Books on Japan: Japanese History
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Tokyo Rising - The City since the Great Earthquake
Translator and Japan scholar Edward Seidensticker's Tokyo Rising continues the series begun with Tokyo: Low City, High City.
Beginning with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Seidensticker documents the relative freedom of the Taisho Period, the onset of imperialism and militarism in the 1930s, World War II, the American Occupation, post-war economic growth, up until the late 1980s, and what these periods meant to and for Tokyo.
Seidensticker's work was published in 1990, and the final section in particular makes for interesting reading with its emphasis on Japan's (and by extension Tokyo's) seeming invincibility and the decline of the West.
Originally published in Japanese in 1982, Naito's book attempts to outline the early rise of Edo, from 1603-1867, the period when the city served as the capital of the Shogun. These were the military leaders who in theory served the Emperor in Kyoto, but who in practice ran the country. This period gave birth to much of what is now considered to be the core of Japanese culture: kabuki, ukiyoe, geisha, sumo, and the haiku poets. When Japan was finally forced to open to the outside world by Admiral Perry and his Black ships, at the very end of the book, Tokyo was the largest city in the world.
Unbeaten Tracks In Japan
To a large extent, history is written by and about elites within a society. Political, military, cultural, economic, and religious elites. There is little about "the common folks", the "people". Chances are, that the image you have of historical Japan is of Samurai or Geisha, Tea Ceremony or Haiku, or the "floating world" of Edo. But most Japanese were peasants in the countryside, far removed from such a life. How can we find out what their lives were like?
Court & Bakufu in Japan: Essays in Kamakura History
by Jeffrey P. Mass (Editor)
The Kamakura period (1180-1333) of Japanese history is considered to be the time when political power shifted from the Imperial Court in Kyoto to the Bakufu (Warrior government) in Kamakura. However, it was not an abrupt change as comes about by a revolution for example, but a slow shift that also involved many forces and political actors other than the Court and the Bakufu. The essays in this book, all by American historians, shed light on some of the processes contributing to the shift in power. Many of the essays presume some knowledge of the period by the reader, but there is an excellent glossary with Japanese characters that I would suggest reading first, and I would also suggest reading the epilogue which serves as a better introduction than the actual introduction. The essays that I found most interesting and informative were Joan Piggott's essay on Nara's Todaiji Temple that illustrates the great economic and hence political power wielded by the great temples, Martin Collcutt's piece on the spread of Zen monasteries during the Kamakura period, which is attributed to its appeal to warriors and its sponsorship by the ruling elite, who viewed it as a counterbalance to the increasing military power of the great temples, and Lorraine Harrington's essay on social control and Akuto (literally "evil bands", but meaning outlaws). If you want an introduction to the Kamakura period, this is not the book for you, but if your interest is in medieval Japan then I would recommend it.
Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States
The premise of this book is that "schools and textbooks are important vehicles through which contemporary societies transmit ideas of citizenship and both the idealized past and the promised future". The 10 chapters look at how World War II and the Vietnam War are represented in school history textbooks in the 3 countries. Almost 50 years after the end of the war, controversy over Japanese text books continues to rage, and this book is useful to put that into some sort of perspective. Of the 10 chapters, 6 deal with Japan, including a chapter with all the details of Saburo Ienaga's famous textbook lawsuits against the Japanese government, and a couple of chapters on joint history projects between Japan and Korea, and Japan and the U.S. The common conception is that Japan has not yet faced up to its wartime past, and while I agree, after reading this book my view has been somewhat softened. Compared with the U.S.A., Japan has done more to teach its young about the negative side of its wars. If you enjoyed reading Ian Buruma's Wages of Guilt, then you will enjoy this book.
Musui's Story: The Autobiography of a Tokugawa Samurai
by Katsu Kokichi
Anyone hoping to find Bushido or any other romantic idealizations of samurai life in this book will be sorely disappointed. Katsu Kokichi was born into a low-level samurai family in 1802. For lower-level samurai at this time, entering government service as a bureaucrat was just about the only way to make an income, the alternative being to take up a trade. Katsu chose neither of these paths, spending most of his life as a con-man, gangster, and itinerant second-hand sword trader. In the company of ruffians, thieves, beggars, gamblers, and other con men his life was spent brawling, drinking, and carousing in the Yoshiwara. The book is unusual in that autobiographies in Japan were very rare, only a handful of famous scholars having written any. Katsu was by no stretch of the imagination a scholar, being illiterate until his twenties, and it seems the purpose of his autobiography was to serve as a warning to his descendants not to follow his example. The translator has kept his colloquial style, and the book reads almost as a novel sometimes. Anyone wanting to know about daily life among the lower classes of 19th century Edo will enjoy this book.
Kwaidan: Stories & Studies of Strange Things
Lafcadio Hearn was born to Greek and Irish parents, and after a time in America came to Japan in 1890. He taught English in Matsue (present-day Shimane Prefecture, where there is a museum to him), married a Japanese woman, and eventually became a Japanese citizen, taking the name Koizumi Yagumo (Yakumo). He is best known as a chronicler of things Japanese, and this book, originally published in 1904 is probably his best known. It is primarily a collection of folk tales and ghost stories, although there is also 3 sections on insects, including a good collection of Haiku on butterflies. He included ample footnotes with explanations of Japanese terms, so the book contains a wealth of information on old Japan. Interestingly, many Japanese are not aware that Koizumi Yagumo was a European, and not Japanese by blood.
Japanese Historians & The National Myths, 1600-1945
|The Yamato Dynasty: The secret history of Japan's imperial family|
The Yamato Dynasty: The secret history of Japan's imperial family
Since Emperor Hirohito's death in 1989 much evidence has surfaced concerning his involvement and responsibility for World War II, and his subsequent avoidance of any culpability for it. Bix's "Hirohito and the making of modern Japan" is probably the best known book on the subject. The Seagraves' go much further, examing the Imperial family's involvement in war crimes, and the depth of the American program to cover it up. The book focuses on "Operation Golden Lily" which was a secret Japanese operation to steal billions of dollars worth of precious metals, jewels, art, and religious artifacts from the countries it invaded in the 30's and 40's. Most people are aware of Nazi Germany's plundering of the countries it occupied, yet few know that Japan looted a far greater amount. The book traces the Imperial family's involvement, and what has happened to the loot since the end of the war. The authors are investigative journalists, and the book reads like a political thriller, so I don't want to give too much away, but the names Ferdinand Marcos and the C.I.A. pop up concerning the fate of the treasure. The Seagraves earlier books also dealt with the elite famiy groups that hold power in S.E. Asia, and this book continues in a similar vein. It also shows the relationship between certain American family dynasties and the powerful Japanese familes that ran, and continue to run Japan. It was the first time I saw mention of the Tsutsumi family, probably the richest in the world. The book is well-researched and documented, and guaranteed to make you rethink Japan's economic rise from the ashes of WWII. If you have any interest in the economic machinations of the world's powerful elites, then this book is a fascinating read.
|Drifting Toward The Southeast: The Story of Five Japanese Castaways|
Drifting Toward The Southeast: The Story of Five Japanese Castaways
by John Manjiro
A shipwreck on a small island off Tosa (present-day Kochi Prefecture) was the start of an amazing adventure for a boy who went on to be the first Japanese to see America. Only 14 at the time, Manjiro (later, John Manjiro or John Mung; and eventually, Nakahama Manjiro) was rescued with four of his fishing companions in 1841 by the John Howland, an American whaling ship under the command of Captain William Whitfield, who, realizing that the young men would likely be imprisoned or killed if returned to Japan, took them on to Oahu. Along the way, Whitfield was so charmed with Manjiro's intelligence and winning character that he invited the boy back to his home in Massachusetts. Once in the U.S., Manjiro received a formal education and training in English, before shipping out again and eventually arriving in California in time for the Gold Rush, which enabled him to make enough money to make the passage back to Kochi.
In 1851, the Tokugawa Shogunate's seclusionist policies still forbid castaways from returning to Japan, so Manjiro's homecoming was cut short by his arrest and extensive interrogation. To understand exactly what Manjiro had experienced, the samurai-scholar Kawada Shoryo, known for his proficiency in Dutch and familiarity with the outside world, was appointed to transcribe Manjiro's story. The resulting account, Hyosan Kiryaku, has now been published in an exquisite volume translated by Nagakuni Junya and Kitadai Junji. Along with the original narrative, rendered in excellent English, Drifting Toward the Southeast includes color reproductions of Kawada and Manjiro's illustrations throughout the book and supplementary texts that provide biographical information and historical background on the period. Though prevented from assisting in direct negotiations with Commodore Perry, Manjiro was later made a samurai, served as a foreign envoy, taught Fukuzawa Yukichi English and became a professor at Tokyo Imperial University. Not bad for a fisherman who started life without a last name.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out
|Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan|
Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan
In 1848 a 24-year-old young man left an American whaling ship off the coast of Hokkaido. In a tiny boat he made his way alone to a Japan that had been closed off to the outside world for over two hundred years. The man was Ranald MacDonald, a half-Chinook, half-Scot who was following his dream of entering Japan to become an interpreter and English teacher.
The first third of Schodt's definitive biography of this true-life adventurer covers Ranald's childhood and youth growing up on the coast of the Pacific Northwest, where he first heard the stories of the "three Kichis", 3 Japanese who had landed on the Pacific coast of North America a few years before. As part of the Japanese government's policy of seclusion, it was illegal to build vessels capable of ocean voyages, consequently many boats encountered storms and drifted out to sea, unable to navigate back to port. Numerous boats drifted for months, and the lucky ones were picked up, usually by whaling ships, and dropped off at Hawaii or the west coast of America.
To fulfill his dream, Ranald became a whaler, because at the time it was the whaling fleets that were having increasing contact with the mysterious closed-off Japan. After finally arriving off the coast of Hokkaido, MacDonald was promptly arrested and held for a while before being taken to Nagasaki to await deportation. While imprisoned in Nagasaki he befriended his jailers and interrogators, and secretly kept notes on the Japanese language and customs which later proved useful to the Americans negotiating with Japan after Perry's famous "Black Ships" encounter in the 1850s. His main interrogator also became the Japanese govenment's chief translator for Perry's mission.
A fascinating look at a little-known personality and adventurer who as an individual helped in the opening of Japan, the author has thoroughly researched the story both in Japan and the U.S., and the book is useful for the details and glimpses it provides of Japan in a time of change.
|Emperor of Japan|
Emperor of Japan
by Donald Keene
During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Japan was thrust back into the world after a two-century self-imposed absence in which Japanese were prohibited from leaving and foreigners were banned from entering Japan - punishable by death. In this period, Japan entered the world stage hellbent on modernizing and catching up with the imperial powers of the West. Donald Keene, the dean of Japan studies and Professor Emeritus at Columbia, attempts to paint a picture of the Emperor for whom the period is named and about whom little is known. His name and the period are of course extremely well-known, both inside and outside of Japan; but the life of the Meiji Emperor himself remains hidden.
Drawing extensively from the Tenno no Ki, or official imperial diary, and other Japanese sources, Keene fills in the many blanks of the life of a man often derided as a mere figure-head. When the Meiji Emperor began his rule, in 1867, Japan was not a unified country per se; it was dominated rather by the shogun and the daimyos, who ruled over Japan's more than 250 decentralized domains. However, these rabidly xenophobic men yielded ultimately to a new constitution and Japan was on the road to becoming a modern state.
Keene's biography begins with the emperor's traditional education; we see the formal occasions that acquainted the young emperor with his subjects; have a ringside seat at his court, marriage, and his relationships with various consorts. This is a massive tome that will keep the reader hoping for more and sorry to see its 900-plus pages end.
|The Burma Road|
The Burma Road
The Imperial Japanese Army ripped through Asia and the Pacific in 1941, with no one seemingly able to stop the onslaught. China came under increasingly brutal occupation, until it was no longer in control of any of its ports. To get around what was effectively a blockade - the Japanese occupation - some 200,000 Chinese laborers built a 700-mile overland route - the legendary Burma Road - through the jungle from southwest China into Burma. The city of Lashio - the jumping off point of the Burma Road - was connected by train to the Burmese port city Rangoon. And thus was China, briefly, connected to supplies from the outside world. This came to an abrupt halt in 1942 when Japan crushed Burma and occupied it too, and thus closing off the Burma Road.
"The Burma Road" recounts the war in Burma from the point of view of the soldiers who fought and often died there. Isolated mountains that were considered of little strategic value, northern Burma became the site of fierce fighting as the Allies attempted to pry China from the grip of the Japanese. In masculine prose, Donovan Webster revisits what is left of the Road in an attempt at experiencing what both the Allied and Japanese soldiers did in war.
For fans of World War II reportage and both the Allied and Imperial war machines, this is the illuminating story of a little-known conflict. A compelling and entertaining read.
|Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures: Issues in the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan|
Sacred Texts and Buried Treasures: Issues in the Historical Archaeology of Ancient Japan
University of Hawaii Press
Farris's book is a much needed addition to English-language scholarship on early Japanese history, and not only that, it is that rarest of books, a highly readable book on archeology that manages to bring to life and make real aspects of life in Japan in the period of 100 AD to 800 AD.
The books contention is that the explosion of archeological research in Japan during the past few decades has challenged many of the assumptions held on early Japanese history that until now had been dependent on just a few written sources. He has chosen four topics and explores in depth what Japanese archeology has discovered that throws new light on them. The first topic is the great "Yamatai Debate".
The first written records of Japan come from China in the 3rd Century when Chinese historian Chen Shou wrote of the "Wa" people who lived in a country called Yamatai, ruled over by a shamaness named Himiko. Just exactly where Yamatai was is the subject of the ongoing Yamatai debate. Until the late 19th Century it was believed that Yamatai was the country known as Yamato, present-day Nara Prefecture, in the Kinai, but for the last century Japanese historians have been split between believing Yamatai was in the Kinai, or in Northern Kyushu. This section of the book reads like a mystery novel, as each new piece of archeological evidence is used as proof for one side of the debate or the other, and sometimes even both interpret the discovery to their own advantage. If there will be a solution to the debate, it must be somewhere in the future, as to date the evidence remains split.
The second section of the book concerns Japan's relationship with Korea during the 4th and 5th centuries, a subject that has consequences and repercussions that continue today: it was Japan's claim that parts of Korea were colonized by Japan at this time that was partly behind their "re" colonization of Korea in the 20th century. In the 1950's, Egami put forward his controversial "Horse rider" theory - that Japan had been colonized by a northern people through the Korean peninsular. Since then the controversy has been was Japan a colony of Korea, or vice versa? On this topic Farris does offer a conclusion. During the period in question, the Korean Peninsular consisted of 4 separate kingdoms, with changing borders and alliances. Japan was dependent on Korea for technologies and natural resources, most notable metals, and in return for these Japan supplied military force to various sides of the inter-kingdom disputes. The conclusion reached by Farris is that all the Korean kingdoms and Japan were roughly equal to each other with no one being dominant enough to colonize another, though the Korean kingdoms were generally more advanced technologically.
The third section looks at the building of Japan's first permanent capitals, Nara, Kyoto, and the less well known Fujiwara, and Naniwa (Osaka). These capitals are commonly referred to as Chinese-style capitals, but there was plenty of Korean influence as well as indigenous Japanese influence on their designs rather than the wholesale adoption of Chinese styles. Farris's own specialty of the impact of disease and famine on populations comes in here as he examines the economic and population pressures that cause some of the capital building to remain incomplete, and the recycling of materials from some of the capitals to build the newer ones
The final section deals with a new form of archeological resource first discovered in 1961, wooden tablets with writing on them dating from the 8th century. To date almost 200,000 of these tablets have been discovered and they have greatly added to our knowledge of such things as the daily life of the aristocracy, the operations of the bureaucracy, the tax system, and how the Taika Reforms were implemented.
For anyone interested in early Japanese history this book is a treasure trove of material much of which has not been available in English before. Highly recommended.
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