Haruo Shirane

Haruo Shirane

Research Interest

Japanese literature, visual culture, and cultural history, with particular focus on the interaction between popular and elite cultures

Haruo Shirane's specialization is Japanese literature and culture, with particular specialization in premodern and early modern prose fiction, poetry, performance (oral storytelling and theater), and visual culture. He is currently finishing a book called Seeing the Unseen: Demons, Ghosts, and Other Worlds in Japan, which examines various forms of mediation between the world of the living and the supernatural. Another book project Performance, Media, and Intermediality in Japan explores the complex relationships among orality, manuscript, body, performance, and print culture in Japan. He teaches Japanese literature and cultural history, with particular focus on prose fiction, poetry, performative genres, and visual culture. His book, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons (Columbia University Press), explored the cultural construction of nature and the environment across a wide spectrum of literature, media, and visual arts from the ancient period to the modern. The following is a description:

Elegant representations of nature, explicitly the four seasons, fill a wide range of Japanese genres and media—from poetry and screen painting to tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and annual observances. Haruo Shirane shows, for the first time, how, when, and why this occurred and explicates the richly encoded social, religious, and political meanings these representations embodied. Refuting the long held belief that this phenomenon reflects agrarian origins, this book demonstrates how elegant representations of the four seasons first emerged in an urban environment among nobility in the eighth century. Shirane reveals how this kind of “secondary nature,” which flourished in Japan’s urban architecture and gardens, frequently fostered a sense of harmony with the natural world—just at the point at which it was receding. Eventually, alternative representations of nature derived from farm villages and elsewhere began to intersect with these elegant representations in the capital, creating a complex web of competing associations.

Professor Shirane has also edited a book on Japanese poetry called Waka Opening Up to the World: Language, Community, and Gender (Benseisha, 2012), a bilingual (Japanese-English) edition that brings together the best scholarship in both Japanese and English on the function and impact of Japan’s most influential poetic genre.

Professor Shirane is also engaged in bringing new approaches to the study of Japanese literary culture. This has resulted in Japanese Literature and Literary Theory (Nihon bungaku kara no hihyō riron, Kasama shoin, 2009), edited with Fujii Sadakazu and Matsui Kenji; and New Horizons in Japanese Literary Studies (Bensei Publishing, 2009), both of which explore new issues and methodologies in the study of print and literary culture.

Professor Shirane is also the editor of Food in Japanese Literature (Shibundō, 2008); Overseas Studies on The Tale of Genji (Ōfū, 2008); and Envisioning The Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production (Columbia University Press, 2008). The latter two books analyze the impact of The Tale of Genji on Japanese cultural history in multiple genres and historical periods.He has translated and edited a number of volumes on Japanese literature. These include The Demon at Agi Bridge and Other Japanese Tales (Columbia University Press, 2010), a collection of setsuwa (anecdotal literature); Classical Japanese Literature, An Anthology: Beginnings to 1600 (Columbia University Press,2006); Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600–1900 (Columbia University Press, 2002; abridged ed.,2008); and The Tales of the Heike (Columbia University Press, 2006, paperback 2008).

Professor Shirane is also deeply involved with the history of Japanese language and pedagogical needs and has written the Classical Japanese Reader and Essential Dictionary (2007) and Classical Japanese: A Grammar (Columbia University Press, 2005). Previous books include Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō (Stanford University Press, 1998) and The Bridge of Dreams: A Poetics of The Tale of Genji (Stanford University Press, 1987). He also is coeditor with Tomi Suzuki of Inventing the Classics: Modernity, National Identity, and Japanese Literature (Stanford University Press, 2001).

Professor Shirane received his BA from Columbia College (1974) and his PhD from Columbia University (1983). He is the recipient of Fulbright, Japan Foundation, SSRC, and NEH grants and has been awarded the Kadokawa Genyoshi Prize, Ishida Hakyō Prize, and, most recently, the Ueno Satsuki Memorial prize (2010) for outstanding research on Japanese culture.




Haruo Shirane and Keller Kimbrough, editors, Monsters, Animals, and Other Worlds: A Collection of Short Medieval Tales (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Haruo Shirane, Tomi Suzuki, and David Lurie, editors, The Cambridge History of Japanese Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Haruo Shirane and Thomas Harper, editors, Reading The Tale of Genji: Sources from the First Millennium (Columbia University Press, 2015).

Haruo Shirane, Japan and the Culture of Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts (Columbia University Press, 2012).

Haruo Shirane, editor, Envisioning the Tale of Genji: Media, Gender, and Cultural Production (Columbia University Press, 2008).

Haruo Shirane and Tomi Suzuki, editors, Inventing the Classics: Modernity, National Identity, and Japanese Literature (Stanford University Press, 2002).


WEAI professor Haruo Shirane is cited in article about Japanese art exhibits in The Wall Street Journal. November 1, 2012