Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

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Professor Mark J. Ravina, Ph.D.
Emory University
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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
 |  Average 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 Bushidō in a Time of Peace
    Professor Ravina adds more depth to your understanding of Japan’s warrior ethos, bushidō (“the way of the warrior”). As you look at historical snapshots, such as a samurai’s petulant memoir and the vendetta of the 47 rōnin, you’ll discover the deep nostalgia that lies at the heart of this misunderstood aspect of Japanese culture. Bushidō 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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  • 184-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
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  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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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 153.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good presentation and info I spent two deployments in Japan while in the Navy and have been back twice since I retired, but I learned many things from this course that I did not know. Thanks!
Date published: 2019-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course in Every Way. Valuable to Me! I bought this course because I lead a #1 American food brand's team/business in Japan. Dr. Ravina's course is so valuable to me because of his ability to explain an era’s impact on today, his enthusiasm for the topic, and because of his subtle sense of humor. He is an excellent storyteller, and great stories lead to retained learnings. I have been successful bringing up history, art, science, and historic figures I learned from Dr. Ravina in social and business conversations throughout Japan, and that has made me a more successful Westerner among my Japanese colleagues and partners. HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
Date published: 2019-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My wife and I watched this set of lectures together to prepare for our recent visit to Japan. It was an excellent introduction. Both of us approached the subject matter with a very limited background in Japanese studies. It provided so much more than we expected, exploring history, language, religion, politics and art with confidence and respect. In particular, Prof. Ravina's mini-biographies of three historical figures who shaped the pre-WWII era was fascinating. And, the discussion of Japanese food helped us choose and enjoy many fine meals during our trip. Granted, it was a survey house. But, we could have stayed with Prof. Ravina to study in depth any number of topics that he discussed only briefly.
Date published: 2019-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT COURSE Very well presented and organized The professor is an excellent speaker Content was very appropriate to my needs
Date published: 2019-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clearly presented Prof. Ravina has a way to explain Japan's cultural history in an engrossing way. Each lecture is filled with fascinating information. I will repeat this course in weeks to come.
Date published: 2019-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accurate, relevant, informative, & most enjoyable I have been to Japan in my work several times, and my wife accompanied me on one extended trip. We watched this course together three years ago, and it remains one of the most enjoyable, best produced courses we’ve done, superb in every aspect. We looked forward to every lecture and were sad when it was all over. This was our first course co-branded with The Smithsonian, which presumably provided the images and film clips used. Professor Ravina was an interesting—but thoroughly satisfactory—presenter, who kept us interested from first to last, and his command of every aspect of Japanese history and culture as touched on in this course was truly impressive. Everything presented resonated with our own experience, as well as with my previous studies of Japanese history and culture, as both accurate and relevant. This course would have been great preparation prior to our visits.
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting course We purchased this course in anticipation of our trip to Japan. It's been a great introduction to Japanese culture and history that will make our visit more meaningful.
Date published: 2019-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice balance of history, art, culture I got the audio version of this content and listened to it on the treadmill for a couple of weeks. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I thought it was a great combination of history, art, and culture. It had the right depth of material, and was never boring. I enjoyed the occasional personal experience of the professor. He had great expertise.
Date published: 2019-01-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lost Opportunity I am studying Japanese and had hoped that this course might give many insights into Japanese culture and history. It does, sometimes, somewhat haphazardly, but one has to wade through an annoying presentation style as well as a somewhat relentless devotion to minutiae in some of the lectures. So, for example, when talking about poetry or drama, rather than focusing on how and why Japanese poetry and drama arose, and how it was presented, the lectures instead focus on details of some of the works themselves. This makes such lectures less about the topic and more about the professor's apparent erudition. And how do you talk about Japan without devoting a lecture to Shinto? There are some bits of good information throughout, but it's probably not worth subjecting yourself to the tedious droning to find a few diamonds in some very deep rough.
Date published: 2019-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good mix of topics Enjoyed the mix of subjects that included both political and cultural history (food, drama, etc.) from Neolithic times until present day. As a docent in both the San Francisco Asian Art Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art I learned many interesting things that I will be able to use when giving tours. A few more slides and less "talking head" lecturing would make it even better.
Date published: 2018-12-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really good course! This class is full of information and is very well presented by dr. Ravina. I learned a lot.
Date published: 2018-12-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Have always been interested in Japan since I was there. Glad to have this course. Must admit all of the quickly-spoken names in the history did get a bit confusing, but overall it gave me a good picture of the country and its history. Well presented. Good course.
Date published: 2018-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tells clearly what the series is about. I enjoyed Understanding Japan: A Cultural History very much! The lecture series is packed full of information. Prof. Ravina presents his material in an interesting manner and in a way that is easy to follow. He is easy to listen to. The graphics and pictures that accompany the lectures are very clear and helpful. I purchased the series over a month ago and have watched the entire series at least 3 times and each time I learn something new and enjoy it. Thank you for making series like this possible.!
Date published: 2018-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introductory Course on Japan! I started this course in preparation for a 2-week trip to Japan, and it served me well in understanding the historical and cultural context of what I was experiencing during my visit. The professor's passion for Japan, its people and culture, is evident throughout the course and contagious, and this stayed with me as I toured the country. It is a great introductory course for anyone interested in Japan, and an extremely worthy companion to anyone intending to travel there, especially for the first time. This course, and its professor, enjoy my highest recommendation.
Date published: 2018-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great understanding. Currently in Japan - A fabulous help to begin to understand many of subtleties of this extraordinary culture.
Date published: 2018-10-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb, Engaging, Wonderful This course offers an excellent introduction and survey of the entirety of Japanese history. However, Dr. Ravina engages the listener with a smashing delivery and ensures that all of the material presented helps enrich one's understanding of Japan both then and now. Each facet explored helps the listener glimpse that much more of how Japan emerged and how its peoples see themselves and how they see the world. I especially enjoyed the attention given to the artistic heritage of Japan and examinations of how important art reveals essential aspects of Japanese culture. If you are interested in Japan and its history, look no further, this is the course for you!
Date published: 2018-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good balance of history and everyday life My Asian studies were limited to brief segments in “social studies” classes back in Junior High, so Prof. Ravina’s overview of Japanese life and history filled a big gap in my education. He skillfully moves back and forth between lectures on eras of history, and lectures on aspects of Japanese society such as food, religion, theater, and art. The emphasis is definitely on culture, which means that you might not get as many little historical details as you would in a names-and-dates course. The Prof starts in ancient times and takes us all the way to the economic collapse of the 1990s and beyond, so you’ll learn about how Japan has interacted with the rest of the world over the course of many centuries. You’ll also find out more about words you’ve heard many times such as “haiku,” “samurai,” and “shogun” and how they fit into the bigger historical picture. The printed class book is adequate, except it continues the recent TGC trend of omitting a timeline and a glossary, both of which would have been useful in a course full of unfamiliar names and words. By all means take the video course, because each lecture is full of beautiful illustrations, maps, and videos that enhance the subject matter.
Date published: 2018-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I am planning a trip to Japan next year and wanted to learn something about its history and culture in advance. I found these lectures to be just what I needed. They are uniformly interesting and well organized. Professor Ravina is wonderful; he makes his points clearly and with good-humored enthusiasm, plus a touch of dry wit. I was sorry to get to the end of the course and will enjoy going through all the lectures again before my trip.
Date published: 2018-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive & detailed presentations So glad to find a good college level history course! The professor was amazing & his lectures entertaining & easy to follow.
Date published: 2018-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful It was a gift, and i was dreaming about this course. I love every part of it, prof presentation, how he talk, explains, his body language. Then I enjoyed all the information, and how they are connected thru all videos. I hope, you will make some more courses with profesor Ravina!
Date published: 2018-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative! Our daughter lives in Japan, so my husband and I want to learn as much as we can about that country. This has been a great source of information to help us understand contemporary Japan as it has developed through a remarkable history. I purchased the course at deep discount, which made it well worth it.
Date published: 2018-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Like the course! I like the course. Very interesting. Good background on Japan.
Date published: 2018-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I began to listen to it last week. The first two lectures not of my liking, however, this changed after the third and fourth lecture. Now I am very interested. Love it and I will recommend it.
Date published: 2018-05-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining, informative, interesting GREATS: Professor Mark Ravina is one of the best communicators I’ve heard; in fact, the BEST! Even with my slight hearing impediment, I heard EVERY word spoken. Well done, doc! BTY doc - that yellow [power] tie went out in the 80’s…donate it to Kim Jong-iL The professor’s expose of Japan’s complex history was pieced together in a back-and-forth manner that was interesting, entertaining and informative – especially Japan’s WW2 “pathological group-think with no single leader or planner” (in stark contrast to Germany’s leadership & thugs). This “group think” parallels other cultures in both their politics and religion (ie: Iran). Comparing with other TGC courses on China and other cultures, there are similarities when it comes to civil war factions, world conquest and other endless wars & conflicts. Alternatively, some of the culture aspects presented seem to be truly Japanese. I was there in 1970. WISHED (unanswered questions): Before continuing, I need to make a distinction between the Japanese war-mongering military machine (bent on self-glory) in CONTRAST to the Japanese civilians. Today in Japan, how do the old & young people think differently about their WW2 aggressive preemptive military campaign against Pearl Harbor and the immense suffering inflicted on the millions of people of the west Pacific nations and millions civilian Chinese deaths? The professor in lecture-19 mentioned that “the Japanese people today are tenaciously adverse to war”. If this is so (to avert repeat), then what do Japanese teach their children about WW2 atrocities? Do they sweep it under the carpet like it didn’t happen? Do they teach that Americans had nothing better to do that day but try A-bomb target practice on their ship-building cities? Without sarcasm, omitting this would be like Germany saying (after 50M deaths + 6.5M holocaust) that "hey, we made a mistake -- let's shake hands --- hope you can take a joke". How did the rest of Asia (that was extorted & exasperated by the Japanese war machine) think of this bombing? Would it be “politically incorrect” to address those issues -- as it might affect TGC sales? As a result, I gave the course 4-stars. In the early 70s (and again in 2001) I visited with some of the people of Papua New Guinea vacationing on a live-aboard [scuba] dive yacht. There we did land tours of WW2 bunkers & communications centers…including caves where civilians were publically hanged who refused to work for the “rising sun”. One Japanese diver in our group refused to disembark the yacht (obviously). I lived on Wake for a year & Guam for over 2 years and visited neighboring islands. There I talked with Filipinos and Chinese during my time there. Piecing together the Japanese war facts I heard -- DID result in an opinion of the Japanese. What a contrast I experienced when I visited world’s fair (Expo ‘70 in Osaka) –- some of the nicest, generous, helpful and kindest people in my world travels. I was delightfully stunned – and totally confused!
Date published: 2018-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I don't do many reviews, but this was a great course that I highly recommend. The professor knows his stuff and understands it at a profound level, but he keeps the discussion entertaining.
Date published: 2018-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent. I went into this course not really knowing what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually very interesting, educational, and entertaining. As a matter of fact, I'd say it was one of my personal favorites so far. The presenter does a great job of bringing to life the various historical figures and events in a way that is never boring and I felt like I was learning a lot. The stuff about the various Buddhist sects, the Japanese philosophy of gardening in contrast with western styles, and Noh and Kabuki theater were all fascinating. I was a little surprised that he didn't spend a bit more time talking about the legendary Miyamoto Musashi, who was only briefly mentioned in a single lecture and only really in reference to his book, but I was still very satisfied with the over all series. By the time it was over, I was left wanting more, and that's the mark of a great product if you ask me. If there ever were a part two of this series with the same lecturer, I'd definitely buy it up, because this was great. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Japanese culture and history.
Date published: 2018-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! I loved this course! I knew very little about Japan and this course provided a great foundation for me. I found the substance to be interesting - I never thought in a million years that I would find Japanese gardens or woodcuts fascinating, but that's exactly what happened. Prof. Ravina has a wonderful, smooth delivery and moves listeners through the material in a seamless manner.
Date published: 2018-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable Professor Ravina's blending of the individual topics into the overall themes of globalization and isolation throughout Japan's history is very enlightening. How could I not give him high marks since he discusses and recommends two of my all-time favorite Japanese movies, Tampopo (1985) and Yojimbo (1961).
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very clear overview of the Japanese Culture I found the material well organized and clearly laid out. There were several real world examples clarifying the major points.
Date published: 2018-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable I bought the course in preparation for a family trip to Japan. I knew very little about the history and culture. Professor Ravina changed all that with style and ease of understanding. I couldn’t wait until I found time to watch more chapters!
Date published: 2018-04-08
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