Godzilla and the Bullet Train: Technology and Culture in Modern Japan

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Course Description

This course explores how and why Japan, a late-comer to modernization, emerged as an industrial power and the world's second-richest nation, notwithstanding its recent difficulties. We are particularly concerned with the historical development of technology in Japan especially after 1945, giving particular attention to the interplays between business, ideology, technology, and culture. We will discuss key historical phenomena that symbolize modern Japan as a technological power in the world; specific examples to be discussed in class include, kamikaze aircraft, the Shinkansen high-speed bullet train, Godzilla, and anime.

Course Requirements

Attendance in all class sessions is expected. As this is a seminar course, students are expected to be prepared for and to participate in discussion, either planned or impromptu. Readings for each session should be completed before the discussion on that unit begins, so pace yourself throughout the semester. A list of questions to discuss in class will be provided in advance. By the end of the course, students are expected to develop the ability to think critically about cultural issues of historical interest and importance in the history of technology within a non-Western context. Students are also expected to gain basic factual knowledge of Japanese history, and be able to reach informed conclusions about factual information regarding technology and culture in Japan.

During the semester, all students are required to make two presentations, each of about 15-minutes' duration. The subjects and dates will be determined by the student in consultation with the professor. Further instructions on these presentations, short papers, and weekly readings will be provided later.

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session



  • 1 Introduction: Understanding Japan
  • 2 Reading Maps and Defining Technology Brief in-class presentation
  • 3 Tokugawa Japan, 1600-1868 Paper 1 due
  • 4 Meiji Japan, 1868-1911
  • 5 Imperialism, Technology, and Business Paper 2 due
  • 6 Kamikazation of Japan, 1937-1945
  • 7 Postwar Japan I, 1945-73
  • 8 Symbol of Postwar Japan: Godzilla
  • 9 Symbol of Postwar Japan: The Shinkansen Bullet Train
  • 10 Postwar Japan II, 1973-Present
  • 11 Symbol of Postwar Japan: Anime
  • 12 Japan in the "West"
  • 13 Review: Technology and Culture in Modern Japan

Grading Policy

ACTIVITIES PERCENTAGES Short Papers 20% Presentation I 25% Presentation II 25% Attendance 30%


This page presents the full reading list for this class as well as a calendar of the reading assignments for each lecture.

Required Texts

  • Bring the State Back in the Global/Genomic World: Racial Difference and the Transforming States of Japan, Taiwan and Singapore (PDF) (Courtesy of Dr. Wen-Hua Kuo. Used with permission.)
  • Bartholomew, James R. The Formation of Science in Japan: Building a Research Tradition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989. ISBN: 9780300042610.
  • Blackford, Mansel G. The Rise of Modern Business in Great Britain, the United States,and Japan. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN: 9780807847329.
  • Cusumano, Michael A. The Japanese Automobile Industry: Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989. ISBN: 9780674472563.
  • Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1999. ISBN: 9780393046861.
  • Kingston, Jeffrey. Japan in Transformation, 1952-2000. New York, NY: Longman, 2001. ISBN: 9780582418752.
  • ICH Steering Committee. "The Future of ICH - Revised 2000: A Statement by the ICH Steering Committee on the occasion of the Fifth International Conference on Harmonisation, 9-11 November 2000, San Diego." (PDF)
  • Koizumi, Kenkichiro. "In Search of Wakon: The Cultural Dynamics of the Rise of Manufacturing Technology in Postwar Japan." Technology and Culture 43, no. 1 (2002): 29-49.
  • Napier, Susan J. Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001. ISBN: 9780312238629.
  • Nishiyama, Takashi. "Cross-disciplinary Technology Transfer in Trans-World War II Japan: The Japanese High-Speed Bullet Train as a Case Study." Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 1, no. 3 (2003): 305-325.
  • Nutley, Caroline. "The Value and Benefits of ICH to Industry." 2000. (PDF)
  • Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalism: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780226620916.
  • Partner, Simon. Assembled in Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000. ISBN: 9780520219397.
  • Samuels, Richard J. "Rich Nation, Strong Army": National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994. ISBN: 9780801427053.
  • Morris-Suzuki, Tessa. The Technological Transformation of Japan: From the Seventeenth to the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, MA, England, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN: 9780521424929.
  • Tobin, Joseph, ed. Pikachu's Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokémon. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004. ISBN: 9780822332879.
  • Tsutsui, William M. Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters. New York, NY: Palgrave, 2004. ISBN: 9781403964748.

Reading Assignments

LEC # TOPICS READING ASSIGNMENTS 1 Introduction: Understanding Japan Timeline Comparing Japan, U.S. and Other Civilizations (PDF) 2 Reading Maps and Defining Technology 3 Tokugawa Japan, 1600-1868 Bartholomew, chapters 1 and 2, pp. 1-48.

Black Ships and Samurai 4 Meiji Japan, 1868-1911 Samuels, chapter 3, pp. 33-78. 5 Imperialism, Technology, and Business Blackford, chapter 5, pp. 103-127. 6 Kamikazation of Japan, 1937-1945 Ohnuki-Tierney, chapter 5, pp. 157-185.

Kamikaze Images 7 Postwar Japan I, 1945-73 Dower, chapter 1, pp. 33-64.

Morris-Suzuki. The Technological Transformation of Japan. Chapter 7, pp. 161-208. 8 Symbol of Postwar Japan: Godzilla Tsutsui, chapter 3, pp. 81-111. 9 Symbol of Postwar Japan: The Shinkansen Bullet Train Koizumi

Nishiyama 10 Postwar Japan II, 1973-Present Partner, conclusion, pp. 225-242.

Cusmano, conclusion, pp. 374-384. 11 Symbol of Postwar Japan: Anime Napier, chapter 5, pp. 85-102.

Toby, conclusion, pp. 257-292. 12 Japan in the "West" Blackford, chapter 8, pp. 228-234.

Kingston, chapter 9, pp. 92-103. 13 Review: Technology and Culture in Modern Japan


This page contains the class assignments and some examples of the students' presentations. Student work is courtesy of the students named and used with permission.

ASSIGNMENTS STUDENT WORK Reading Maps and Defining Technology (PDF) Response Paper 1 (PDF) Anonymous (PDF) Response Paper 2 (PDF) Response Paper 3 (PDF) Katherine Han (PDF)

Course Page

STS.S28 Godzilla and the Bullet Train: Technology and Culture in Modern Japan


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