Fall 2019

Reinventing Tokyo: The Art, Literature, and Politics of Japan's Modern Capital

Listed in: Architectural Studies, as ARCH-220  |  Asian Languages and Civilizations, as ASLC-220

Formerly listed as: ASLC-20


Trent E. Maxey (Section 01)
Samuel C. Morse (Section 01)


(Offered as ASLC 220 and ARCH 220) Tokyo is the political, cultural, and economic center of Japan, the largest urban conglomeration on the planet, holding 35 million people, fully one-fifth of Japan’s population. Since its founding 400 years ago, when a small fishing village became Edo, the castle headquarters of the Tokugawa shoguns, the city has been reinvented multiple times—as the birthplace of Japan’s early modern urban bourgeois culture, imperial capital to a nation-state, center of modern consumer culture, postwar democratic exemplar, and postmodern metropolis. The class will focus on the portrayals of Tokyo and its reinventions in art, literature, and politics from the end of the Edo period to the present day. It will examine the changes that took place as the city modernized and Westernized in the Meiji era, became the center of modern urban life in Japan before the Second World War, and rebuilt itself as the center of the country’s economic miracle in the postwar era. As the largest human cultural creation in Japan, one that endured political upheavals, fires, earthquakes, fire-bombings and unbridled development, Tokyo has always been a complex subject. We will use that complexity to engage in interdisciplinary thinking and to consider a culture different than one’s own.

The seminar will culminate with an 8-day trip to Tokyo, Japan in early January 2020. All students enrolled in the course are expected to participate in the trip. The cost of the trip will be covered by Amherst College. Limited to 12 Amherst College students. Open to sophomores and juniors. Admission with consent of the instructors. Enrollment is by written application only, with an interview process to follow in Spring 2019. Preference given to students who have prior course work in East Asian studies. Fall semester. Professors Maxey and Morse.

If Overenrolled: Preference given to students who have prior course work in East Asian studies.


Attention to Writing, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2022