Spirits and the Supernatural in Japanese Literature

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Open—Spring

In this course, we will read translations of Japanese texts, ranging from the ninth century to the present, that feature spirits, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural elements. We will also explore various ways of interpreting Japanese literature of the supernatural. For example, how does the eighth-century Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) narrate the origins of Japan through its creation deities, and how does this text relate to contemporary Shinto in Japan? How can we interpret spirit possession in the early 11th-century classic, The Tale of Genji? How are early modern tales, such as Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain, inspired by Chinese models? How do modern writers represent the supernatural through reinterpretations of classical texts? In contemporary literature, does the supernatural reveal anxiety regarding individual identity vis-à-vis family or one’s larger society? Our readings will focus on primary texts of literature, supplemented by critical writings to challenge and expand our ways of reading. Readings include works by Ueda Akinari, Izumi Kyoka, Lafcadio Hearn, Akutagawa Ryunosuke, Enchi Fumiko, Abe Kobo, and Murakami Haruki, among others. Several Japanese films will complement our readings of these texts. Students interested in reading in Japanese for conference work are also welcome.