Villains and Heroes in Japanese Literature


Critically examines important works related to Japan's literature and culture, from various genres and all periods including the present. Readings in English translation. Emphasis on production and reception of literary texts within such contexts as history, gender, ethnicity, religion, the environment and the deployment of power.


In JAPANESE 340 "Villains and Heroes in Japanese Literature", we explore Japanese works in English translation from a range of genres and time periods, from the earliest myths to contemporary fiction.

Lectures and tutorials are devoted to understanding the contexts within which a particular work first appeared and the ways in which readers have interpreted that work over time. We take into consideration the religious and intellectual backgrounds - including Shinto, Buddhist and Confucian thought systems as they develop in Japan over time - that underlie a particular work and consider how these works can be both similar to and different from those we are aware of in other cultures.

One aspect of this course relates to the notions of “heroes” (protagonists) and “villains” (antagonists) in these works and how these notions can change depending on such factors as genre, time period, class status, age and gender.

In this course you will have many opportunities to engage in discussion regarding a work or part of a work, both in small groups with your classmates and in lectures. By interacting with your classmates and the lecturer you will be able to develop the ability to express your ideas clearly, listen critically to alternative arguments and work to arrive at a consensus within your group. Written essay assignments are designed to develop these skills on paper, using primary and secondary sources creatively and critically.

Lectures bring together the students of both JAPANESE 240 and 340 in a single place to consider the readings. Tutorials will then enable those of you in JAPANESE 340 to explore and discuss additional readings, as well as to delve more deeply into the readings common to both courses.

Specific goals

By the end of the course, you should have gained knowledge:

  • In facts related to major authors, works and movements that have shaped the course of Japanese literary history
  • In the themes and concerns raised by these texts within their sociocultural contexts
  • In the nature of your own ethnic literary and cultural background through self-reflection, peer discussion and comparison with other works you have read

Furthermore, by the end of the course, you should have developed skills:

  • In reading thoughtfully and critically, using all five physical senses as well as your intuition as you read
  • In identifying not only what is present (explicit) in a text, but what is missing or between the lines (implicit)
  • In making connections as you read with works read in other courses or on your own
  • In engaging in meaningful classroom discussion, developing the ability to listen to others and grasp both the positive aspects as well as the shortcomings of their arguments
  • In writing effectively, whereby you not only describe the objects of your essay, but also convince others through logical argument, internal evidence from your texts and supporting evidence from scholarly essays and other literary works


Coursework only

For full course information see the Digital Course Outline for JAPANESE 340.

Digital Course Outlines are refreshed in November for the following year. Digital Course Outlines for courses to be offered for the first time may be published slightly later.

Availability 2024

Not taught in 2024




Coursework only


JAPANESE 340: 15 points


JAPANESE 150 and 45 points at Stage II in Japanese including one of JAPANESE 241, 242, 270, HISTORY 242