Prof. Pflugfelder is an interesting man. I want to note that his class is incredibly information-rich, and often very stimulating, but I think it is also worth noting that Prof. Pflugfelder's lecture style is oftentimes very meandering. Sitting through lecture is sometimes a bit like an acid trip in that everything makes sense and proceeds logically but you still wonder how the hell you got where you are, indeed sometimes you wonder "what is going on here?" I thoroughly enjoyed this class and felt that the readings complemented the lectures very well. I think that I gained a lot of appreciation for Japanese culture, artwork, and history through this class, and I think that Prof. Pflugfelder's class structure was very effective in giving students a very sound foundation in Japanese cultural studies. This class is much more focused on the culture surrounding different periods of Japanese civilization with less focus on specific events but you will still be well versed in important Japanese historical events. I highly recommend this class and Prof. Pflugfelder to anybody with an interest in Japanese history/culture.
Professor Pflugfelder is a great guy. Very engaging and passionate about his area of expertise. Here's the problem, his area of expertise doesn't seem to be history as the course name would suggest. The vast majority of the course was dedicated to sexuality, gender relations, art, poetry, and pop culture. Although these are certainly part of Japanese civilization, I was very disappointed that more than half of all slides had no reference to political, economic, or military developments. We were expected to learn about these development on our time by reading a very dry and boring textbook. But here's truly the worst part of the class. There are three TAs. One is quite nice and very approachable. The other two are very unpleasant and clearly have some kind of bias. For my recitation, I got the nice one. I thought I was lucky. Wrong. Because she was my TA, she wouldn't be grading any of my papers or work. Having studied a whole week for my midterm and gone to around 80% of the lectures, I received an 87. Every single one of my friend who studied >1 hour, came to no lectures, and openly told me to my face that they BSed the midterm, received above a 95 (Pflugfelder graded their test). For my final, I was extra encouraged and decided to study twice as hard. Made pages upon pages of notes, met with other students in the class, read outside books, went over all the readings, got a B+ in the class (friends told me they didn't even study, got A's). So, moral of the story. If you love Japanese poetry, art, and historical gender relations - take this class. If you do not particularly care about any of those things, you can still take this class and have a 50% chance of an A/A+ and a 50% chance of B/B+. For me, it was a waste of my time, a waste of my energy, and a waste of a grade in a subject I love. I learned more from Wikipedia than from the lectures. If you have a real passion for Japanese history and culture outside the previously mentioned areas, don't take this class. It will actually make you lose that interest.
Professor Moerman seems to be a really nice person. Some CULPA reviewers have mentioned that attendance at his lectures is very low. Perhaps Professor Moerman could alter the content of his lectures slightly--from devoting the bulk of the period to rambling exegesis to a lecture presentation more connected to the relevant socio-political-cultural-economic conditions that influenced the creation of the course's selected texts.
One of the best TAs I've had so far at Columbia. He really gives you a clear understanding of the material and keeps the recitation really interesting. The time goes by really fast. Your grade depends on your TA and recitation, so do the readings and responses, and do the readings every week so you can participate.
A truly interesting class. Lurie packs his lectures with tons of information and gives you a fast, but intriguing glimpse into one of the most unique Asian civilizations. The latter part of the course is especially interesting when you get to the transition from the isolated Japan to the eminent Asian power prior to WWII. It is organized like an introductory history class. The packet readings are far more important than the text readings, although those are also interesting. Lurie's interest in Japan is infectious and his quirky style definitely adds to the charm of the material.