Proposal overview

Overview and Rationale:

Japanese literature is commonly taught in English-speaking colleges and universities by specialists and non-specialists alike, and increasingly taught at the high school level, but few critical works have been available to support that teaching. This volume will address that need.

Japanese studies in the United States has grown over the past several years. This can be attributed, in part, to the rising political and economic importance of Asia as a whole and to the global spread of Japanese pop culture (primarily in the form of comic books, animation and video games). As Patricia Steinhoff, editor of a study of the field, wrote in 2013, “Japanese Studies is alive and well in the United States, regardless of what is happening in Chinese Studies.”[1] This study found that courses on Japan increased 25% between 2005 and 2012. Japanese literature is part of this increase. Although we only have data for the USA, worldwide trends may be similar. Also not captured by the survey, high school and interdisciplinary undergraduate college survey courses are more and more frequently including Japanese literature in their syllabi. This is likely attributed to the increased visibility of Japanese pop culture and contemporary authors such as Murakami Haruki, a truly global writer. Examples from Japanese literature could easily be included in surveys of world literature, environmental literature, detective fiction, or classes about representations of war or disaster. Certain works may also be relevant in courses focused on history or politics of the Asia Pacific or in explorations of intercultural interaction between the West and Asia.

While the field is growing, few graduate programs in Japanese literature emphasize pedagogy, and new faculty members are often left to fend for themselves or rely on networks of classmates and mentors as they attempt to create and teach courses in their new positions. Though they may be specialists in certain areas of Japanese literature and its interpretation, they may not be specialists in Japanese literature pedagogy and would welcome advice about teaching in this field. Furthermore, teachers without a specialization in Japanese literature may want to include a Japanese perspective on a subject or be interested in assigning something from this established literary tradition but may not know where to start. Currently, there are few resources, either online or printed, that would help such teachers understand the cultural, historical, and personal context for these works.

The MLA “Options for Teaching” series, like the other MLA pedagogy series, is extremely beneficial for specialists and non-specialists alike, yet this series lacks a volume on Japanese literature. (There is no equivalent elsewhere either.) This volume on postwar Japanese literature will begin to address this gap, with a hope that others may follow.

[1] Patricia G. Steinhoff, ed. Japanese Studies in the United States: The View from 2012. (Honolulu: Japan Foundation and University of Hawai’i, 2013) 1. Aug. 9, 2015. Web.

For details about the growth of the field see also page 161.