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HUM Seminar Popular Visual Culture


Admission requirements

Visit MyTimetable.


In this seminar, we will explore the world of play in Edo Japan. Play did not just mean the pursuit
of mindless fun. It was a way to escape prescribed social status roles, and an opportunity to
express onself outside these boundaries. Denizens of the floating world in Edo wanted to have it
all by mixing fun and elegance, and they were also fascinated by strange and curious things such
as foreigners and ghosts. We will discuss how popular prints and paintings produced a wider
visual field that helped people shape contemporary realities outside the bounds of Tokugawa
control. In the first part of the course, we will discuss how popular prints supported the world of
play in Edo. In the second part, we will consider eccentrics and sinophiles in Kyoto who pursued
self-expression by painting in strange ways or by depicting unusual things that broke with
conventions. We will also be using collections of prints in Leiden University library and in
Volkenkunde Museum Leiden.

Course objectives

Students will develop skills in

  • critical analysis of different kinds of pictures as primary sources to support their argument,

  • critical reading of secondary sources to support their argument,

  • general object literacy – understanding the role of printed media in shaping historical realities.


The timetable is available on Japanstudies

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Class work (Class participation and response) 30%

  • Midterm quiz 20%

  • Research Paper Presentation 10%

  • Research Paper 40%

Reading list

Not applicable


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Contact information: Dr. D. Mueller


Not applicable