of somatic, improvisational movement and vocalization practices that reflect principles of butoh, Zen, and Noguchi Taiso (or water body movements). Through engaging in those practices, we will explore a way to liberate our body from a sense of self and from existing concepts of a body in order to realize unprecedented transformation and evolution of the body. Students will be descending a ladder into a well that is hidden deep inside the body and will keep digging the well until the water splashes out.

Faculty

TBA

Japanese Literature: Translations, Adaptations, and Visual Storytelling

Open , Small Lecture—Spring

No previous background in Japanese studies, literature, art history, or film history is required for this course.

This lecture course is an introduction to Japanese literature from the 10th century to contemporary fiction, and we will explore the connections between literary texts, translations, and visual adaptations—paintings, hand scrolls, performing arts, film, and manga. We will read selected works of Japanese literature in English translation(s), including early Japanese tales such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The Tale of Genji, Life of an Amorous Woman, and modern novels and short stories by writers such as Shimazaki Toson, Hayashi Fumiko, Ota Yoko, Nakagami Kenji, and Murakami Haruki. With each text, we will examine other texts that are in conversation with these literary works and explore the content and forms of those conversations. In addition to lecture, there will be weekly group conferences and regularly scheduled film screenings throughout the semester.

Faculty

The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open , Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies or literature is required for this course.

In this seminar, we will read a variety of works by Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984), one of Japan’s most talented storytellers in the last century. Ariyoshi’s novels vividly portray the lives of women in different historical moments, such as the dancer Okuni, the originator of kabuki theater, in Kabuki Dancer; the wife and mother of Hanako Seishu, the first surgeon to perform surgery using general anesthesia, in The Doctor’s Wife; and a mother, daughter, and granddaughter whose lives reflect changes in modern Japan in The River Ki. Many of Ariyoshi’s works also expose social issues, such as The Twilight Years, her immensely popular novel on the challenges of caring for aging parents, and Compound Pollution, her environmental novel that brought greater public attention to the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Early in her writing career, Ariyoshi received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and we will also consider how her experiences at Sarah Lawrence may have influenced the directions she took in her subsequent writing. Ariyoshi’s literature will provide us with a lens to consider various topics, such as Japanese performing arts, history, gender, social issues, and translation. In addition to these readings, we will view some film adaptations of Ariyoshi’s literary works.

Faculty

Religion in Contemporary Japan

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course is an examination of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japanese society today, covering 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 audio-visual 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.

Faculty

Chan and Zen Buddhism

Open , Seminar—Fall

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 school 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 into China of an alien set of religious ideas, values, and practices—those belonging to Indian Buddhism—between the first and the 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. The course begins by outlining Indian Buddhist doctrines and practices that were imported into China and by 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. Background knowledge of East Asian history, languages, or religions is desirable but not required.

Faculty

Zen Buddhism in Japan and America

Open , Seminar—Spring

The American fascination with Zen Buddhism began during the postwar occupation of Japan and took off during the 1950s, when Jack Kerouac and other members the “beat generation” styled themselves as freewheeling Zen “dharma bums.” In the 1960s, the Zen writings of D. T. Suzuki became popular and introduced the possibility of satori, or spiritual “enlightenment,” which seemed to fit right in with the “turn on, tune in, drop out” philosophy of the hippie movement and its use of psychedelic drugs. From the 1970s, Zen centers sprang up across the United States and Europe, giving people who were serious about gaining satori a taste of the rigors of Japanese-style Zen monastic training with its long hours of zazen (sitting meditation) and emphasis on ascetic endurance. Karate and other martial arts dojo opened in neighborhoods everywhere, and anyone who trains in one is likely to hear something about the deep historical connection between Zen and Bushido (the “way of the warrior”) in Japan. Meanwhile, Zen has also became known in the West for its refined aesthetic sense, as represented in the "Zen arts" of the tea ceremony, flower arranging, ink painting, landscape gardening, and Noh theatre. The project of this course is to pull back the curtain of these Western images of Zen and to look behind them to see what Zen Buddhism in Japan has really been like from the time of its initial importation from China in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) down to the present. It may be surprising to learn, for example, that Zen was instrumental in introducing Confucian-style ancestor worship to Japan and that, even today, the main occupation of Zen monks is the performance of funerals and memorial services for ancestral spirits. Zen monasteries were, indeed, built and patronized by samurai rulers right down to the advent of the Meiji period in 1868, when Japan began a headlong rush to adopt many elements of Western technology and culture; but what attracted samurai to the religion was largely the elite Chinese culture that samurai conveyed, not any warrior spirit of fearlessness in the face of death. Ironically, much of what Americans think of as "Zen" was invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Zen Buddhist priesthood in Japan struggled to make itself relevant in the modern scientific age of colonialism and militarism. The notions that Zen dispenses with religious superstition and empty ritual, for example, and that it is a kind of spirituality that can be practiced in the midst of everyday life no matter what a person's occupation, were formulated in Japan by Zen monks and lay practitioners who had been deeply influenced by Western cultural norms such as rationality and individualistic self-help. Similarly, the idea that Zen training could toughen up soldiers to fight for the empire dated from a time when the samurai class had been dissolved and the country was busy conscripting into the military all the sons of farmers and merchants. In the postwar period, the theme of “Zen and Bushido” was conveniently muted, while “Zen and the arts” was promoted both within Japan and abroad. This course explores these and other aspects of the history and current status of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Some background knowledge of the Buddhist tradition is desirable but not mandatory.

Faculty