Understanding Japan : The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Mark J. Ravina
  • Series: The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture
  • 12 hrs and 0 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Japan's extraordinary culture is like no other in the world, and it remains mysterious to many of us. And that's unfortunate, because to truly understand Japan's influence on the world stage, one needs to understand Japan's culture - on its own terms.
In an exciting partnership with the Smithsonian, The Great Courses presents these 24 lectures that offer an unforgettable tour of Japanese life and culture. Professor Ravina, with the expert collaboration of the Smithsonian's historians, brings you a grand portrait of Japan.
From the dawn of Confucianism and the Meiji Restoration to World War II and the economic miracle years of 1955 to 1975, you'll explore landmark periods of Japanese history and learn how broad events and movements introduced, innovated, and revised everything from spirituality to popular entertainment. Along the way you'll get revealing insights into Shinto (Japan's indigenous religion), the art of Katsushika Hokusai, literary works like The Tale of Genji and the haiku of Basho, the everyday lives of samurai, the universal appeal of filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, foods like yakitori and tempura, and so much more.
You'll come away from Professor Ravina's final lecture with a stronger sense of the very soul of this one-of-a-kind nation.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Fascinating Introduction, Well Worth It

This course covers Japanese culture and history for the past 1500 (ish) years. It is very different to the other Great Courses history courses in that it mixes historical lectures with those about Japanese culture. I hope they do many more in this format as it is gives a very good overview of the country, without getting bogged down in too many details.

The two themes of the course are globalisation and isolation, and how these have combined to create Japan's unique culture, cuisine and history. The history lectures will sometimes cover up to 200 years in one lecture, so if you want detailed accounts of major events you should go elsewhere. I found the history very approachable and interesting, and I will certainly be following up with other lecture courses to fill in the gaps.

As for the culture lectures these are interspersed throughout the history lectures so that when they occur you have the full historical context needed in order to understand the importance and relevance of the cultural movements. The topics covered include Shintoism, Buddhism, theatre, poetry and family life. All of these are introduced and discussed in historical context and with a discussion of how they impacted the culture.

My favourite of these culture lectures was certainly that on cinema, specifically on the work of Ozu and Kurosawa. This meshed very well with the themes of globalisation and isolation as these two film makers exemplify these contrasting aspects of Japanese culture.


I wholeheartedly recommend this course and hope they extend the format to other countries!
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- Chris

Japan cultural history

The author describe Japan history and culture. He is obviously passionate about Japan. So I am. So I love this course. One of my favortite chapter was about food. I regret that the world war 2 and imperial Japan was not discussed in more details. The angle (phases of globalisation vs. isolationism) is deep and profound.
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- Fabrice Saenger

Book Details

  • Release Date: 24-07-2015
  • Publisher: The Great Courses