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Understanding Japan: A Cultural History

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  545 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Japan’s extraordinary culture is like no other in the world. The 2,000-year-old civilization grew through periods of seclusion and assimilation to cultivate a society responsible for immeasurable influences on the rest of the world. What makes Japan so distinctive?

The answer is more than just spiritual beliefs or culinary tastes. It’s the ongoing clash between tradition
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Published July 24th 2015 by The Teaching Company (first published 2015)
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May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. It is 4 DVDs, each DVD has about 5 lectures on it. Most of it is Dr. Ravina lecturing on a stage, but this is complemented by maps, colour photos, and timelines. He also has a good sense of humour.

It is more informative than a typical documentary on TV, but not as academic as a university course. I know much more about Japanese history thanks to this DVD set. I find typical TV shows on history to be far too fluffy, done more for entertainment than teaching. Dr. Ravina's lectures are
Clif Hostetler
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, lecture
These are twenty-four lectures on the history of Japan that provides extensive coverage of cultural components in additional to the usual political aspects of history. This production by The Great Courses is published in partnership with the Smithsonian which I suppose made available their collections of Japanese artwork and archival material. I listened to the audio version, so any visuals were not available to me. The lecturer, Mark J. Ravina, has extensive background in studies of East Asia ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ha-read-from-tbr
It is not easy to so much history into 12+ hours but Mr. Ravina did very good job.
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This course was awesome! I'm not sure it's a great fit for experts of Japanese history... But for me it was perfect. After dipping my toes into Japanese history over the past few decades I wanted an overview of its different eras. Unfortunately, it's been surprisingly hard for me to find something like that. I feel like my libraries always seem to have that dumb Bill O'Reilly book about WWII, or a lot of dated books from decades ago that take an orientalism POV on Japan's history. Not really ...more
Lubinka Dimitrova
The author's love for his object is obvious, and maybe that's one of the reasons this book is such a delight. It explores many and various aspects of Japanese history, language, culture and weltanschauung in general. I thoroughly enjoyed mr. Ravina's style, and was actually sorry to reach the end of the book so soon.
Jul 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this lecture series as a casual listen in the car during commutes. The presenter covered a wide range of topics, from language and food to history, economics, and myth.

I went back and re-listened to a couple of the lectures just for fun. I think I’m about to go down a rabbit hole on Japanese culture and history, the way I did for Egypt last year, and I’m glad I started here. The series gives you a good, wide base of cultural knowledge to start from, so I’m ready to start
Jingwei Shi
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
The professor gives a comprehensive review of the Japanese mentality and thought. The book summarizes all key aspect of Japanese history, culture and daily life. I would have preferred a deeper dive into the history of Japan and a deeper dive into the economics.
Cliff Moyce
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Listening to this audiobook I think I learned a lot more about Japan's political history than its cultural history.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For a history lover like me, the right mix between the history and culture of Japan. If you’re just looking to learn about Japan’s contemporary culture, you may want to find another book. As for me, I’m glad to own this instead of borrowing it from the library, because I know I’ll be listening to this one again sometime.
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars This is an incredibly well done course which really does cover the cultural history and doesn't get bogged down in miltary or political history. Ravina is an engaging lecturer and relates interesting stories. He has a depth of knowledge on Japanese culture and uses that to form a coherent discussion on Japan's culture and how it developed. I highly recommend this course.
Marija S.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An interdisciplinary treasure of a course
Graeme Roberts
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent history, delivered with elan by Mark Ravina, who could make a shopping list fascinating. It opened vast new vistas of understanding for me. I listened to it in the car, so I quickly became confused by all the Japanese names, forgetting them too soon. Next time, I will use the accompanying notes, delivered as a PDF, to reinforce my understanding.
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was ok
There were several aspects of this lecture series that I really enjoyed, but the negative outweighed the positive. The lecturer, Mark Ravina was very enthusiastic. He seemed to be very knowledgeable of Japan’s customs, culture and history. If Ravina were to ever write a book about Japanese culture or his personal travels and experiences in Japan, I would read it. Unfortunately only five out of the twenty-four lectures were memorable for me: Understanding Japan through Ancient Myths; Aspects of ...more
Oct 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
The course offers exactly what the blurb suggests - a lot of information about a culture and society that would appear quite exotic to any foreigner. The pace is reasonably quick and the subjects covered are vast - from the Japanese art/literature/architecture to the religious practices, dress, mannerisms, values (including Bushido), food and of course history.

To a degree, the course tries to stay as criticism-free as what the general Japanese mores would permit: it refuses to detail the
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Audio download...24 lectures, about 30 minutes each.
Mark Ravina has prepared a thoroughly enjoyable set of lectures intended to introduce you to the history and culture of Japan. His preparation, organization and presentation are nearly prefect, especially the synopsis of the early history and the description of modern Japan. For those considering a purchase, you won't be disappointed...wait for a coupon and sale, and consider the video.
Why the brief review? We are planning a brief visit to
Oct 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Some of these lectures are terrific, some less so, but what halts me from a fuller rating is that there need to be chapter notes the same as how podcasts have show notes. I wanted to look up some of the names and dates after the fact but it isn't available in-product and thus lessens my ability to retain information.
Jan 27, 2017 rated it liked it
I definitely feel that I've learned a few things from this book, though im not sure it's exactly what I was hoping for. The lecturer did a good job of making this interesting, and its evident that he's passionate about his subject, but there was something missing for me. Worth a listen, though.
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Super good survey course of Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed this and learned a lot.
Joshua Peters
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Really fantastic overview of Japanese history and culture; I really enjoyed Professor Ravina's lectures.
Maurício Linhares
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
With it's complicated and cyclic openness and closeness to the world, it's culture going from liberal to conservative and it's great spurs of growth and stagnation, Japan looks like a microcosm of the world. Going from nation in danger of being invaded by foreigners (like the Mongols) to a nation that took over the Korean peninsula and then try to take pieces of China, triggering the World War 2 in the Pacific Theater, the effects and changes caused by Japan to itself and the rest of the world ...more
Deeparnak Bhowmick
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My original plan when I started reading this was to finish it before my Japan trip. But the lectures were so engaging and informative, that I gave up my normal pace to take detailed notes. Therefore, I was only halfway through when I visited the country.

What makes this set of lectures very engaging is Prof. Ravina's personal experiences which build upon his extensive knowledge of Japanese culture and history. Unlike typical books that try to simplify a complex foreign culture, these lectures go
Teo 2050

Ravina MJ (2015) (12:00) Understanding Japan - A Cultural History

01. Japan: A Globally Engaged Island Nation
02. Understanding Japan through Ancient Myths
03. The Emergence of the Ritsuryo State
04. Aspects of the Japanese Language
05. Early Japanese Buddhism
06. Heian Court Culture
07. The Rise of the Samurai
08. Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism
09. Samurai Culture in the Ashikaga Period
10. Japan at Home and Abroad, 1300 - 1600
11. Japan’s Isolation in the Tokugawa Period
12. Japanese Theater:
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I greatly enjoyed this"little" jaunt into an area of history I knew little about. The opening lecture matched largely with my ideas of what was, and revealed flaws in a kindly way.

Each of the lectures just 30 min each was distinct and interesting but kept cohesive to the overall narrative. The speaker's time is good, and he allows him self levity and minor tangents that bring life and detail to the history.

I found many of my notions of samurai and Bushido shattered, which pleased me greatly as
Scott Wozniak
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was my first "Great Course" experience, where a notable professor lectures on his specialty. It was wonderful. He was articulate and managed to be engaging while covering a huge amount of information. He did this not by swamping you with all the details, but by cutting to the root and sharing the patterns and big ideas. He made comparisons to things we know.

I've heard it said that great experts can show you how even simple things are actually complex, while great teachers can make even the
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is my first listen to the series and it was overwhelming in its depth and detail in various subjects surrounding Japan. There is so much information and it's presented in easy 30-minute lectures to digest slowly and reflect on the notes in the accompanying PDF.
The presentation was excellent and the narration was perfect. I enjoyed the pacing and found the content engaging throughout thanks to the lecturer's sincere interest in Japanese culture and the intonation was spot on with how I
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I had high hopes for this since I love Japan, but I couldn’t help coming away underwhelmed. This was presented from a historian’s perspective. I’ve listened to a lot of great audiobooks lately, and this one had a hard time keeping my interest. Perhaps because the polished narration / storytelling you’d find from a well written book was missing.

85% history / 15% culture — would love it if those numbers were reversed. Just my personal preference. Coverage on modern day Japan was limited only to
Dec 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent overview. I've had a few less than stellar experiences with the Great Courses (along with some good ones, too), so I've been avoiding them a bit, but this one covered a lot of ground, and left me feeling like I'd learned a lot about Japanese history, including several aspects of art history, and a number of cultural insights I hadn't learned about, despite already having read quite a bit. I would definitely recommend this if you are interested in learning more about Japan.
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, great-courses
Absolutely loved this one. It was worth the wait. I had to kind of rush through some lectures at the end because my library rental was about to expire and the wait time to request it again was about 16 weeks, but it wasn’t even hard with this lecture series. There were some I didn’t care for as much, like honestly the whole lecture on two Japanese directors I just kind of tuned out for, but overall it was awesome. My favorite bar far being Lecture 21 about food!
Shana Yates
Oct 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, culture
Very good set of lectures. Professor Ravina's love of Japanese culture shines through and he has done an admirable job breaking down many interesting aspects of that culture into 24 lectures. From explorations of Japanese gardens, poetry, and theater, to historical overviews of various cycles of isolationism and international enrichment, to religion and foodways, the lectures cover a wide range of topics to paint a fuller picture of Japan. Recommended.
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Engaging history of Japan alternating between historical overviews and cultural insights. Arranged around the epochs of Japan opening and closing its borders, with a strong thesis that Japan has been influenced by and influenced the cultures around it. Loved the sections on the stories that have emerged at different points in Japan’s history and how this has echoed through its understanding of itself.
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Dr. Mark J. Ravina is Professor of History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1991. He received his A.B. from Columbia University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. He has been a visiting professor at Kyoto University’s Institute for Research in Humanities and a research fellow at Keio University and the International Research Center for Japanese Studies. He has also ...more