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The Rise of Modern Japan

Discover how a nation devastated by World War II engineered an economic miracle only to face new challenges in a complex, modern world.

The Rise of Modern Japan is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 32.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from what happened to the subtitle? The professor was quite good. However the subtitle was quite a disaster. Is there still any quality control in the The Great Course?
Date published: 2024-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly informative I learned a great many things I didn't previously know about Japan from this course. For instance, I didn't know that up until 6 months before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military was divided over whether to attack the USSR to gain dominance in northern China and Russia, or to attack the U.S. to gain dominance in Southeast Asia. Nor did I know that prominent Japanese leaders were urging the Emperor to surrender more than a year before the actual surrender took place. My impression was always that Japanese leaders were united in their intent to fight to the death, and that it was only the dropping of the atomic bombs that changed their minds. From this course, I learned that Stalin launched a massive attack on Japanese territory just prior to the second atomic bomb, and it was the prospect of potentially having to surrender to a communist country that prompted Japan to finally surrender to the U.S. This course covers the many societal as well as economic changes that Japan experienced during the post war years. Professor Ravina is an engaging lecturer and I look forward to future courses from him.
Date published: 2024-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Efficient coverage of post-war to 2010s Japan Lectures covered all aspects of what happened to and in Japan from the post-war period. We learned about the economy, sociology, politics and how Japan films represent the sociology of Japan citizens. Prof Ravina's lecturing style is focused, efficient and fast-paced. He is passionate about the Japanese culture, history and politics.
Date published: 2023-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Split Grade: an A+ and a C As was true of his earlier series on “Understanding Japan: A Cultural History,” Dr. Mark Ravina’s present set of lectures is erudite and enlightening. The dramatically changing economic, political, and societal events experienced by the Japanese people during the years leading up to, during, and after WWII are carefully traced and explained. The relevant context of what was happening on the world stage during those years is not neglected. Neither are the fascinating responses of Japanese writers, film makers, and other artists of the era. If informational content were the sole measure, I’d consider this Great Course one of the very best of the more-than-one-hundred that I have purchased and studied. Dr. Ravina’s presentational manner is not that of a dispassionate academic. His speech is ever thoughtful and caring, whether he is reporting on admirable human accomplishments or on pathetic and tragic deeds and events. Up until a few years ago, reviewers on this website were provided with several 1–5 scales by which to rate component parts of each course. If I still had that option, I would give “The Rise of Modern Japan” a 5-out-of-5 rating for its impressive content. Unfortunately, the production values of the overall package here are not up to the kind of support that Dr. Ravina deserved. Camera angles and other aspects of the videography are mediocre. A repetitive slide show of unexplained images cycles through distractingly behind the professor much of the time. Other visual accompaniments, while often very good and helpful, suffer from some over-repetition and other strangely inappropriate use (e.g., as when a Sony product is flashed on-screen as Dr. Ravina is discussing a successful marketing effort by Panasonic). On several occasions, a delayed, ghostly echo of the lecturer’s words is audible and annoying. I wonder if the disappointing production values have some connection with the course’s having been produced during the covid-19 pandemic. Averaging in the cited flaws, I feel that an overall 4-out-of-5 rating for this product is fair. Please do not lose sight of the fact that the informational content of “The Rise of Modern Japan” is truly excellent. I recommend this course, despite its production flaws. It would be a shame for students to bypass it.
Date published: 2022-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative and comprehensive I could finally understand the intricacies of the politics and culture of modern Japan!
Date published: 2022-10-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Reused Material from "Understanding Japan" Lecture Professor Ravina is an excellent lecturer, and I enjoyed his "Understanding Japan: A Cultural History" before purchasing this lecture series. I thought "The Rise of Modern Japan" would pick up where "Understanding Japan" left off, but I found that although there was some new material, too much of it was content repeated/repackaged from the prior lecture series. A minor point: I don't enjoy watching segments where the professor looks to the side of the camera during the lecture instead of into the camera. So, although I recommend Professor Ravina as a lecturer, I suggest people skip this one and instead purchase access to "Understanding Japan."
Date published: 2022-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Filled a void in understanding Japan Professor Ravina presented the first course we ever bought from The Great Courses on Understanding Japan. We have travelled, studied and read of Japan as amateur enthusiasts. The content of this course provided many "ah ha" moments and we particularly enjoyed the content outlining chain of events and inter-relationships of policy. Our only comment would be in relation to the episode re movies and film makers - it was of interest but seemed out of step with the other content - easy to pass over if you wished to but the movies in question we did follow up and have watched at least one so far!
Date published: 2022-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deep dive into modern Japan This was a surprisingly excellent course. It’s a close look at Japanese postwar social, economic, and political history, and as such is much easier to take in than a broad course on the history of Japan. Points are sharply and neatly made, and we know the general international context, so there’s none of the blur that results from trying to take in too much too quickly. Anyone with an interest in film, or even the broader concept of art history as a means of cultural insight, will enjoy the Japanese movie reviews that the professor uses to illustrate his points. This course is well worth it if you enjoy the close examination of relatively brief but transformative historical periods.
Date published: 2022-06-24
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Professor Mark J. Ravina of The University of Texas at Austin covers Japan since World War II, dealing with the economic miracle that made it second only to the United States in the size of its economy. You learn how this happened and why Japanese markets plunged in the 1990s. You explore the economic, political, and social background, and the natural and nuclear disasters that befell Japan in 2011.


Mark J. Ravina

When people ask what I love about Japan, my quick and simple answer is, Japan is the most foreign, the most exotic place you can go with first-world telecommunications, first-world health care, and first-world hygiene, and that’s as true today as it was when I first went to Japan 45 years ago.


Emory University

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 received research grants from the Fulbright Program, the Japan Foundation, the Academy of Korean Studies, and the Association for Asian Studies. Professor Ravina has published extensively in early modern Japanese history, with a particular focus on the transnational and international aspects of political change. He has also published research on Japanese and Korean popular culture, Japanese economic thought, and the history of science. As a public intellectual, he has appeared on CNN, CNN International, NPR, and The History Channel. A former director of the East Asian Studies Program at Emory University, Professor Ravina has also served as president of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. In addition, he is on the editorial board of The Journal of Asian Studies. Professor Ravina’s books include The Last Samurai: The Life and Battles of Saigo Takamori and Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan.

By This Professor

Understanding Japan: A Cultural History
The Rise of Modern Japan
The Rise of Modern Japan


Japan’s Global War Vision Unravels

01: Japan’s Global War Vision Unravels

Explore the complex motives that led Japan into World War II and its risky challenge of American power. Professor Mark Ravina focusses on four Japanese officials who foresaw defeat in early 1944 and unsuccessfully urged the emperor to capitulate. Study the massive, decisive attack by the Soviet Union on Japanese forces in August 1945, roughly simultaneous with the US dropping of the atomic bombs.

30 min
How the US Occupation Remade Japan, 1945–1952

02: How the US Occupation Remade Japan, 1945–1952

Probe the reasoning that led US occupying forces, headed by General Douglas MacArthur, to exonerate the Japanese emperor from any responsibility for his country’s conduct in World War II. Part of an American strategy for making Japan an ally in the Cold War, the policy misled ordinary Japanese about the causes of the war. Also, learn about other controversial decisions of the occupation.

34 min
The Japanese Economic Miracle: Empire 2.0

03: The Japanese Economic Miracle: Empire 2.0

How did postwar Japan go from utter devastation and poverty to astonishing prosperity? Focus on the role of American occupation authorities in setting up Japan for success, both by design and by accident. See how the promotion of free trade and land reform paved the way for growth; political reform encouraged new blood and new ideas; and the Korean War provided a windfall of export opportunities.

33 min
Japan’s Civil Society Protests of 1960

04: Japan’s Civil Society Protests of 1960

Focus on the 1960 political crisis over a new security treaty with the United States that ironically brought an era of stability to Japanese politics. Then-prime minister Kishi Nobusuke used dictatorial methods to outflank leftist opponents, causing his own downfall, but also establishing an ironclad rule for his successors: Don’t be “Kishi.” The outcome helped cement Japan’s place in the international order.

32 min
Japan Inc. and Its Upstart Challengers

05: Japan Inc. and Its Upstart Challengers

Investigate the causes of the Japanese economic miracle, especially the planning role of MITI, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Observe that market success sometimes came in spite of the MITI—as with an upstart electronics company called Sony. Also look at total quality management and other revolutionary practices identified with Japanese industry, which in fact originated in the United States.

30 min
Japan Faces the Nixon Shocks: China and Gold

06: Japan Faces the Nixon Shocks: China and Gold

Learn how a misunderstood Japanese euphemism shaped US President Richard Nixon’s relationship with Japan, leading to policies that Japanese officials dubbed the “Nixon shocks,” notably the ending of the gold standard and America’s reproachment with China. Combined with the 1973 Arab oil embargo, these measures threatened Japan’s economic and strategic position. Discover how the nation coped.

28 min
The Rise of Japanese Cinema

07: The Rise of Japanese Cinema

Trace the shifting public mood in Japan through its popular and award-winning films. Mark highlights some of his favorites—from dramas made immediately after the war with their focus on loss and survival, to satires of middleclass prosperity in the 1970s and ’80s, and finally to dark comedies in the 1990s that chronicle economic stagnation and the futility of playing by the rules.

29 min
How Japan’s Carmakers Outmaneuvered Detroit

08: How Japan’s Carmakers Outmaneuvered Detroit

By the 1980s, Japan seemed poised to overtake the US lead as the largest and most innovative economy in the world. Emblematic of Japan’s preeminence was car manufacturing, which outcompeted US automakers thanks, in part, to Detroit’s missteps. This lecture also delves into Japan’s failures, including its inability to match American successes in the crucial high-tech field of software development.

32 min
From the Heights of Japan’s Bubble Economy

09: From the Heights of Japan’s Bubble Economy

The Japanese economic miracle fueled steady growth in asset and stock values that crashed spectacularly in the 1990s, eventually dropping by a catastrophic 75%. Study what made Japan’s resulting economic slump far more long-lasting than similar crashes in the United States. The differences have partly to do with the public mood in Japan and, also, the ineffective responses of government, banks, and industry.

26 min
Jobless and Divorced in Japan: “Wet Leaves”

10: Jobless and Divorced in Japan: “Wet Leaves”

See how Japan’s financial collapse led to protracted unemployment, petty crime, and broken families. As in Lesson 7, Mark uses popular culture for insight, including the 2008 film Tokyo Sonata, about an office worker who doesn’t tell his family he’s been fired. Instead, he goes to the park every day with other laid-off businessmen in suits, who all pretend to hold jobs while vainly seeking work.

24 min
Japan Confronts the Collapse of a Bubble

11: Japan Confronts the Collapse of a Bubble

Since the end of World War II, Japanese voters have favored the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partners more than 90% of the time. What accounts for the LDP’s success through good times and even bad times, suffering only a short setback after the collapse of the asset bubble in the 1990s? Also, why haven’t rival left-wing parties been able to gain a significant political foothold?

30 min
Japan after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

12: Japan after the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Learn that Japan’s equivalent of 9/11 is 3/11—March 11, 2011—when a severe earthquake rocked the country’s largest island, triggering a tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power disaster. Like 9/11, the calamity has had repercussions far beyond the loss of lives and property. Mark concludes the course by analyzing Japan’s resulting political, economic, and social challenges.

27 min