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Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

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Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

In partnership with
Professor Mark J. Ravina, Ph.D.
Emory University
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4.8 out of 5
91 Reviews
93% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8332
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Course Overview

Japan’s extraordinary culture is like no other in the world. The 2,000-year-old civilization grew through periods of seclusion and assimilation to cultivate a society responsible for immeasurable influences on the rest of the world. What makes Japan so distinctive? The answer is more than just spiritual beliefs or culinary tastes. It’s the ongoing clash between tradition and modernity; a conflict shaped by Japan’s long history of engagement and isolation.

We’re all aware of Japan’s pivotal role in global economics and technological innovation. We know that the future of the West (and the entire world) is inextricably linked with the island nation’s successes and failures. But Japanese culture—its codes, mores, rituals, and values—still 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.

Only by looking at Japan’s politics, spirituality, cuisine, literature, art, and philosophy in the context of larger historical forces can we reach an informed grasp of Japanese culture. One that dispels prevalent myths and misconceptions we in the West have. One that puts Japan—not other nations—at the center of the story. And one that reveals how this incredible country transformed into the 21st-century superpower it is today.

In an exciting partnership with the Smithsonian, The Great Courses presents Understanding Japan: A Cultural History—24 lectures that offer an unforgettable tour of Japanese life and culture. Delivered by renowned Japan scholar and award-winning professor Mark J. Ravina of Emory University, it’s a chance to access an extraordinary culture that is sometimes overlooked or misrepresented in broader surveys of world history. Professor Ravina, with the expert collaboration of the Smithsonian’s resources, and brings you a grand portrait of Japan, one that reaches from its ancient roots as an archipelago of warring islands to its current status as a geopolitical giant. The journey is vibrantly illustrated with stunning images from the Smithsonian’s vast collections of Japanese artwork and archival material. Here for your enjoyment is a dazzling historical adventure with something to inform and delight everyone, and you’ll come away from it with a richer appreciation of Japanese culture.

Uncover How History Shapes Culture

Japan’s cultural history, according to Professor Ravina, is something of a paradox. It’s insular. It’s exclusive. It prides itself on adhering to traditional ways of life. And yet it also owes much to historic interactions with other countries, from China and Korea to Great Britain and the United States. Professor Ravina guides you through landmark periods of Japanese history, from the struggle between ancient Japan and the Asian mainland, through the long peace of the Tokugawa Dynasty, to the totalitarian nightmare of World War II. This approach illustrates in vivid detail how broader events and movements introduced, innovated, and revised everything from spirituality to popular entertainment. Tour Japan’s rich history through:

  • Early mainland influences (700 A.D. to 900 A.D.): Travel back to the formative centuries of Japanese history, where you’ll bear witness to the codification of ancient mythologies, the rise of Confucianism and Buddhism, and early styles of statecraft and writing—all of which, in some manner, were adapted from those of mainland China and Korea.
  • First contact with the West (1300 to 1600): Discover the roots of Japan’s complicated relationship with Western civilization by getting the full story on how Japan established international trading posts, how it engaged in its first contacts with Europe, and the surprising effect of guns and Christianity on Japanese life.
  • The Meiji Restoration (1868 to 1905): Visit the revolutionary years that gave birth to the modern Japan we’re familiar with today, and learn how this iconic period of imperial rule was the catalyst for modern approaches to everything from clothes and food to educational policies and human rights.
  • Global war and defeat (1931 to 1945): Get a perspective on World War II that goes beyond kamikaze pilots and Pearl Harbor (which Professor Ravina considers a defeat for the Japanese military) and reveals how a cacophony of political voices and a lack of military planning led to a crushing defeat for a once-powerful nation.

In exploring these periods and others (including the rise of the first warrior dynasties and the economic miracle years of 1955 to 1975), each lecture has the feel of a journey into the past with an expert guide right by your side. Instead of just being told a litany of facts, you’ll actually make connections between history and culture, time and place—and how they’ve all come together to shape the millennia-long story of Japan.

From Food to Art to Philosophy

One of the greatest joys of Understanding Japan: A Cultural History is what Professor Ravina reveals about Japan’s culture, covering everything from food to art to philosophy. His lectures masterfully introduce you to cultural practices you never knew of—and add new levels of understanding to ones you may already be familiar with, such as:

  • Myths and legends: How was Japan created? Who were the nation’s foundational heroes, divine beings, and natural spirits? Join Professor Ravina for an unforgettable walk along the “way of the gods” (Shinto)—Japan’s indigenous religion.
  • Art and architecture: Learn what defines a Japanese aesthetic by strolling through transcendental gardens (including Kyoto’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and poring over Katsushika Hokusai’s massive collection of sketches (manga).
  • Religion and philosophy: Several lectures take you inside Japan’s spiritual history, including intricate Buddhist schools of thought and the warrior ideology of bushido, which, it turns out, is less about the fire of war than nostalgia for the past.
  • Novels and poetry: From Lady Murasaki’s epic novel The Tale of Genji to the haiku of Basho, read between the lines of excerpts from Japan’s rich literary heritage and see how novels, poems, and plays cemented cultural norms—and changed them.

And there’s so much more to enjoy in these lectures, including:

  • the daily lives of freelance samurai (known as ronin) coping with political changes;
  • the distinct eating and cooking rituals of foods like tempura and yakitori; and
  • the international appeal of Akira Kurosawa and other Japanese filmmakers.

Fascinating Visual Archives

Every lecture of Understanding Japan: A Cultural History draws extensively from the Smithsonian’s vast collection of art, photography, and artifacts, making this cultural journey come to life in lavish visual detail. Instead of relying on mere description, Professor Ravina lets the country’s art, architecture, landscaping, literature, and food speak for itself. Along with helpful maps and timelines, hundreds of carefully curated images from the Smithsonian give you the chance to examine Japan’s cultural history up close, including:

  • terracotta figures recovered from royal burial grounds;
  • Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print The Great Wave of Kanagawa; and
  • historic photographs of samurai dressed for battle.

Encounter the Soul of Japan

The cultural exactitude in these lectures is impressive; so much so that the attention to detail goes right down to the design of our studio set (which itself pays homage to Japanese aesthetics).

With the same superb lecturing ability he’s demonstrated during public appearances on CNN, NPR, and The History Channel, Professor Ravina knows how to make Japan accessible and familiar to you—while at the same time honoring and respecting cultural traditions. You’ll come away from Understanding Japan: A Cultural History with a stronger sense of this one-of-a-kind nation—its history, its attitudes, its very soul.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Japan: A Globally Engaged Island Nation
    How has Japanese culture been shaped by powerful cycles of globalization and isolation? When was the earliest human habitation of Japan, and what are the origins of its rich culture? These and other probing questions are the perfect starting points for dispelling common Western misconceptions about this great island nation. x
  • 2
    Understanding Japan through Ancient Myths
    Get an engaging introduction to ancient Japanese myths, collectively known as Shinto (Way of the Gods"). Focusing on the oldest written compilation of Japanese oral tradition, the Kojiki, you'll examine fascinating stories about gods and heroes, the origins of the universe, the Rock Cave of Heaven, rival clans, and more." x
  • 3
    The Emergence of the Ritsuryo State
    In the late 500s, Japan began an unprecedented project of state building that evolved into the highly centralized, emperor-led Ritsuryo state. As you examine the state's laws and accomplishments, you'll uncover how this political centralization was actually inspired by - and responded to - the emergence of powerful states in China and Korea. x
  • 4
    Aspects of the Japanese Language
    Make sense of one of the world's most complex writing systems, and discover how spoken Japanese reflects a long-standing concern with order, hierarchy, and consensus. Why is social context so important when speaking Japanese? And what are the linguistic consequences of adopting Chinese characters in Japanese writing? x
  • 5
    Early Japanese Buddhism
    Professor Ravina explains why Buddhism was so appealing in ancient Japan. He reveals three key observations about the religion's earliest form (including its spread with direct support from Japanese rulers) and discusses the two main strands of Japanese Buddhism: the more esoteric tradition of Shingon and the more accessible Pure Land. x
  • 6
    Heian Court Culture
    Journey through Japan's first period of isolation (from the 800s to the 1300s) and the rise of the Heian court, ancient Japan's cultured and exclusive aristocracy. Along the way, you'll meet the powerful Fujiwara family and unpack how the novel The Tale of Genji reveals the court's penchant for scandal and intrigue. x
  • 7
    The Rise of the Samurai
    Turn away from the court in Kyoto to the countryside, where political infighting led to the rise of Japan's first shogunate ("warrior dynasty") and the emergence of the samurai. You'll also explore the rise of warrior culture through the lines of The Tale of the Heike, an epic ballad spread by wandering minstrels. x
  • 8
    Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism
    How did the decline of the court and the rise of the warrior class shape the evolution of Buddhist aesthetic, spiritual, and philosophical concepts? Find out in this illuminating lecture, which covers the massive growth of Pure Land Buddhism (the dominant form in Japan today) and the two main schools of Zen Buddhism. x
  • 9
    Samurai Culture in the Ashikaga Period
    Samurai culture was not fixed but constantly adapting to larger social and cultural changes. Central to these changes was the Ashikaga dynasty. As you'll learn, political turmoil under the Ashikaga led to the samurai defining themselves with a culture of extreme loyalty and a new sense of valor, independent of imperial court culture. x
  • 10
    Japan at Home and Abroad, 1300 - 1600
    Japan's second great wave of globalization, the subject of this lecture, stretched from the 1300s to the early 1600s. It's a fascinating period that includes competition with China's Ming dynasty; the new influence of the West (which brought with it guns and Christianity); and the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan's most powerful warlord. x
  • 11
    Japan's Isolation in the Tokugawa Period
    Lasting for over 250 years, the Tokugawa shogunate curtailed both globalization and Christianity. How did this feudal government come to power? How did its policies isolate Japan? Along the way, you'll get an insightful look at what we really mean by "isolation" - and how Japan was shaped by foreign cultures even when most Japanese were banned from traveling overseas. x
  • 12
    Japanese Theater: Noh and Kabuki
    Explore two major forms of Japanese theater: Noh (the high classical form) and Kabuki (the more popular form). In looking at two important theatrical works - Atsumori, rich in lofty ideals and elegant aesthetics, and The Scarlet Princess of Edo, full of crude decadence and mayhem - you'll uncover what these traditions share, and what they make their own. x
  • 13
    The Importance of Japanese Gardens
    Japanese gardens are popular tourist destinations, cultural treasures, and even UNESCO heritage sites. Here, consider the splendor and harmony of some of Japan's most important gardens (including tea gardens, rock gardens, and strolling gardens) as part of a history of aesthetics and also as expressions of religious and cultural ideals. x
  • 14
    The Meaning of Bushido in a Time of Peace
    Professor Ravina adds more depth to your understanding of Japan's warrior ethos, bushido ("the way of the warrior"). As you look at historical snapshots, such as a samurai's petulant memoir and the vendetta of the 47 ronin, you'll discover the deep nostalgia that lies at the heart of this misunderstood aspect of Japanese culture. Bushido is full of a longing for a lost age. x
  • 15
    Japanese Poetry: The Road to Haiku
    Journey through some of the best-known styles and voices of Japanese poetry. You'll start with the oldest surviving Japanese poems and follow the development of tanka, the classical five-line form, and renga, a single poem written by multiple poets. We conclude with the master poet Bash? and the emergence of haiku, now Japan's most famous and popular form of poetry. x
  • 16
    Hokusai and the Art of Wood-Block Prints
    Katsushika Hokusai, the renowned Japanese artist, is the perfect entryway into the history of both Japanese wood-block prints and late Tokugawa society. Among the topics covered are ukiyo-e ("floating world") pictures; Hokusai's iconic masterpiece, The Great Wave off Kanagawa; his encyclopedic collection of manga ("sketches"); and more." x
  • 17
    The Meiji Restoration
    Investigate the Meiji Restoration: the start of the third major period of Japanese globalization, defined by a vibrant synthesis of tradition and modernity. From the abolition of the samurai class to the creation of a new educational system to the restructuring of land ownership, how did Japan achieve revolutionary change through a smooth political transition? x
  • 18
    Three Visions of Prewar Japan
    Take a fresh approach to the story of early 20th-century Japan. Rather than a review of major events, focus instead on the ideologies of three individuals whose competing views shaped Japan's actions on the eve of World War II: Nitobe Inazo and Shidehara Kijuro, both proponents of democracy and international cooperation; and Ishiwara Kanji, a die-hard militarist. x
  • 19
    War without a Master Plan: Japan, 1931 - 1945
    A political culture dominated by fanatics. The quagmire of the Sino-Japanese War. The takeover of Manchuria and the puppet government of Manchukuo. Japan's surprising failure in attacking Pearl Harbor. Learn about all these and more in this lecture on the disorganized chaos (and legacy) of World War II-era Japan. x
  • 20
    Japanese Family Life
    You can't truly grasp a country's culture without understanding its ideas about the family. Explore the three main models of Japanese family life: the aristocratic model (uji), the samurai model (ie), and the postwar model. Along the way, learn about shifting attitudes toward domestic life, including women's rights and family planning. x
  • 21
    Japanese Foodways
    There's so much more to Japanese cuisine than just sushi. Move beyond the basics and plunge into the enormous diversity and complexity of Japan's culture of food. How do foods like soba noodles, tempura, and yakitori (and the rituals of eating them) reflect the waves of globalization and isolation you've explored in previous lectures? x
  • 22
    Japan's Economic Miracle
    From 1955 to 1975, the Japanese economy grew more than 435% - an astonishing rate that economists refer to as the Japanese Miracle." Take a closer look at the six factors that led to this unprecedented growth, including the country's cheap and motivated workforce, as well as the critical influence of the United States." x
  • 23
    Kurosawa and Ozu: Two Giants of Film
    Meet Japan's greatest filmmakers: Ozu Yasujir? and Kurosawa Akira. How do their best films reflect lasting connections to world cinema? Revisit Ozu's 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story (inspired by an American domestic drama) and Kurosawa's rousing 1961 adventure Yojimbo (which fused samurai culture with the American Western). x
  • 24
    The Making of Contemporary Japan
    What makes 1989 the turning point for contemporary Japan? Explore four pivotal moments from that year whose repercussions are still being felt in the Japan of the 21st century: the death of Hirohito, China's Tiananmen Square Massacre, the bursting of the Japanese real estate bubble, and a dramatic stock market crash. x

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Your professor

Mark J. Ravina

About Your Professor

Mark J. Ravina, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Mark J. Ravina is Professor of History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1991. He received his A.B. from Columbia University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. He has been a visiting professor at Kyoto University’s Institute for Research in Humanities and a research fellow at Keio University and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. He has also received research grants...
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Understanding Japan: A Cultural History is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 90.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Great Course Yet We've watched several Great Courses & even bailed out of a few before the end. This course on Japanese history & culture is the best we've seen. The professor was very knowledgeable; the graphics were great, and the video production standards were very high. At times the camera change/body motion seemed just a bit over-choreographed, but the large studio was a welcome change from many courses shot with the professor in the same studio set with the same fake window behind.
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very comprehensive and rounded course I have watched and listened to several Great Courses titles, but this one must be the best, in fact I watched the whole course in less than a week. There is a very good balance of different topics in this course, so that while providing a historical narrative of Japan from ancient to modern times, lectures are interspersed throughout the course on various cultural aspects such as Japanese theater, film, cuisine or poetry. Overall, this gives a far greater insight into Japan and its identity than a historical overview would have done alone. In addition, this course is rich in illustration and has far more visual material than many courses. I can not recommend this enough, buy this course you will not regret it!
Date published: 2017-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation and a wealth of material I have taken more than 30 courses with The Teaching Company. "Understanding Japan" was among the most outstanding and enjoyable. In addition to the rich and varied combination of material and his outstanding presentation, Dr. Ravina successfully made the difficult transformation to DVD. He was a pleasure to watch and listen to. I look forward to any other programs he might develop for the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2017-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply the best ... From my point of view, what he doesn't know about Japanese Culture is probably not worth knowing. I sincerely hope that he has another course about ready to launch. Here is the note that I sent to the Professor: I wish to say "Thank You" for your brilliant course on The Great Courses. I am preparing for a return visit to Japan after 40 years and found my appreciation for the country and the people reinvigorated by your masterful instruction. My only regret is that you weren't my teacher 50 years ago. Then, with Edwin Reischauer's "East Asia: The Great Traditions", I learned to warmly regard the Japanese. But, your carefully considered and deeply textured sessions bring a vibrancy that I don't recall from all those years ago. I envy your students. With warmest regards and deep appreciation,
Date published: 2017-05-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Content is good but the prof seems to be more interested in showing off his good Japanese accent rather than focusing on teaching the subject. After a while all you hear is a lot of Japanese names and locations. It becomes confusing and difficult to understand the history. Iky iky!!!
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good title I worked twice in Japan. In 1970 I was the only Western person in Ube (Yamaguchi prefectorate) at Borg Warner Chemical, the most important industry of the city. I stayed for 3 weeks. In 1971 I was part of a team that bought a licence in the city of Iwaki. I stayed for 10 days. Through your course a mishap (language problem) became evident. I could not ask 'what went wrong' because my Japanese companion could feel embarrassed or would spare himself and me by not telling the truth. I am a MIT graduate (M.Sc,)
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from learned so much! Wonderful professor, clear and organized, and always made history lively by putting in a cultural setting
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than I hoped for! With a history of martial art practice, I was looking for a connection with the culture and past of Japan to broaden the connections with the art I engaged. I was surprised with the scope and accessibility of this course. The professor held my attention throughout, and covered such a delightfully diverse aspect of the subject, that I was rapt to the presentation.
Date published: 2017-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! We learned so much! Going for a third trip there and still learned lots.
Date published: 2017-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review and analysis. Clear presentation.
Date published: 2017-02-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Gained some new insights Although I have been interested in Japanese history longer than the professor presenting this course, I did gain some insights that I previously did not have.
Date published: 2017-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bringing the Japan I know into focus. I was born in Japan during the US Occupation, to an American airman and a native Japanese who had lived through the war years. We came to the US when I was a toddler, but I grew up with Japanese food and culture. I returned to Japan in 1969 to work for two years, including in Hokkaido, Nagano, Kofu and Fukushima Prefecture and learned the language. I returned again in 1980 as a US Air Force officer, including working on cases where the Japanese courts tried US service members. I visited my with my relatives in Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto, visiting many of the places highlighted in the course, including the Todaiji temple in Nara and the Katsura Rikyu imperial villa. Even with all of my familiarity with Japan and the Japanese people, I found Professor Ravina's lectures to be full of new insights that placed what I already knew about Japan and its people into a fresh perspective. I am going to share my copy of the course with my daughter, Sachiko, who home schools her seven children, all of whom have Japanese middle names. They love Japanese food and culture, and relish our visits to the Japanese stores in Portland and Seattle. They regard themselves as part of this culture.
Date published: 2017-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History and Culture Combined: Just Give Us More Professor Ravina provides an unusual way to view history, through culture rather than straight narrative that centers facts, timelines and significant people. Not that those things are neglected, but rather that the emphasis is more on cultural aspects than many historical courses. Of course almost all history courses include cultural aspects, it is the balance that makes this course different and special. I have been to Japan many times: in the military, on vacation and for business and consider myself reasonably knowledgeable (for a foreign, non-Japanese speaking person) about Japan and Japanese. Even so, from the very first lecture, I learned new things and thought about things that I already knew in different ways. For example Professor Ravina’s description and explanation of the cycle of globalization and isolation really opened my eyes and proved a valuable point of reference throughout the course. As another example, it turns out that I have always had an incorrect understanding of Bushido. Who knew that what seemed to be the definitive explanation was written by a man with basically no background at all and after the Samurai period was well over? For some this course may seem a bit disjointed, as it mixes some, mostly straight history with culture. For example lecture 11 focuses on the Tokugawa period that is pretty much straight history and one would expect to then get a lecture on Commodore Perry sailing into Tokyo Bay, and the Meiji restoration. However Professor Ravina delays that subject until lecture 17, giving us instead lectures on Japanese theater, Gardens, Poetry and wood block prints. But this seeming diversion falls well within the historical narrative as he is able to provide some historical narrative of the development of some of these cultural items.. And while there are too many gems to mention in these few lectures, I personally learned a great deal about how poetry was written and how the Haiku came to be developed. Especially fascinating was the way some poetic forms were written by multiple poets—something that I never knew. The garden lecture was also a high point, perhaps more so for me, as I had been to almost every garden he mentioned. But if one lecture in this section stood out, it would be the one on the woodblock artist Hokusai, centering on his series of views of Mount Fuji and the well known ‘Great Wave”. Dr. Ravina’s lecture on the Japanese language helped me to understand why I made no progress in that area and the two on Buddhism could easily be included in a course on that subject. His lecture on Japanese cinema was a highlight, centering to Ozu and Kurosawa, two obvious choices. His Ozu discussion featured “Tokyo Story”, perhaps Ozu’s most well known film, and I was surprised that his Kurosawa choice was Yojimbo, not so highly regarded as some other Kurosawa masterpieces. Even so Professor Ravina made an excellent case for that choice. Dr. Ravina’s presentation style is quiet and studied, almost to the point of seeming detached and perhaps not quite engaging enough. But every time I thought that, he would relate some personal anecdote or a bit of sly humor, that brought the humanity of him right to the fore. For me about the only negative was the 24-lecture length. I’d prefer a few more, with a bit more detailed history and a few more stand-alone lectures on aspects of Japanese culture. Perhaps flower arranging, sumo and Shinto (I thought the treatment given was a bit light) as just a few ideas. But that is nitpicking. An outstanding course for those interested in Japan, and for those who are not, an outstanding way to become engaged.
Date published: 2017-02-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor presentation, dull I'm a lifelong student of Japan, having first moved there at age 11 and devoting my life to helping Japanese people master English. That said, I've never studied Japanese history in an academic fashion before. I wanted to love this course, but I can hardly make myself listen to the lectures after slogging through the first five. Dr. Ravina's presentation style is very monotonous and he doesn't provide enough modern-day references to help us care about the many events and forces as work in the various time periods in Japanese history. The result is a very dry experience. As a linguist and pronunciation coach, I have to say that some of Professor Ravina's speech patterns are annoying to me. He speaks rather slowly, with a regular pattern of intonation that is so regular it actually provides no emphasis. He also uses a "dark l" where a "light l" is customarily used--and yes, that's just my pet peeve--but it makes listening tough. And he also does not nasalize /æ/ as is customary in American English. That said, I would not be noticing these little speech ticks if the content were riveting. He is just not able to put the material together in a way that holds my attention. This is my sixth Great Course, and the only one I've been disappointed in. I doubt I will even finish listening, which is a shame. And unfortunately, it is the only offering on Japanese history, which I am very interested in learning more about.
Date published: 2017-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Must-see before visiting Japan Great intro to the culture and mind set of Japan!
Date published: 2017-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2017-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Needed Background Even as a casual observer of the World scene you need this course to help understand the actions of modern Japan. Interesting sweep of the major events in Japanese history and culture. Well done.
Date published: 2016-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "UnderstandingJapan". What a wonderful course! I wish it were twice as long. Especially for a family that has had such a connection to this country. I am told that my grandfather introduced baseball to Japan during a time that he was teaching there. A brother-in-law has taught Japanese studies courses. And several of us have seen the country. I found Professor Ravina to be very erudite on the history of Japan and humble and humorous in his presentation. His lectures were full of the details that show his mastery of the history of this country. I wish he could do another course on this subject he knows so well. I was sad to have this one end.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding Japan: A cultural history I'm planning a trip to Japan soon and this course helps me to understand this "strange" but awesome culture. It will give my trip more meaning. Great course and the lecturer's understand of the language is impressive.
Date published: 2016-12-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Understanding Japan The instructor talks in a monotone that makes it hard to concentrate and distinguish which topics are more important. Although the topics were defined I felt that there was little depth.
Date published: 2016-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Useful Returned from a "Christian Martyr Tour" and found this series very helpful to understanding Japan. Watched it on the 10 1/2 hour flight. Thank you.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Generally favorable Professor Ravina is one of the most highly respected scholars of Japanese history. His Japan culture course gives an excellent introduction to many aspects of Japanese history and culture. Ravina's main field is early modern Japan which serves as the foundation for this course. Lectures on Japanese Buddhism and gardens are especially worthwhile. But far more attention is needed on modern Japanese history. His approach to the Meiji era is especially weak. Japan modernized itself so very rapidly between 1868 - 1904, but Ravina supplies very few answers as to what motivated the Japanese and why they could achieve such rapid modernization Nevertheless, overall one can say that its a very useful introduction to Japanese culture.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting subject, outstanding presentation This course, developed jointly by TGC and the Smithsonian, presents an overall review of Japanese history and culture. Professor Ravina's presentation was outstanding. He has a very engaging and enthusiastic presentation style and also makes great use of on-screen graphics. The historical timeline, which was displayed across the lower part of the screen for portions of the course dealing with the complex interactions of the various historical events, was a great help. Without this, it would have been rather challenging to understand the relationships between the various aspects of Japanese history, most of which are not generally known to those of us in the West. The other on-screen graphics, especially the photos of Japanese gardens, also added to the value of the course. As one who is very interested in linguistics, I very much appreciated his introduction to the Japanese language. The only (minor) complaints that I had were that I would have been interested in some discussion of Japanese music, since all other significant aspects of Japanese culture were discussed. Also I wish that he had spent more than one lecture on World War II, although I realize that this was not intended to be a course on military history. Perhaps TGC would consider doing a course on the war in the Pacific. His comments on the reasons for Japan's surrender in 1945 were a new and interesting aspect of a subject that has been discussed extensively by historians. In summary, I can definitely recommend this course to anyone who has an interest in learning more about Japan's history and culture from someone who has evidently spent considerable time there and is very familiar with the language and culture.
Date published: 2016-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding Japan Following my first trip to Japan, spurred in part by hosting a Japanese student through foreign exchange, I was left with many questions. The Great Courses / Understanding Japan has answered many of my questions. This course & the others that I have purchased & watched are superb. The instructors are second to none. The sparse use of pictures / timelines, etc enhance the presentations well. I do not think I could enjoy them more than I do. Thank you for an outstanding service & product.
Date published: 2016-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding Japan I have not finished watching this DVD, but so far it is marvelous. The sound is clear, easy to understand. There is new information, definitely appealing, the interior and environmental scenes are superb, and the artistry is splendidly revealed in creativity and color. A unique and fascinating learning experience.
Date published: 2016-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teacher and course exellent What is given is a complete overview of Japanese history. Although I have been to Japan and did business with NIssan (Datsun) I was not knowledgeable about their history. Keep in mind that I watch these Great Courses while doing exercise. If they keep me interested enough that I forget that I am doing exercise I keep them otherwise they get returned. This was a keeper. The professor speaks Japanese beautifully and explains the interaction with the China and Korea and how Japan went from isolation to world engagement over time.
Date published: 2016-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding Japan: A Cultural History I am thoroughly enjoying this course. I recently visited Japan and in preparation read a number of books on Japanese History and culture. And, studied documentary videos and movies about Japan as well. This course is right on target in covering the material that I studied from a variety of sources. In addition, it often provides more in-depth information on a subject that I was able to find in my previous studies. The course professor is very good, speaks well and concisely and with a sense of humor. This is my first course from "The Great Sources" and I'm very satisfied with the product.
Date published: 2016-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This was an amazing course! I loved the professor's delivery - not too fast, giving you time to absorb the idea . Covered so much more than just Japanese history for a well-rounded course.
Date published: 2016-09-19
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