Readings in Contemporary
Japanese Literature

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 12:30pm-1:50pm
Professor Ted Mack
Savery Hall, room 153

Japanese Literary &
Cultural Studies at UW

This year's course will focus on the most recent recipients of the most famous literary prize in Japan, the Akutagawa Prize for literature. The two works awarded the prize in March of this year were Wataya Risa's "Keritai senaka" and Kanehara Hitomi's "Hebi ni piasu." This year's award has created a media sensation, partly because of the age of the recipients. At 20, Wataya (born 1 February 1984) became the youngest recipient of the prize in its 70 year history. In addition, her book sold its millionth copy on 17 March 2004, making it the bestselling Akutagawa Prize-winning work since Murakami Ryû's Almost Transparent Blue in 1976. Kanehira is only slightly older than Wataya, having been born 8 August 1983.

Kanehara Wataya
Kanehara Hitomi
Wataya Risa

Although both texts are available as electronic reserves through this website to members of the class, because of the length of Wataya's work, we will be focusing on Kanehara's "Hebi ni piasu." Students are advised that the work contains mature content.


About the Course:
This course focuses solely on developing advanced Japanese reading skills through practice. Students read through contemporary Japanese short stories on their own and then meet to go over that reading, focusing on grammar and vocabulary but also discussing literary devices and effects. Unlike most other language offerings, this course is made up of readings that have not been tailored or selected for ease of comprehension. Students read the most celebrated short stories of recent years, regardless of difficulty, in their complete form. The goal of the course is to introduce students to the real complexity and beauty of literary Japanese, while providing them with the tools necessary to read even the most challenging fiction. The hope is that the course will begin students on a lifelong path of reading Japanese literature – whether professionally or recreationally.

JAPAN 313 or its equivalent is an absolute requirement; JAPAN 431 and 432 are highly recommended. A high level of Japanese reading ability is required; expect the gulf between third-year Japanese readings and these stories to be substantial.

The syllabus below will be in flux throughout the semester as we move through the story. The pace shown on the schedule below is a guideline only. Watch the online syllabus and talk with your classmates about where we are for any given class meeting.

Required Materials:

  • All materials will be made available as electronic reserves (in PDF format), which can be accessed through links on this page. Our primary reading is Kanehara Hitomi's "Hebi ni piasu." We will be reading the version of the story that appeared in the March 2004 issue of Bungei Shunjû. It is available as an electronic reserve reading to students in the class in low resolution (PDF, 2.4MB). Students can also download Wataya Risa's "Keritai senaka." It is available as an electronic reserve reading to students in the class in low resolution (PDF, 3.0MB). Downloading of the text will imply acceptance of applicable copyright laws.
  • Vocabulary lists and worksheets will be made available to members of the class in PDF form as the course progresses. You can download the complete vocabulary list.
  • In order to read PDF documents, you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is free and can be downloaded here.


Press coverage
(in English):

The New York Times
27 March 2004

Press coverage
(in Japanese):

Asahi shimbun
17 March 2004

Asahi shimbun
17 March 2004

Yomiuri shimbun
17 March 2004

Course Schedule
Class meeting
Material to be covered in during class meeting
March 29
March 31
Pages 330-331; worksheet 1 due
April 02
Pages 332-333; worksheet 2 due
April 05
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 333-335; refer to worksheet 3
April 07
Pages 335-336; worksheet 4 due
April 09
Pages 336-338; worksheet 5 due
April 12
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 338-339
April 14
Pages 339-340
April 16
Pages 340-342; worksheet 6 due
April 19
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 342-343
(jump from 343b, l. 20 to 345b, l. 5)
April 21
Pages 345-347
April 23
Pages 347-348
April 26
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 348-350
April 28
Pages 350-351; worksheet 7 (p. 349)
April 30
Pages 351-353
May 03
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 353-354
May 05
Pages 354-356
May 07
Pages 356-357
May 10
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 357-359
May 12
Pages 359-360
May 14
Pages 360-362
May 17
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 362-363
May 19
Pages 363-365
May 21
Pages 365-366
May 24
Vocabulary Quiz; Pages 366-368
May 26
Pages 368-369
May 28
Pages 369-371
May 31
NO CLASS: Memorial Day
June 02
Pages 371-372
June 04
Pages 372-373
Thursday, June 10, 8:30am-10:20-am
Final Exam in Savery 153

Participation, preparation, and worksheets (50%):

All class members will be expected to complete assigned readings before class meets. Class meetings will involve recitation in Japanese, translation, and discussion of grammar in either English or Japanese. Every student will be called on at every class meeting; likely each will be called multiple times. Inadequate preparation will result in a reduction of one’s participation grade. Late arrivals disrupt class; therefore you are expected to arrive on time. Please turn off all beepers and cell phones before class begins.

Vocabulary Quizzes (30%–every Monday, unless otherwise noted):

Quizzes may have multiple components: vocabulary, grammar, and translation. Vocabulary questions will address both the readings (yomikata) and meanings of important words encountered in the text. Grammar questions will address specific construction encoutered in the story. Translation questions will involve sentences chosen from the reading.

Final Exam (20%–Thursday, June 10, 8:30-10:20 am, Savery 153):

The final exam will have vocabulary, grammar, and translation questions drawn from the entire story.

Recommended References:

Japanese-Japanese dictionary: Shinmura Izuru, ed, Kôjien. Fifth edition. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998.

Japanese character dictionary: John M. Haig, et al, ed. The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary. Tokyo: Tuttle, 1997.

Japanese-English dictionary: Koh Masuda, ed. Kenkyûsha's New Japanese-English Dictionary. Fourth Edition. Tokyo: Kenkyûsha, 1974.

Fair Use:

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.

More press coverage
(in Japanese):

Asahi shimbun
23 February 2004

Asahi shimbun
20 February 2004

Last modified November 11, 2004