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Modern Japanese International Political Thought


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (60 Ec, 120 EC or research) or the MA International Relations.


This seminar takes a historicist approach to the study of international political thought of modern Japan, asking how power and knowledge production have been differently linked before and after 1945. Moving beyond the framework of import and mimicry, we seek to understand how shifting notions of “theory” itself are linked to different historical moments. This is important to consider because International Relations theory has never been objective or universal. Many IR scholars today challenge the Eurocentrism of the discipline as well as the ways in which theory building became complicit with Cold War development of Area Studies. While many seek to recover indigenous IR, in this seminar we focus on how modern Japanese intellectuals absorbed, translated, reinterpreted, and challenged modern Western IR theory. To this end, we divide the course into two parts, as pre-1945 period and post-1945 period.

Some of the questions addressed are as follows: How did Japanese intellectuals’ conception of world order develop as a state facing unequal treaties, as a marginal state witnessing the demise of the traditional hegemon Qing China, and as a state internalizing the Western conception of state sovereignty? How did the image of China alter? How did Japan create its own Orient? If the period prior to the end of the Asia Pacific War is marked by what Tetsuya Sakai calls the “inherent fragility of the image of state sovereignty,” how about the reception of IR theory such as realism, liberalism, neorealism, regime theory, and transnational relations in the postwar period under Pax Americana? As Stanley Hoffmann observed decades ago, contemporary IR theory is an “American Social Science.” How can examining Japan’s historical engagement with theory contribute to recent debates on how to address the Eurocentrism of the discipline?

Course objectives

  • A critical understanding of the relation between history and theory in the development of non-Western International Relations theory

  • Improved presentation skills and writing skills

  • To build on and engage with contemporary debates on the Eurocentrism of the discipline


The timetables are avalable through My Timetable.

The deadline(s) in MyTimetable is/are set for administrative purposes only. The actual date(s) will be communicated by the lecturer(s) in Brightspace.

Mode of instruction


Attendance is compulsory for all sessions. Students must prepare well and contribute to in-class discussion. If a student cannot attend because of illness or misadventure, they should promptly inform the convener. Extra assignments may be set to make up for missed class time, at the convener’s discretion. The extra assignment for this course is a 500 words summary of an article assigned as reading for the missed class. Absence without notification may result in lower grades or exclusion from assessment components and a failing grade for the course.

Assessment method

Academic integrity

Students should familiarize themselves with the notion of academic integrity and the ways in which this plays out in their own work. A good place to start is this page. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students may not substantially reuse texts they have previously submitted in this or other courses. Minor overlap with previous work is allowed as long as it is duly noted in citation.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to Brightspace through Turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

ChatGPT: What is possible and what is allowed? Dos and Don'ts.

Assessment and weighing

Partial assessment weighing
Presentation/Attendance/Participation 40%
2 short essays of 1500-2000 words on the relation between history and theory in pre-1945 Japan and post-1945 Japan 30% each 60%

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower) and the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper, a resit of the paper is possible (60%). In that case the course lecturer may assign a (new) topic and set a new deadline.

A resit of the other partial assessments is not possible

Inspection and feedback

Feedback will be supplied primarily through Brightspace. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the assessment results, a review will be organized.

Reading list

To be announced closer to the start of the semester through Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.