Take this class! I had no prior knowledge of Japanese history or culture before enrolling and I can confidently say I learned a significant amount. Professor Pflugfelder is a phenomenal lecturer. In fact, I would argue he is one of the most interesting and engaging lecturers I have had during my time at Columbia. He is very knowledgeable of Japanese history and always adds interesting facts into each lecture. His slides have few words and are mostly filled with pictures and graphics that supplement the information he discusses during class. Therefore, it is paramount to go to class or it will be hard to teach the material to yourself. The content of the course is different than a traditional history class with a heavy focus on material culture and gender and sexual relations within Japan, but nevertheless, the information covered is fascinating. I greatly enjoyed my experience in IEAC: Japan with Professor Pflugfelder and highly recommend it to everyone!
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.
This class is awesome! It does, however, take a specific type of person to really appreciate and grasp what this course and Prof. Pflugfelder has to offer. Interestingly, Prof. Pflugfelder will not often lecture about historical events, but rather sociocultural phenomenon relating to historical events. He is very clearly knowledgable in the study of visual art and interpretation and always provides interesting content when presenting. The majority of the class is project-based learning. You are expected to have completed all the reading before coming into class and hearing a presentation from your classmates on the material that you have read. Every class will begin with a 10-minute quiz on the reading with only five questions. If have done the reading thoroughly you will never have a problem getting 5/5 on each quiz, if skimmed, you may still succeed but are bound to have a point off here and there. These quizzes are really only meant to boost your grade for doing the reading. After this the Prof. will present the topics that you have to choose from for your next presentation to the class for about 20-30 minutes, giving a small introduction to each prompt. All of the presentation topics have to do with visual analysis, which I believe truly gives another layer of depth to the historical events taking place at the time. Prof. Pflugfelder is truly interested in the topics he asks his students to present on and will always provide the necessary help to execute successfully. This type of attitude trickled down and students prepared diligently for their presentations, hoping to engage the class and present something of relevance. I would highly recommend this course to those who are interesting in alternative modes of learning, self-motivated learning and research, and visual analysis (high/low art, media etc.)
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.
The course unfortunately falls into all the stereotypes of a Columbia humanities course. If I could break down the proportion of time spent on learning different aspects of Japanese History it would be - 50% Gender and Sexuality, 30% Art and Mythology, 20% Politics and Economics. The readings are sometimes pretty good, but the lectures are all monolithic in their focus on gender relations and art. If you want to learn about wars, leaders, economic relations, and other things generally expected from a history course, don't take this one. If what you care about in Japanese culture is art, poetry, and the role of women, then it's for you. Professor Pflugfelder is an excellent professor and is very knowledgeable in the fields that the class focuses on. However, the lectures rarely include elements of political or military history as that aspect of the class is relegated to readings from a rather dry textbook.
I am not an EALAC or History major, but this was one of my fondest courses from undergrad. Prof. Pflugfelder is exactly what you would hope a professor to be at this University - a true subject matter expert, who is very approachable, fair, and engaging. A previous reviewer mentioned that this, "is not a military history course by any means, but there's a bit of that." In actuality, the fundamental essence of the samurai was his capacity as a warrior. Hence, everything involving the samurai was in some way military, but the class explores, "every conceivable angle--sexuality, ethics, legend, economics, law, gender roles, art, literature, film, political formations, major figures," as he or she noted. If you have any interest at all in Japanese History, the chance to explore it via "Who is the Samurai?" is a fantastic opportunity.
Great Professor, however there were some issues with the class. One of the TA's was constantly scanning the back of the classroom for people using their computers inappropriately or falling asleep, and her behavior was extremely distracting. Another issue I had was just with general housekeeping issues. Professor Pflugfelder didn't go over the syllabus in class which contributed to a number of misunderstandings. We were told to expect an average reading load of 50-150 pages per week- however on the last week of class the workload practically tripled with no warning whatsoever. There was nothing on the syllabus to suggest this because one of the assignments was an entire work with no indication of how many pages it contained. Additionally, I was left a little pissed off after I purchased materials that were later provided on courseworks for free. As a whole though, despite having no real interest in the subject matter and only taking the class because it was the best of the remaining global core options I had available to me since I had to register late, I feel positive about the course. I felt that everything was graded very generously and Prof. Pflugfelder is kind of hilarious.
DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS! For those of you who are not dissuaded by the first statement, please let me elaborate. It's quite sad that I have to tell you not to take this class because Pflugfelder is a great lecturer and attempts to be very engaging. However this class is ruined by unbearable required recitation and poor TA choice. There are four TA's in the Spring 2015 class. 2/4 TA's are certifiably insane 1/4 obviously paid someone a good amount of money to take the TOEFL because her English is not understandable 1/4 appears to be normal In this class the 2 crazy TA's pace the back of the lecture and torment students who are using their computers to distract themselves from the droning lecture. Personally I cannot pay attention during this class and the behavior of these 2 TA's serves as more of a distraction than a benefit to any persons involved. Instead they should just mind their own business and allow people to self-distract instead of not coming to class (due to this unnecessary policy). TLDR: Japan studies grad students are crazy and ruin the class. Take rise of civ and hope that you get an A-. Disclaimer: I had to stop going to this class because I can't stand it, but I still go to recitations as they play a role in participation.
This class was thoroughly useless, though not at all difficult to do well in. If you're a student from any of the "hard" majors at Columbia (read: not gender studies, poli sci, religion, EALAC, philosophy, etc.) and you're trying to fulfill your global core requirement then take this class! Negatives: -weekly 50 minute discussion section (just make 1-2 semi-intelligent comments are you're good to go) -boring class -absolutely useless (doesn't even make it chronologically to 1941, Pearl Harbor, WWII, Hiroshima & Nagasaki...unbelievable) -one really boring paper on Japanese art (not hard, just unbearably useless and uninteresting) Pros: -class is not very useful -midterm and final are easy -TAs give review sheets for both the midterm and final with all the terms you need to know (Wikipedia these and make a review guide and you'll do great, not only in ID questions but also for knowing the context for the essay questions) Overall: if you are conditioned to do lots of work for a class (i.e. you're a STEM major or something with equal workload) and you need to fulfill your global core, this class will require minimal effort to get a decent grade. Yes. it's an utter waste of time, but isn't that the point of global core? Take it.
This class made me want to tear my hair out towards the end of the semester. To be fair: Pflugfelder's syllabus is mostly comprehensive, and covers the important anthropological, cultural and sociological developments of Japan insofar as he could over the course of one semester. His lecturing style was not at all esoteric; his powerpoints were clear and his points were useful. That said, ASCE: Japan for me was saved by the strength of his TAs. On their part, they did an incredible job of scanning and uploading every single one of the extremely numerous and useful readings. While you didn't have to do them to get by in class, they were a resource for any EALAC major that came in useful for a variety of different classes. Pflugfelder tends to be tardy to classes, which results in him rushing his lectures. Almost every lecture ended with a hurried summation of important factors, some of which will never be got to, and every next lecture begins with a time-consuming and repetitive summary of the one before. Discussion sections do much of the legwork in making sense of and rounding out the lectures, especially in areas which the professor chooses to tread lightly upon. Focus on material is generally fair until the Tokugawa. Not much was said of any of the time between the Kamakura and Edo periods, steamrolling important chunks of Japanese history (the Azuchi-Momoyama period?) in favour of him discussing Edo sexuality and literature. He does give fair warning that this is his disciplinary focus, but for as long and important a period as Edo, one expected at least a little discussion of politics and economics. The Meiji era, too, was subject to steamrolling due to the amount of time Edo discussion took up.
Pflugfelder was a solid professor - usually a bit late to class - who presented thousands of years of Japanese history in a relatively clear manner. His main tool is his power point presentations. He presents the class with cultural artifacts/paintings/prints as a means to bring the material to life (pardon the cliche). I was never one of those guys who obsessed about Japanese culture / anime, so I was quite surprised to find myself genuinely engaged with the class. That said, he focuses on gender and sexuality, which can get tiresome. Sometimes you really don't care about the aesthetics of imperial courtship and would prefer to just read about the events of the era. I did the readings only to get my weekly courseworks posting out of the way. Meaning I skimmed the first ten pages of the document, read other comments in the discussion thread, and BS'ed something. I highly recommend you do the same, as almost none of the material appears on the midterm or final. The focus is on lecture material. The grading was surprisingly tough - a friend who took the class a year before me said this was probably due to my TA. If you put in an earnest effort, you will wind up with a decent grade.
I'm glad I took this class, but it is definitely a mixed bag. The readings are pretty consistently awesome/fascinating, and never a drag to read, and the text is relatively short, though a little boring at points. The lectures range from funny, to MIND-NUMBINGLY BORING, and weigh heavily towards the latter. I tended to bring my laptop towards the end of the semester and just go online during lectures.. The worst part of the course, however, was defintely the fact that Pflugfelder showed up for class at least ten minutes late every day! And sometimes he didn't have a lecture prepared... I also applied for another class of his and he took more than a WEEK longer than he promised to notify us about it. You can't rely on this guy. I didn't take this class for major cultures, cause I'm an EALAC major, but if you're interested in Japan, this class isn't bad, it's just frustrating sometimes.
This is the sort of class where you'll get out of it exactly what you put in. The material is absolutely fascinating; readings come from every discipline, from psychology to art history to ancient Japanese folk tales. The class itself was a similar mix, including several EALAC majors, but also students from neuroscience, political science, math, and history. Professor Pflugfelder is also incredibly interested in the subject matter; he once told us, "I can't believe I get paid to do this," and that sort of enthusiasm makes for a more interesting class. That being said, he's also incredibly lazy, so you won't get much feedback on your work, and more than a couple classes wound up being substituted with outside lectures or panels he was speaking at, seemingly because he forgot about the schedule conflict until the last minute. On the one hand, the class is small enough that everyone will notice if you haven't done the reading; on the other hand, nobody seems to care very much. If you're looking for a class to coast through, there are much better ones to take, but if you're genuinely interested, then this class has the potential to do a lot for you.
Readings are very stimulating and interesting. His teaching style, not so. He speaks very slowly which is good for notetaking, but he ALWAYS digresses so that he doesn't finish everything on his agenda. Most of the times we had to stay over for 10-15 minutes for him to jam important info into 5 minutes. He focused on gender/sexuality and the Tokugawa period since he's an expert in that field. Lectures aren't all that important since 70% of it are just digressions.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT LISTEN TO THE NEGATIVE REVIEWS. This is the Major cultures class to take!!! Trust me. Here is my Major cultures class check-off list, and if this is what you are looking for, go for it: 1. Minimal readings, so-so workload (i mean, the entire core can't be surfaces and knots, but the course textbook is LESS THAN 100 PAGES and written at a 3rd grade reading level) 2. Lectures are optional, if you read. Reading is optional if you go to lecture. 3. He is a NICE NICE NICE guy, and really knowledgable, so you'll learn atleast something about japanese history...which is surprisingly interesting. Sure, he emphasizes gender and sex...but I can think of a lot more boring subjects to emphasize, if he insists on concentrating on one area more than others. Yeah, discussion sections are annoying, but my TA - Steve Wills - was incredible, so just hope for the best. Take the class - its the best way around the requirement.
Don't listen to the negative reviews. Professor Pflugfelder's lectures are comprehensive. He emphasizes sex and gender, but various other aspects of Japanese history are aptly addressed. I have such an appreciation for the Japanese culture after having taken this class. Pflugfelder's sensitivity to gender issues is quite refreshing in a university environment that sometimes seems stiflingly patriarchal. The readings he assigns are deeply interesting; students too lazy to read them miss out. My TA, Reto Hofmann, was also excellent. He gave helpful comments on papers and led seminars in an organized fashion. Take this class!
Even though Japanese History is so rich and interesting Pflugfelder does the worst job of presenting such an interesting material. He somehow connects most historical events to gender and you basically miss the interesting part of the class such as Japanese culture and politics. Yes, studying gender is part of the culture but for Pflugfelder Japanese history is all about gender. Furthermore, the way Pflugfelder talks just makes you fall asleep in a minute. Taking notes is such a pain since it is hard to follow the pace of Pflugfelder. In addition, he always arrives late and class almost ends around 7.35, which is another reason to fall asleep. I am sure that Pflugfelder knows a lot about Japanese history and culture. However, knowing something is as important as being able to present in an interesting way. Apart from Pflugfelder, the readings are interesting, especially readings towards the end of the semester. However, there was way too much reading for a 3-point point class. The questions in the midterm are basically a combination of the lectures and the textbook. So, going to lectures may help but you may also be fine by only reading the textbook. However, if you are patient enough I would recommend attending classes and taking notes. Basically, I would definitely recommend you taking Jap. Civ. but with some other professor.
Sigh, this class made me really sad. I came into the class expecting a comprehensive overview of Japan over the past 100 years. Instead I got images of umbrellas and a lot of sex. Pflugfelder decided to show history through images. The problem with that is he never really tells us anything about history. It's all well and good that the Japanese like to depict their political figures as catfish, but I definitely have no idea who those political figures are, what their importance is, or pretty much about anything relating to history. The textbook is also extremely dry when it comes to political matters. It seems like Pflugfelder had very little invested in this class and didn't even attend the last two weeks of lectures. The only saving grace of this class was the TA, Federico, who was incredibly intelligent and, believe it or not, actually taught us some things about Japan -- in the Twentieth Century no less! All in all take this class if you like looking at porn from the 1880s, but not if you enjoy something I like to call "history."
What a class. A comprehensive overview of Japanese history, civilization and culture until the mid 1900s, the class was never short of fascinating, the readings always engaging, and the lectures incredible. Professor Pflugfelder's vast wealth of knowledge and particular interests -- specifically gendered spaces throughout the different periods of Japanese history -- were the core of a broader narrative that was at once easy and a pleasure to follow. This course was never just a requirement-filler, but I consider myself lucky to have had Plugfelder as the professor. The format of the class -- honking big lecture twice a week, discussion section once a week , coursework postings the night before section -- created a nice balance of information and interaction.
The best part about this course is it draws a really interesting mix of wonderfully geeky students. Discussions, while often off topic, were always thought-provoking and interesting. You'll learn about not only Japanese monsters, but also American and European monsters, and you'll find yourself dissecting your 80s childhood frequently. Overall a fun course. Only annoying thing is that Pflugfelder is really spacey. He tends to end class 10 minutes late on a regular basis - either that or 10 minutes early. He's very easy to talk into extensions or changing due dates, which can be a bad thing when you realize that he's pushed things so far back that they're all due at once.
I have to agree with the previous reviewer--this is one of the best history courses (or courses of any other kind) that I've had. Prof. Pflugfelder is so relaxed and personable, his interest so genuine, and his knowledge (of course) so extensive that he is a real pleasure to work with. (He also has a great sense of humor.) This is not a military history course by any means; there's a bit of that, but the issue of "the samurai" is examined from nearly every conceivable angle--sexuality, ethics, legend, economics, law, gender roles, art, literature, film, political formations, major figures, etc. The course material, which is the most consistently interesting I've read, covers Japanese history from about 500 AD to present day. Be prepared for lots of visual aids (sometimes too many,) lots of off-the-wall theoretical questions, and lots of discussion. I don't know why it's not listed as a seminar; it is one.
This is a fantastic courses, one of the most interesting history courses I've had to date and a very rare undergraduate seminar non-seminar. Prepare to go very in depth into the world of the samurai, which is not only exciting and full of swashbuckling but is also a fascinating view of one social class (or mentality, or profession, or what?) throughout Japan's history. The readings are varied in topic and style, and the class topics are designed like a prism to reflect a different view of the samurai each time. The seminar-like atmosphere of a small discussion-based class is lively and offers a chance to sit back or go on for hours as you decide. This year we had the luck to have the class coincide with the 300th anniversary of the Ako Incident, otherwise known as the revenge of the 47 Ronin. Samurai movies and art exhibits opened right after class. Prof. Pflugfelder is an amazing professor, adept at both lecturing and leading discussions. He's very good at bringing out people's opinions and then rephrasing disagreements as opposing hypotheses. His only downside is that he likes to bring in a lot of pictures to show the class, which eats up discussion time.
The subject area is interesting. The lecturer, not so much. Pflugfelder's a great guy, and he is knowledgeable and funny about his area. However, his lectures tended to drag on, and we almost never got through what was planned before the end of the class. If you can tolerate dry lectures (interspersed with humor and interesting anecdotes), then what you learn totally makes up for what you suffer. However, beware if you have a tendency to fall asleep during slow lectures. Logistics: The lectures have little to do with what's on the test, and the discussion sections are pretty worthless but necessary. The midterm was based on the reader, and the final was based on the textbook; this may not always be true, but reading both should prepare you for the tests.
I loved this seminar course. Professor Pflugfelder is really interesting and fun. While he's not the best lecturer, he's very good at leading and provoking discussions, and he loves to tell funny stories. He talks to you as an equal and respects your opinion, even if he does not agree, which I appreciated greatly. If you ever take a seminar with him, be prepared to discuss the material. The workload is pretty heavy if you don't like lots of readings, but most of them, for this course at least, were very interesting.
This is a good course for the major cultures requirement. Pflugfelder's lectures run hot and cold, and he tries to infuse them with as much humor as possible. Weekly discussion sections are required and help clarify the material. Pflugfelder is a very easy grader, but watch out for numerous lectures on scat. This is the kind of course that will either turn you into an EALAC major or put you to sleep.