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VISUALIZING JAPAN (1850s-1920s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity

Welcome to Visualizing Japan! This syllabus provides an overview of the course, and contains important information about the scope of the course, policies on academic honesty and expectations for participation, as well as a detailed day-by-day outline of the assignments and workload.


This course draws on three units from the "Visualizing Cultures" project, hosted by MIT, to present snapshots of Japan's modern history focussing on the themes "Westernization," protest, and modernity, and drawing primarily on historical images. Professors John Dower (Emeritus, MIT), Andrew Gordon (Harvard), Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT) and Gennifer Weisenfeld (Duke) engage in discussions with one another in each of these modules.

We want to stress that this course will not provide a comprehensive survey of Japan's modern history. It studies history through visual sources as presented in three units published on Visualizing Cultures. This means that certain important and sensitive topics, such as Japan's imperial aggression in East and Southeast Asia, will not receive much attention.

Please also note that we expect all students to participate with respect for one another. It is important to recognize that by showing certain images or discussing certain topics, we do not endorse the views or opinions they present. Rather, we seek to understand the complexity of the past, even when the past is distasteful or offensive to us in the present. This course does not reflect the views of Harvard University, MIT, HarvardX, MITx, edX or Visualizing Cultures.


From time to time, the professors will jump in on discussion boards. A full-time teaching assistant will moderate all open-ended assessments, and can provide feedback. Please use the general discussion boards to introduce yourself and ask questions about the course.


You are expected to adhere to standards of academic honesty laid out in the edX Terms of Service. Please pay particular attention to the following two points:

1. Submit your own work, and be scrupulous in giving credit to others for ideas that are not your own. Feel free to use material from the course for your personal and educational use, but abide by edX guidelines.

2. Content that defames, harasses, or threatens other students, course staff and/or professors is strictly prohibited. While some historical topics may be sensitive and controversial, it is vital that we create a safe and neutral space to discuss these issues seriously and thoughtfully.


VJx requires 3-5 hours per week to complete the lessons. This includes watching the video lectures and assessment questions. Additional videos and exercises are marked "Optional" and add to your course experience, but are not required.

We have released all days at once for this XSeries.  You can decide when to go through the material.  Each day represents about 1 hour of work. A detailed breakdown of assignments can be found in the next section.


Week 1: 1 September 2016|  Days 1 (Introduction); 2-4 (BSS1)
Week 2: 1 September 2016 | Days 5-8 (BSS2 part I)
Week 3: 1 September 2016 | Days 9-10 (BSS2 part II); 11-12 (Transition: After Perry)
Week 4: 1 September 2016 | Days 13-17 (Hibiya)
Week 5: 1 September 2016| Days 18-19 (Transition: Hibiya to Shiseido); 20-21 (Shiseido part I)
Week 6: 1 September 2016 | Days 22-24 (Shiseido part II); 25 (Conclusion)


More details for each day is below.  Please feel free to go at your own pace, studying whenever convenient. Each lecture segment is followed by a short assessment, and most days have a larger image-based assessment, which are listed below.


      Day 1 - About "Visualizing Japan (1850s-1920s): Westernization, Protest, Modernity"

            Assignments: Lectures 1.1 - 1.11 (approx. 35 min), image sorting exercise


      Day 2 - Original Sources for the Perry Encounter

          Assignments: Lectures 2.1 - 2.5 (approx. 15 min), reading (20pp), portrait exercise

      Day 3 - Historical Context: Medieval and Early Modern Japan

          Assignments: Lectures 2.6 - 2.8 (approx. 15 min), timeline exercise

      Day 4 - Japan in the Pacific and the World

          Assignments: Lectures 2.9 - 2.14 (approx. 20 min)


    Day 5 - Visualizing Japan, 1853

          Assignments: Lectures 3.1 - 3.2 (approx. 12 min), image exercise

    Day 6 - Perry's Expeditions

          Assignments: Lectures 3.3 - 3.6 (approx. 22 min), optional reading

    Day 7 - American Barbarians in the Eyes of the Japanese

          Assignments: Lectures 3.7 - 3.10 (approx. 18 min), Perry's officers game

    Day 8 - Shore Life in the Eyes of the Americans

          Assignments: Lectures 3.11 - 3.14 (approx. 20 min), image juxtapositions, scroll analysis

    Day 9 - Encounters

          Assignments: Lectures 3.15 - 3.20 (approx. 20 min), gallery sort and analysis

    Day 10 - The Significance of the Perry Encounter

          Assignments: Lectures 3.21 - 3.23 (approx. 20 min), final quiz


   Day 11 - Yokohama Boomtown and Meiji Modernization

          Assignments: Lectures 4.1 - 4.8 (approx. 22 min)

   Day 12 - Modernization, 'Westernization,' and the Rise of Imperial Japan

          Assignments: Lectures 4.8 - 4.13 (approx. 21 min), image matching


    Day 13 - Protesting Peace: Overview of the Hibiya Riot

          Assignments: Lectures 5.1 - 5.3 (approx. 16 min), Reading: Tokyo Riot Graphic, timeline exercise

    Day 14 - Illustrated Media and the Importance of Place

          Assignments: Lectures 5.4 - 5.8 (approx. 23 min), Reading 2.1 (8pp), image matching and analysis

    Day 15 - The Urban Crowd

          Assignments: Lectures 5.9 - 5.10 (approx. 14 min), Reading 2.2-2.3 (15pp), image analysis 

    Day 16 - Targets and Motivations

          Assignments: Lectures 5.11 - 5.13 (approx. 18 min)

    Day 17 - Protest and Imperial Democracy

          Assignments: Lectures 5.14 - 5.15 (approx. 8 min), Reading 2.4 - 2.5 (approx 15pp), final quiz


Day 18 - New Forms of Protest in Interwar Japan    

   Assignments: Lectures 6.1 - 6.7  (approx. 30 min)

Day 19 - Modernity and the Rise of Consumer Culture

   Assignments: Lectures 6.8 - 6.15 (approx 28 min), image analysis


Day 20 - Art and Commerce in an Age of Mass Production

   Assignments: Lectures 7.1 - 7.5 (approx. 9 min), gallery sort

Day 21 - Cosmopolitan Ginza

   Assignments: Readings 3.1 - 3.2 (approx. 25pp), Ginza assessment

Day 22 - Advertising and the Shiseido Network

   Assignments: Lectures 7.6 - 7.9 (approx. 10 min), Reading 3.3 (approx. 30pp)

Day 23 - Tradition and Modernity

   Assignments: Lectures 7.10 - 7.18 (approx. 20 min), gallery sort

 Day 24 - Gender, Labor, and the State

   Assignments: Lectures 7.19 - 7.22 (approx. 13 min), image analysis, final quiz


Day 25 - Modernity, Militarism, and War

   Assignments: Lectures 8.1 - 8.6 (approx. 23 min), final exam

Course Closes at 12:00 (UTC), November 4, 2016.


To pass this course, you will need to attain a course average of at least 60 percent. Students who pass the course will receive a certificate of completion. These certificates can be issued after you have completed the work.  X-Series certificates should be available in January 2016, this will be updated when we have more information.

Assessments in this course vary from simple multiple-choice questions, image-based analysis, and more open-ended assignments such as polls, word clouds, and discussion boards. Each module ends with a final quiz worth 8% of the final course score, and there is a final quiz worth 12% of the final score. There are also many more questions appearing after videos, etc. in the 25 days of the course.   Not all of these questions in each day are graded, but in general each question counts towards your score for that day.  Each day counts for 1/25th of the remaining 64% of the course grade, so roughly 2.5% for each day's questions.


Whereas most of the images themselves are licensed under the CC BY NC SA license (see Credits Page), the other course content and materials remain subject to the edX Terms of Service

Almost all images in this course come from the Visualizing Cultures website unless otherwise noted. Links to the source page are provided in the courseware.

MITx requires individuals who enroll in its courses on edX to abide by the terms of the edX honor code. MITx will take appropriate corrective action in response to violations of the edX honor code, which may include dismissal from the MITx course; revocation of any certificates received for the MITx course; or other remedies as circumstances warrant. No refunds will be issued in the case of corrective action for such violations.

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