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Publisher's Summary

Japan's extraordinary culture is like no other in the world, and it remains mysterious to many of us. And that's unfortunate, because to truly understand Japan's influence on the world stage, one needs to understand Japan's culture - on its own terms.

In an exciting partnership with the Smithsonian, The Great Courses presents these 24 lectures that offer an unforgettable tour of Japanese life and culture. Professor Ravina, with the expert collaboration of the Smithsonian's historians, brings you a grand portrait of Japan.

From the dawn of Confucianism and the Meiji Restoration to World War II and the economic miracle years of 1955 to 1975, you'll explore landmark periods of Japanese history and learn how broad events and movements introduced, innovated, and revised everything from spirituality to popular entertainment. Along the way you'll get revealing insights into Shinto (Japan's indigenous religion), the art of Katsushika Hokusai, literary works like The Tale of Genji and the haiku of Basho, the everyday lives of samurai, the universal appeal of filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, foods like yakitori and tempura, and so much more.

You'll come away from Professor Ravina's final lecture with a stronger sense of the very soul of this one-of-a-kind nation.

©2015 The Great Courses (P)2015 The Teaching Company, LLC

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great comprehensive cultural review

If you're looking to understand Japanese culture at a foundational level, or just want the 30,000' historical view this is a good listen.

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24 small slices of history and culture

Not quite sure if overall I have learned anything about the people and culture or if it was instead 24 slices of history that inform something of the culture. Either way enjoyable listening and well worth hearing tales.

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Enthralling

I've listened to at least a dozen Great Courses courses on Audible, and some have a tendency to wax and wane between interesting and dull. I found Understanding Japan to be a particularly exceptional course that maintained my interest throughout every chapter. The biggest disappointment was that it was only 12 hours long, it easily could have held my interest for twice as long. I will be hopefully awaiting more courses presented by Ravina in the future.

#Audible1

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2016-04-04

Very interesting and informative

What made the experience of listening to Understanding Japan the most enjoyable?

This course is a delight to listen to with a lot of information and a great narrator. My only complaint is that there is no PDF booklet to accompany the course like the other Great Courses. Hope it shows up soon!!!

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris K. Jones
  • 2015-12-15

Entertaining and Informative

Professor Ravina did an amazing job. The wealth of diverse knowledge of history, culture, economics, and philosophical explanations was awesome. I was particularly amazed by is precise and profoundly simplistic explanations of high Buddhist concepts and how they integrate into the thoughts, words and culture of the Japanese people. Being formally trained in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism Professor Ravina's grasp and ability to explain concepts of all kinds is a gift. As someone who has been fascinated with Japan and competes in its national sport of Judo it was so great to get the deep dive into the past, present and future of Japan. It is a great primer if you are making a trip to Japan. I'm very excited about being able to talk about history and cultural icons with my Japanese friends and colleagues. Thank you Professor incredible job and you had me laughing many times. Going to listen to it agin before my trip to Japan next year.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • J
  • 2016-07-23

Good overview, very academic

TL;DR: I have lived in Japan 20+ years, so have some perspective. Worth listening too, but light on modern times.

So, it's a "Great Course" (tm). I get that. And perhaps a cultural history of Japan will space things out more, so that we spend a whole chapter on Shinto Gods and how things worked back before time really started. The one takeaway from that chapter was "even in Japanese mythology, decisions are made by committee and take time".

Professor Ravina's modern stuff is somewhat disappointing, though. More than most societies, Japan has undergone two complete transformations since the mid-1850s, and while the book talks about that, I believe half of the focus or more should have been spent on that, rather than on the older discussions.

The books I wish I could find on audible are George Bailey Samson's 3 volume series on Japanese history, followed by Christopher's "Japanese Mind". They would, of course, take up more time than these short courses, but would be worth it.


13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Katie Lowry
  • 2015-12-31

Found it very useful when moving to Japan

Fantastic! Incredibly engaging overview of Japan which uses history and culture to explain where Japan came from and what it looks like today.
I downloaded this course as soon as my company moved me to Japan and have had a much better appreciation for this country since understanding the nuances explained in this course.
Thanks Professor Ravina for making this foreign culture understandable and accessible!

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Finn
  • 2015-12-09

Great Overview of Japanese History

While there are lots of juicy details that the course glosses over, the breadth of coverage is awesome. The professor is a really excellent speaker and knows the subject matter really well.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • brenty
  • 2015-09-01

Informative, entertaining, and well-presented!

I really enjoyed this overview of Japanese culture. My only complaint is that it ended. :)

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • sng
  • 2015-12-30

Excellent!

Wonderful narration, easy to understand and remember. Covers everything from current day culture, attitudes towards the world to food, movies to origins of them

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert Everman
  • 2015-10-04

One of the best

I liked everything. The professor was very passionate and taught the subject matter very well. I only wish there was a little more on the modern dynamics between Korean and Japanese relations.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Emma Bennett
  • 2016-09-16

Too much history, not enough culture

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 the Japanese Language; Early Japanese Buddhism; Japanese Family Life; and Japanese Foodways. All the other lectures were too heavy on the politics and history for my liking. If this had included more information about modern Japanese culture and what it’s like to live there, I think I would have enjoyed this more. I am not a history buff, so I kind of zoned out during some of the lectures that were more historical than cultural. I ended up listening to a few of the lectures twice because I didn’t get anything out of them the first time around. And even after two listens, some of the lectures still didn’t stick.

I’m surprised that Audible didn’t include a course guide or, at the very least, a glossary of people, places, and terms.

This was not a bad listening experience, so don’t be turned off by my low rating. It just wasn’t exactly what I wanted or expected. I even considered abandoning it around Lecture 10, but decided to power through. In the end, I don’t regret listening to the entire thing, as a couple of my favorite lectures were numbers 20 and 21.

17 of 21 people found this review helpful

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  • Clavius
  • 2015-10-03

Excellent Review

This is a great overview of Japanese history with an emphasis on the cultural aspects. The professor is excellent. His presentation is very good, making it easy to follow in the audio program.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful