Education About Asia: Online Archives

Growing Up in Japan

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Retrospection and introspection are terms suggested by a high school senior in this excerpt from his final exam in Japanese Literature. Although writing about two specific stories, Kawabata Yasunari’s “Umbrella” and Murakami Haruki’s “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One April Morning,” this student neatly defined a major challenge in teaching Japanese literature at the high school level. How do we interest students, who are accustomed to exciting plot and vivid characterization, in literature that relies heavily on retrospection and introspection, on internal monologue and observation?

Japanese Literature, a semester elective for juniors and seniors at The American School in Japan, attempts to meet that challenge. It is designed both for students new to Japan and for bilingual/bicultural students who have spent a significant part of their lives in Japan. Although offered by the English department and meeting National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) English Language Arts Standards, the course also fulfills a graduation requirement in the study of Japan. During their high school years, students must take at least one of the following courses: India and East Asia, Japan Studies, Japan Seminar or Japanese Literature. Consequently the course objectives are somewhat interdisciplinary:

  • To search for patterns in modern Japan’s complex culture through study of major Japanese literary forms, themes, and authors of past and present.
  • To gain and share experience in responding to literature through written work, discussion, and oral presentations.
  • To practice writing Japanese forms such as haiku, tanka, and zuihitsu (miscellany) in English. (The unit discussed in this article does not include these literary forms.)
  • To practice both reflective and analytical essay writing.
  • To build vocabulary.



Dazai Osamu.  No Longer Human. Donald Keene, tr.  Norfolk, Conn: New Directions, 1958, pp.13–38.

Hayashi Fumiko.  “The Accordion and The Fish Town.”  In The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories. Theodore Goossen, ed. Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 154–171.

Higuchi Ichiyo.  “Separate Ways.”  In The Oxford Book of Japanese Stories.  Theodore Goossen, ed.  Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 36–44.

Ishiguro Kazuo.  “Family Supper.”  Comparing Cultures:  Readings on Contemporary Japan for American Writers. Merry White and Sylvan Barnet, eds.  Boston:  Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1995, pp. 234–242.

Kawabata Yasunari.  “The Izu Dancer.”  In The Oxford Book of Japanese Stories.  Theodore Goossen, ed.  Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 129–148.

Kawabata Yasunari.  “Umbrella.”  In Palm of the Hand Stories. Lane Dunlop and J. Martin Holman, tr.  San Francisco:  North Point Press, 1998, pp. 150–1.

“The Lady Who Loved Insects.”  In Anthology of Japanese Literature. Donald Keene, ed.  Rutland Vt.:  Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1955, pp. 170–176.

Mishima Yukio.  “The Boy Who Wrote Poetry.”  In Ourselves Among Others:  Cross-cultural Readings for Writers.  Carol J. Verburg, ed.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1988, pp. 115–124.

Murakami Haruki.  “The Seventh Man.”  In Literary Cavalcade (January 99):  9–15.

Murakami Haruki.  “On Meeting the 100% Perfect Girl.”  In The Elephant Vanishes.  Alfred Birnbaum and Jay Rubin, tr.  New York:  A. A. Knopf, 1993, pp. 68–72.

Nakajima Keiji. Barefoot Gen. Philadelphia:  New Society Publishers, 1987, pp. ix-xii, 1–35, 250–269.

Shiga Naoya.  “Seibei’s Gourds.”  In Modern Japanese Stories. Ivan Morris, ed.  Tokyo, Rutland, Vt.:  Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1962, pp. 81–89.

Senoh Kappa. A Boy Called H.  John Bester, tr.  Tokyo; New York: Kodansha International, 1999, pp. 99–107.

Yoshimoto Banana.  Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow. Megan Backus, tr. New York:  Washington Square Press,1993.


The Izu Dancer.  Animated Classics of Japanese Literature (1994).

Wandering Days.  Animated Classics of Japanese Literature (1994).

Schools of Thought: Teaching Children in American and Japan.  Films for the Sciences and Humanities (1995).

Making the Grade in Japan.  Lillian Lincoln Fen (1993).

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Parts I and IV. Dir. Paul Schrader (1985).

Good Morning.  Dir. Ozu Yasujiro (1959).

Family Game.  Dir. Morita Yoshimitsu (1986).

Shall We Dance? Dir. Yakusho Koji (1997).