Online course

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Learn about the role of books in the relationship between the cultures of Japan and China, with this free online course.

Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books

Why join the course?

Books have played a major role in the formation of Japan’s culture, particularly those brought from China. On this course we’ll examine how big an impact these books have had, as well as looking at how books and religion are connected in Japan and East Asia, and the history of publishing in Japan.

Understand more about Chinese books, language and culture

Through the course you’ll discover more about the different types of Chinese books, their characteristics and their history. We’ll also look at books with strong Chinese influences and examine the culture of the area of the world that use the Chinese writing system.

Learn about the development of Japanese culture

We’ll then look at how these books made their way to Japan and how Chinese culture influenced Japanese culture. In particular we’ll focus on the Analects of Confucius and how the book has been received in Japan - from its introduction in the 3rd Century to how it’s considered today.

In addition we’ll look at books on Chinese studies from medieval to early modern Japan, how books from China and Korea were studied and disseminated and how the process created new types of book like commentaries and revised editions.

Explore the connection between books and religion in East Asia

You’ll also learn about the connections between publishing and religion - examining the influence of Zen Buddhism on Japanese culture.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 23 secondsWelcome to Keio University’s Institute of Oriental Classics. My name is HORIKAWA Takashi and I will be the main educator for this course. The Institute houses a large number of pre-19th century texts, more than half of which are in Chinese, traditionally called kanbun in Japan, or, “the writing of the Han”. Japan is located at the eastern end of the Eurasian continent and developed its culture largely by importing the more sophisticated cultures of China and the Korean kingdoms. Texts played an extremely important role in this process, so much so that it would be impossible to truly understand Japanese culture without considering the role played by texts from the Asian mainland.

Skip to 1 minute and 27 secondsIn this course, we will explore how Chinese culture was received, absorbed, and adapted in Japan using a number of specific texts from continental Asia as case studies. In the first week, we will cover the period 5th to 14th centuries C.E., paying special attention to the role played by texts from China and Korea, including Buddhist works, at the time of the emergence and consolidation of the early Japanese state and language. In the second week, we will focus on one of the most influential Chinese works of all time, the Analects of Confucius - in Chinese, “Lunyu”, and in Japanese “Rongo”. We will study how it was first introduced to Japan and its impact on Japanese culture.

Skip to 2 minutes and 24 secondsIn the third and final week, we will cover the period 14th to 19th centuries, focusing in particular on the activities of Zen monks and Confucian scholars who were key players in the reception of books from the continent. Pre-modern Zen temples played a role similar to that of the modern university. We will examine the research activity conducted at these institutions and how it compared in the books that they published. Through this course, you will learn about how Japan, while being profoundly influenced by continental cultures and Chinese culture in particular, was able to adapt and develop these influences to create its own distinctive culture. The course will also provide an excellent opportunity to think about cross-cultural interaction from a world history perspective.

Skip to 3 minutes and 25 secondsSo please join us for this exciting journey through books between cultures.

What topics will you cover?

  • History of textual culture in East Asia and Japan.
  • Evolution of printing technology in Japan and its relationship with religion.
  • Influence of China and Korea on Japanese book culture.
  • Publishing activity by Zen temples in the medieval Japan.
  • Publishing activity by scholars in pre-modern Japanese society.
  • Publishing activity by local and central governments for education.
  • Variety of types of books in Chinese studies.
  • Brief introduction of well-known Chinese poem collections: Santishi and Tangshi xuan.
  • Analects of Confucius, its reception, transition and influence on Japanese society.

When would you like to start?

Who is the course for?

There are no special requirements for this course, but an interest in East Asian culture or history might be useful.

Who will you learn with?

Takashi Horikawa

I am a professor at Keio University's Institute of Oriental Classics. I am studying Sino-Japanese literature.
I am the main educator of "Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books" course.

tomohiko sumiyoshi

I am a professor at Keio Institute of Oriental Classics. I study East Asian book culture featuring the transplant of Chinese Scholarship into Japan.

Satoshi Takahashi

I am a professor at Keio University's Keio University Faculty of Letters. I am studying Sino-Japanese literature.
I am the educator of "Sino-Japanese Interactions Through Rare Books" course.

Who developed the course?

Keio University is Japan’s first modern institution of higher learning, and since 1858 has established itself as a leader in Japan through its continued commitment to education, research and medicine.

Learners collage mobile

Join this course


  • Access to this course for 6 weeks
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes


  • Unlimited access to this course
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes
  • Certificate of Achievement to prove your success when you're eligible
  • Download and print your Certificate of Achievement anytime