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Publisher's Summary

Japan's extraordinary culture is like no other in the world, and it 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.
In an exciting partnership with the Smithsonian, The Great Courses presents these 24 lectures that offer an unforgettable tour of Japanese life and culture. Professor Ravina, with the expert collaboration of the Smithsonian's historians, brings you a grand portrait of Japan.
From the dawn of Confucianism and the Meiji Restoration to World War II and the economic miracle years of 1955 to 1975, you'll explore landmark periods of Japanese history and learn how broad events and movements introduced, innovated, and revised everything from spirituality to popular entertainment. Along the way you'll get revealing insights into Shinto (Japan's indigenous religion), the art of Katsushika Hokusai, literary works like The Tale of Genji and the haiku of Basho, the everyday lives of samurai, the universal appeal of filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, foods like yakitori and tempura, and so much more.
You'll come away from Professor Ravina's final lecture with a stronger sense of the very soul of this one-of-a-kind nation.
©2015 The Great Courses (P)2015 The Teaching Company, LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Amazon Customer on 04-04-16

Very interesting and informative

What made the experience of listening to Understanding Japan the most enjoyable?

This course is a delight to listen to with a lot of information and a great narrator. My only complaint is that there is no PDF booklet to accompany the course like the other Great Courses. Hope it shows up soon!!!

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20 of 20 people found this review helpful


By brenty on 09-01-15

Informative, entertaining, and well-presented!

I really enjoyed this overview of Japanese culture. My only complaint is that it ended. :)

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11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Chris on 10-26-15

Fascinating Introduction, Well Worth It

This course covers Japanese culture and history for the past 1500 (ish) years. It is very different to the other Great Courses history courses in that it mixes historical lectures with those about Japanese culture. I hope they do many more in this format as it is gives a very good overview of the country, without getting bogged down in too many details.

The two themes of the course are globalisation and isolation, and how these have combined to create Japan's unique culture, cuisine and history. The history lectures will sometimes cover up to 200 years in one lecture, so if you want detailed accounts of major events you should go elsewhere. I found the history very approachable and interesting, and I will certainly be following up with other lecture courses to fill in the gaps.

As for the culture lectures these are interspersed throughout the history lectures so that when they occur you have the full historical context needed in order to understand the importance and relevance of the cultural movements. The topics covered include Shintoism, Buddhism, theatre, poetry and family life. All of these are introduced and discussed in historical context and with a discussion of how they impacted the culture.

My favourite of these culture lectures was certainly that on cinema, specifically on the work of Ozu and Kurosawa. This meshed very well with the themes of globalisation and isolation as these two film makers exemplify these contrasting aspects of Japanese culture.


I wholeheartedly recommend this course and hope they extend the format to other countries!

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful


By Fabrice Saenger on 03-06-16

Japan cultural history

The author describe Japan history and culture. He is obviously passionate about Japan. So I am. So I love this course. One of my favortite chapter was about food. I regret that the world war 2 and imperial Japan was not discussed in more details. The angle (phases of globalisation vs. isolationism) is deep and profound.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Anonymous User on 08-12-17

Fantastic broad coverage

Fantastic story interwoven through so many different parts of Japanese culture and history. Lecturer is obviously tremendously knowledgeable and is very easy to listen to.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful


By Connor on 02-27-16

Outstanding and Great Value

What does Professor Mark J. Ravina bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

He speaks really well. The audio (sound quality) is extremely well produced. Everything is easy to understand. He speaks slow enough to fully understand the concepts but rarely speaks with unnecessary flair. He gets to the point - he has a lot of insights to share!

Any additional comments?

I know this course has gotten many 5 star reviews - It seems unrealistic right?

But honestly: It really is an amazing course.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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