Syllabus: Spring ’20



HST267 Intro to Japan

Instructor: Dr. D’Haeseleer

  • Contact me!
    • e-mail: (I respond to e-mails which warrant a response, within 24hrs and usually after 12pm. If you need something from me more urgently, drop by at my office or phone)
    • Office phone: 484-664-3324
    • Office: Ettinger 300A (Open door policy: if the door is open: knock and come in! If the door is closed, I’m not in, or I cannot be disturbed. Please respect the closed door.)

Class meeting time:

Tue-Thu 12.30pm–1.45pm, Ettinger 204

Drop-in tutorial times

(What actually are drop-in tutorials?)

  • Tue: 2PM-3PM
  • Wed: 1PM-2PM
  • Thu: 11AM-12PM
  • Or by appointment. Check my Google Calendar to see my availability and make an appointment. (“Add someone else’s calendar” (using an email address))
  • For quick questions or to make an appointment for a longer consultation, I have an open door policy: drop in when the door is open!
  • Changes and cancellations to to the regular scheduled drop-in tutorial times will be announced on the course website and via e-mail.


The syllabus is long. There are certain things I need to include by college policy. Take your time reading through it, and annotate with in the group HST267 with your questions, or suggestions for improvement.

Table of Contents

About the course

Course Contents

This course surveys the traditional culture and history of Japan down to the beginning of modernization. Major topics are the court culture, the samurai, and the culture of the townspeople. Appropriate for students with no prior college level history.
Meets the History Department’s pre-Modern Requirement.
Meets the general academic requirement DE and HU.

Course goals

My promise to you: at the end of this course you will:

  • be familiar with the major events in the history of Japan up the middle of the nineteenth century,
  • have a good understanding of the main ideas, theories and concepts developed and used by modern historians to study traditional Japan,
  • have acquired experience in using primary source materials, such as documents in translation and images: how to interpret them, which questions to ask and where to find answers, and how to place them in the historical context,
  • have developed basic analytical skills as a historian and will be able to engage in informed and critical discussions about traditional Japanese history,
  • have improved your oral and written communication skills by taking part in discussions in small and large group settings, and through various writing assignments.

Course unit instruction:

This class is schedule to meet for 3 hours (=2 sessions) per week. Additional instructional activities for the course include attendance at specified College lectures and events, film screenings (dates and times TBA), and required conferences with the instructor distributed across the semester. These activities will add an additional 14 hours of instruction.

All about Grades:

Course requirements

Due Dates

  • Weekly reflection: due on Tuesday, before class –> pandemic adjustment: Monday before midnight
      • Adjustment: A total of 11 reflections, including the following:
          • Week 1 or 2
          • Additional reflection on your learning after week 4
          • Week 8-9 reflection on the upheaval with transitioning to remote (details on this page under Monday)
          • Note: no reflection for week 15
  • Primary source essay 1: First version Febr. 21
      • rewrite: due March 8
  • Primary source essay 2: April 24
      • rewrite: due May 4
  • Encyclopaedia article: one week after the class you signed up for
      • rewrite due anytime by May 4
  • Response paper/self-designed essay: anytime before May 4
      • Encouraged first submission: before April 24, so you can get feedback from me and your peers.

Note: All your written work is open for revision and rewriting, based on feedback, new insights, comments and general growth, until May 4 (11.59PM). There is no extra credit in this course, but you can rewrite and revise until you get an A if you choose to do so. (If you put in the extra time and effort, it will show in the final product!)

Late work and extensions

Due dates are important for you, and for me: I space them so that you have enough time to complete the assignments and work with the feedback on earlier assignments. Due dates also help me to stay (more or less) on top of the feedback throughout the semester, so my responses can be prompt. Missing due dates means you are crowding your submissions closer together, and I may not be able to turn around work as soon as you would like, or in a timely manner for you to apply to the next assignment.

I understand that life and personal issues can get in the way, and I am open to extending due dates, but I need you to communicate with me, so I know what to expect, and (more importantly) when. If you notice that you will be unable to finish a particular assignment by the due date, you can request an extension in advance. See me in class, drop by at my office, or e-mail, and give me a new deadline which fits your schedule better. I will confirm this new deadline in writing within 24 hours.

If you fall ill suddenly, or are otherwise unable to submit your work by the due date due to circumstances beyond your control you may not be able to ask for an extension in advance. In that case, let me know as soon as reasonable. If this is part of something bigger in your life, get in touch with the Dean of Academic Life or the Dean of Student Affairs, or the Health Center. They can help you to coordinate care to see you through a rough patch.

If you habitually and routinely miss due dates or class, I will ask you in for a cup of tea and a chat, so we can address what the underlying problem is and how I/the College can help you. This does not mean you fail. It only means that I really care about your performance as a student and your wellbeing as a human. To help you find the right balance, we need to communicate (and a cup of tea usually helps to get the conversation started.)

Incomplete grade

Incomplete grades: Please check the College policy. Note that YOU must request an incomplete grade for the course, I cannot initiate this process.

Grading guidelines

A= strong
B= good
C= weak
D= very weak
F= unsatisfactory

Useful Information

Required Text

Varley, H. Paul. Japanese Culture. Fourth Edition, Updated and Expanded ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2000.

This text is available as an e-book through Trexler Library, or in hard copy via the ’Berg Bookshop. Make sure it is the Fourth Edition, so we can all be on the same page (literally).

Many additional materials will be made available via the course website, via Canvas and via Trexler Library course reserves.

Language of instruction

The entire course is conducted in English, all materials are provided in English and all work will be submitted in English.

You may consult materials in other languages, and use those in your work, with proper referencing to these sources. We can work together on how to put in references in an English language paper to primary and secondary sources in East Asian languages, for instance.

Attendance and participation

The success of this course depends on your presence and thoughtful participation in this “Learning Commons”. You cannot participate if you are not present, therefore I expect you to be present in class. Being absent excessively or habitually not being prepared for class will have an impact on all components of your final grade: directly on the Thoughtful Participation in the “Learning Commons”, and indirectly on your reflections and essays/papers.

Flexible attendance and missed class policy

For students with the “Flexible attendance” accommodation, or if you must miss class due to circumstances beyond your control: send in as soon as reasonable (ideally before the next session you attend) appr. 300 words on the materials we covered that day in class. This is not a summary, but a short piece of writing that reflects your insights and ideas, and how you see the materials fit in with what we covered so far in the course. You will get feedback. This only replaces your class attendance and participation, not any other writing assignments or weekly reflection.

If something in your life prevents you from being physically present in class on a regular basis, we will discuss accommodations to try and approximate your presence and participation with other means.

Electronic devices policy

  • Electronic devices such as laptops and tablets may be used in class, for instance to consult materials related to class contents, or to take notes. As a responsible member of the class community you should be respectful of your fellow students, and not distract them by surfing to off-topic sites. (Youtube is very off-topic!)
  • Cell phones can be very distracting to the others in the room, including your instructors, if you are constantly staring at your lap. Therefore, use cell phones only if you have no access to another e-device (e.g. for a dictionary not installed on your laptop), and laid flat on the table.
      • Switch to “do not disturb” to avoid distractions from incoming messages and calls during class time, if you must use your phone at all.
      • If you expect an important call, for instance due to a family emergency, please let me know at the start of class that you need to have your phone ready for incoming calls. You may leave the room to take such an important call.
      • Bear in mind that cell phone users in a learning environment are more prone to becoming distracted than laptop or tablet users; if possible, leave your cellphone in your bag/in your room during our class.
    • Each student has the authority to request that a fellow student moderates their use of an electronic device if it impedes the learning of other students. If you feel uncomfortable doing so yourself, I’m happy to do it on your behalf (without disclosing the identity of the complainant).
    • Occasionally, I may ask you to put away all devices so we can focus on a particular issue without any distractions.
    • This policy is open for further debate. Changes will be made after a class discussion and with unanimous consent from all students.

Top tip: Many studies indicate that taking notes by hand, rather than on an electronic device, increases your retention of the course material and result in a higher grade. Look here, for instance. Recently other researchers have suggested this issue is more complicated when we look at longer term effects: it depends on what you do with the notes after you make them. Yet I encourage you to try to take notes by hand, because the temptation to “quickly” check email or surf away to non-related topics is irresistible for most, and “a minute” turns into fifteen before you know it. Please be present in body and mind in class. (I can tell you more about fountain pens and good quality paper, which make note-taking fun)

What if class is canceled?

In the event I cannot make it to class, class will be canceled, and may be rescheduled at a mutually convenient date and time. I will send a message via email and will also post an announcement on the course website. If you commute to campus, please check your e-mail before setting off on a long journey that may be wasted, or set up an alert system with your classmates to pass the message via your preferred medium (text, WhatsApp, Messenger…).

Accommodations for disabilities and special needs

To ensure that you get the most out of this course, I welcome accommodations if you have a disability or special needs. The College strongly encourages you to make arrangements with the Office of Disability Services, which then legally entitles you to certain accommodations and levels of support. The process to get fully tested and an accommodation plan set up is lengthy, so please get in touch with the office as soon as you arrive on campus, or even earlier. You do not have to disclose your disability or special needs to your instructors (including me). You can help me be a better and more inclusive/less excluding teacher by telling me specifically what I can change to support your learning. Past examples of changes I made include adding presenter notes to images on Powerpoints, creating handouts for lecture structures, flexibility with deadlines (with mutual agreement in advance of the deadline) and specific seating arrangements. I hope to learn from you how to create a truly inclusive classroom.

(The college’s official language:) Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services.

Financial hardship and basic needs

If you are experiencing financial hardship, have difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day or do not have a safe and stable place to live, and believe this may affect your performance in this course, I would urge you to contact our CARE Team through the Dean of Students Office for support. Their website is You may also discuss your concerns with me if you are comfortable doing so.

Academic Integrity Code (AIC) and Academic (dis)Honesty

I consider it my duty to uphold academic integrity and to teach my students how to do this. I will not hesitate to forward a case to the Dean’s office if I suspect dishonesty. In this course, this will mainly concern references (“citations”) to sources. I will always give you feedback on your work and a chance to correct any issues before doing so. If, however, you do not make the required changes, or in later assignments still do not heed the warnings, I interpret your behaviour as disrespecting the Academic Integrity Code, and will report the case to the Dean of Academic Affairs. The penalty varies on the seriousness of the offence, but you will at the least receive a 0 for that particular grade component.

Muhlenberg College takes academic integrity very seriously, so please read in detail and with great attention through the College’s policy. May I in particular draw your attention to this sentence: “The College puts the burden of responsibility on students for knowing what plagiarism is, and then making the effort necessary to avoid it.”1

The citation/reference format we use in this course is Chicago “notes and bibliography”.

Course schedule

What to prepare for each class? Check the Course Schedule tab on the website. (More details to follow soon)

If you struggle to keep up, come and chat with me during drop-in tutorials, so I can help you to identify effective and winning strategies. Top tip: if you are spending less than 1 hour to prepare (reading, taking notes etc.) for each class, you should begin by increasing the time you allocate to class prep.

Detailed information about the assignments and grade components

Thoughtful participation in the Learning Commons

A “Learning Commons” is a virtual and physical space that aims to optimize learning, exploration, discovery, and fosters curiosity through collaborative effort. Only if all of us do our bit, will the learning happen.

To create such a space, your thoughtful participation is required, inside the classroom, in online spaces connected to this course, and in your head. Thoughtful participation requires more than just being in the room. Here is how you can bring your best self to each class to make the learning commons come to life:

Before class: Prepare for class by doing the assigned readings and taking notes. Make a summary or list of what you think are the most important points of the chapter(s) or text(s) for that day. Mark passages that you don’t (quite) understand, and be ready to explain precisely what the question is. Likely you are not alone! Prepare any micro-assignments that are requested to be completed.

In class: Take part in the discussions! When I ask you, “what did you think about the reading?”, this is not a question you can simply answer by “I like it” or “I did not like it”. If you have read the materials, you will be able to say something meaningful about the text, about how you see it fit in with the other materials. At the very least, your reading notes will give you a couple of ideas: what is interesting? What is revealing? What is strange?

I treat this course as a seminar course, not a lecture series, and this only works if you verbally participate in class discussions. Having two (or more) points prepared in advance, based on the readings, will make it very easy to direct or jump into the discussion. You should strive to make an active contribution AT LEAST once per two sessions (i.e once per week). I will provide opportunities to shift discussion into new topics, when you can jump in with for instance “This is something completely different, but I noticed [insert point here]”.

“Filling airtime” with contributions that wander aimlessly off-topic is not thoughtful. You may of course draw on your personal perspective and experiences, but it needs to remain connected to the topic of that session. If you are an extremely active contributor, I may ask you to hold back and give your fellow students a chance to join in. Please understand not everybody is as quick with their thinking, or as comfortable speaking in a larger group.

If you feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a large group, please read the document This course is hard, for a few tips and quick-win strategies that work for most courses. And take part in the small group activities in class: I want to hear you formulate ideas, questions, and see you interact with your fellow students during those moments.

Other ways to participate:

  1. Sharing materials: e.g. link to a news report on a recent archaeological discovery, a great video you found that helps you to understand the course material better, a useful website or podcast.
    • You can e-mail me a link, or alert me to a blog post you created. Include a brief comment on why you think that material is interesting for our course and/or how we can discuss this in class.
  2. Use or add comments on your fellow students work on their websites even when you’re not listed to do a peer review. Treat these as an extension of the classroom space for further discussion. Make thoughtful contributions: be specific, concrete and kind; you can also provide links to examples or request further information.
  3. Be professional: this includes arriving in timely fashion for class, being prepared for class, and having your materials with you, treating micro-assignments with appropriate earnest (e.g. a closing exercise, peer reviews). Being professional also includes helping to create an environment conducive to learning, and a respectful atmosphere in class, for instance not being disruptive to the group by eating a full three-course meal at your desk or getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of a fellow student’s presentation (medical emergencies excepted). I expect you to respond promptly (=within 24hrs, Mon-Fr.) to e-mails or other messages that warrant a response, and keep me and where necessary your classmates up to date if you encounter problems in keeping up with your obligations for the course.

Objectives: developing analytical reading skills; developing your ability to formulate research questions; becoming a better team mate; improving oral and written communication skills; improving time management skills; becoming a better student and a better human.

Weekly reflections

  • Due by the start of class on Tuesday.
  • Post on your Bergbuilds website in the category HST267
  • Use “Week X” in the title (this makes it easier for me to keep track!)
  • Add the references to material(s) you refer to at the bottom of your post in Chicago notes+bibliography style
  • Eleven reflections overall across the semester
        • Adjustment: A total of 11 reflections, including at least the following:
            • Week 1 or 2
            • Additional reflection on your learning after week 4
            • Week 8-9 reflection on the upheaval with transitioning to remote (details on this page under Monday)
            • Note: no reflection for week 15

These reflections are an invitation to think back about what you learned in class in the past week, in discussions, and in your readings. This is not a summary of a text or class discussion, but contains your own ideas and insights, or reflection on course materials and discussions. I strongly encourage you to limit your focus to one topic of one class, or even one text, as the main focus: aim for depth, not breadth of coverage. You can start with “I notice…” to describe features that stand out to you; then “I think…” to begin the analysis (e.g. include what in the text/image makes you think this?), and then move to “I wonder…” to raise broader questions or point to other insights.

A few weeks into the course, a strong reflection will make connections with materials we covered earlier, from other courses, or some additional reading or research you’ve done: you can point out differences, similarities, parallels, contrasts, contradictions.

Objectives: analytical reading and thinking, making connections

Primary source analysis: two short essays

  • 800 words (± 10%;  excl. footnotes and bibliography)
  • Due Febr. 21 (rewrite March 8) and April 24 (rewrite May 4)
  • Email a link to the file to me/share the doc with me.
  • Google Doc works best for the next step, peer review. If you have strong objections to using Google Docs, let me know.

History is created through the study of primary sources, and in these essays you get a chance to demonstrate your skills in interpreting sources and using them to construct a historical argument.

You select two or more primary sources and put them in dialogue, and show how a historian can use these to deepen our understanding of Japanese history. You can trace a genre or topic in time, or you can put two sources from the same time period in dialogue. Keep your eyes and ears open throughout the semester for interesting combinations of documents to use in this essay: read others’ reflections or go back in your own personal archive, listen out in class discussions, read through your class notes.

The main task is to place the document in its historical context, to follow up on ideas raised but not explored in full in the discussion, to think about how the material connects to the rest of the course or other courses, and to raise some questions for further debate or research. This is a very good exercise to come to grips with thinking and writing as a historian.

Encyclopaedia article

  • One entry posted on your website as a blog post, on material connected with a specific class session.
  • Email me the link to your post, so I can add it to our class website.
  • Sign up on the Canvas page for a specific date. You get a week to write the first version, then you can refine based on feedback.

There is no perfect textbook on the history of premodern Japan for undergraduates, and the one we use for this course is no exception. This is your chance to create a brief annotation (2–3 paragraphs) to explain more clearly a specific issue or item in Japanese history where you feel we could do with a bit more information. Your target reader is your fellow student, or a future student of this course.

You will find reputable sources (i.e. not a quick internet search result but for instance through Trexler Library, Credo Reference) and use the information to write a brief introduction to a topic that raised your curiosity during class or in the reading for the session you selected. The entry should be self-contained: it will be clear without further reference to the class itself (e.g. don’t write “as we discussed in class”, because in a later year we may not have discussed this!) Be careful not to plagiarize by simply copying or summarizing an existing encyclopaedia entry. Consult more than one source and point out where you find different opinions or interpretations.

You will discuss your choice of topic with me before embarking on your research, so I can judge the feasibility of the project, and suggest useful resources.

You will select a class session on the Canvas sign-up sheet. Entries are due one week after the class was held.
You will receive feedback from two peers and from me shortly after. You are strongly encouraged to rewrite the entry based on the feedback.

Please note that in the final weeks of the semester, the timeline may become a bit more crunched together.

Skills trained: formulating research question, locating sources, writing

Response paper or self-designed analytical essay:

OPTION 1: You can write a response paper on a longer primary source reading I provide, or a primary source you suggest to me. (Check out this description of what a response paper is, and what it is not. Here is another explanation.)

OPTION 2: You can also write an analytical essay after formulating your own thesis statement based on the course materials. An analytical essay does not require additional research, but gives you space you demonstrate your insights in a particular topic. Discuss your topic or self-designed essay question with me first.

  • 800-1000 words, excluding bibliography and notes
  • Use Chicago notes+bibliography style
  • Submit any time during the semester, but preferably before April 16
      • This gives you a chance to re-write based on feedback from me and your peers.

More details to be announced.