A Political History of Modern Japan: 1868-1945


This course offers an introduction to the major political trends, events, institutions and actors that shaped Japan’s course in the world in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Pre-course activity:
Consider what ‘Japan’ and ‘emperor’ mean, and come prepared to discuss your associations with these terms at the first session.

Suggested reading:

  • James L McClain’s Japan: A modern history (Norton: 2002)
  • Hugh Borton’s Japan’s Modern Century: From Perry to 1970 (Ronald Press: 1970)

Target audience:
This course is for anyone interested in understanding Japan’s current position in the world and the nature of its political institutions.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • gained a deeper appreciation of the course of modern Japanese political history.

Course outline:
Each session includes a lecture presentation with opportunities for questions and discussion.

Session 1: The Meiji Restoration
Session 2: Modernising on one’s own terms: Studying the West, monitoring western imperialism in Asia
Session 3: Centralisation and standardisation: Creating ‘Japan’ and inventing the modern emperor system
Session 4: Becoming number one in Asia: Avoiding colonisation
Session 5: Engaging with the world
Session 6: Japan at war: The problem of China and the Asia–Pacific front

A short break is held halfway through each session, and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Vanessa Ward has taught for almost 10 years in the Department of History and Art History at the University of Otago. Her areas of expertise include modern Japanese and East Asian history. She has particular research interests in publishing and intellectual culture, and women intellectuals and activists in 20th-century Japan.

Relevant links:
School of History, Philosophy, Political Studies and International Relations

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email: conted@vuw.ac.nz

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.