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Japan Extolled and Decried

Japan Extolled and Decried

by C. P. Thunberg, Timon Screech (Editor)

ISBN: 0-7007-1719-6
336 pp

Carl Peter Thunberg, a Swedish botanist-physcian, was one of a mere handful of Westerners to visit and write about Japan during the Edo Period (1603-1868), when the country was to all intents and purposes closed to the outside world. Signing on as a physician to the Dutch East India Company a tiny Dutch trading community in Nagasaki and Japan's only link with the West during his 19 months in Japan in 1775-6, Thunberg made one lengthy pilgrimage to Edo (modern-day Tokyo) en route to which he passed through Sakai, Osaka and Miyako (as Kyoto was then called by Europeans). A skilled physician, whose erudition found eager adherents amongst some of those attending to medical matters in the shogun's court, Thunberg was perhaps most appreciated for his introduction to Japan of a new cure for syphilis, much needed in a capital city where the brothel district was known as hanachirusato ("the village of the falling noses"). Long out of print in English, Thunberg's travel writings about Japan are greatly enhanced through an excellent introduction and copious annotations by Japan specialist Timon Screech in Japan Extolled and Decried (Routledge Curzon 2005).

Dominic Al-Badri

This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out

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Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822

Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822

by Isaac Titsingh, Timon Screech (Editor)

ISBN 0-7007-1720-X
288 pp

Professor of Japanese history at London University's School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), Timon Screech's Secret Memoirs of the Shoguns: Isaac Titsingh and Japan, 1779-1822 (Routledge Curzon 2006) shows his growing authority as a scholar of the Edo Period. Titsingh was one of the leading interpreters of Japan for Europeans during the Edo Period, more so than Carl Peter Thunberg (see above), and the only chief of the Dutch trading community in Nagasaki who was a proper writer. In all, Titsingh lived in Japan for almost four years, arriving in 1779 not long after Thunberg had departed. He achieved a fair understanding of the Japanese language, though the accuracy of the sources used for his jottings and notes remains in some doubt. Carefully researched and with copious rare illustrations, Screech's edited version of Titsingh's original writings offers plenty of interesting snapshots of life in the Edo Period as seen through Dutch eyes. Screech's lengthy biographical introduction does a commendable job of placing Titsingh's life and work in the context of the day, but the book's high price may put it out of reach of all but the wealthiest of historians.

Dominic Al-Badri

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Language, Ideology and Japanese History Textbooks

Language, Ideology and Japanese History Textbooks

by Christopher Barnard

ISBN 04-1529-7974
208 pp

More than 60 years after the end of the war, questions of war memory and responsibility still remain contentious in Japan. Fueled partly by the Japanese Prime Minister's continued visits to Yasakuni Shrine, and also by what is known as the "history textbook issue", many of Japan's neighbours and, though it is less often reported, large sections of the Japanese population, seem unable to resolve that period of history.
There have been many books written on the textbook issue, and mostly they concentrate on questions of content; what has or has not been included in the books. In Censoring History by Hein and Selden, Japan comes out fairly well in this regard, at least when compared with American history textbooks.
Barnard, a linguist living in Japan for more than 30 years takes a different approach, analysing not what is in the books, but how it is written about. Using Functional Grammar, a branch of linguistics that deals with the meanings of word choices, he analysed all the history textbooks to discover what, if any, ideology lies behind the choice of language. The somewhat technical explanation of functional grammar can be skipped as the examples used further in the text are amply and simply explained. Three topics are chosen for analysis, the Rape of Nanking, the Japanese attacks that started the Pacific War, and Japan's surrender.
What he finds is that there are in fact ideologies at work in the books, which he classifies into the two broad categories of an ideology of irresponsibility: the responsibility of the Japanese State for aggressive actions is completely downplayed, and an ideology of saving face: protecting the dignity, authority, and status of the State at the time of the surrender.
He then offers explanations as to why these ideologies have come to be present, foremost of which is the stranglehold the Education Ministry has on textbook content. If a book veers from what is convenient to the state, it will not be accepted. Consequently, there is an eerie similarity to all the textbooks.
The publishers know exactly what will or will not be acceptable to a state that is to a large extent a continuation of the pre-World War II state. He finds plenty of examples of the recycling of wartime language, timeslips where events are re-ordered in time to present causes as results, and of course the fact that no books question the part the pre-war education system had in inculcating propaganda into the minds of the Japanese populace.
After reading the book, it becomes easy to see why contemporary opinion polls show an increase in the number of Japanese who believe in the idea that the war was one of self-defence and anti-colonialism. If Barnard's analysis is correct, then there seems little hope that issues of the war will be resolved in the foreseeable future.
Very highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand what lies behind so many of the diplomatic issues Japan's neighbors continue to have, and a damning indictment of the current Japanese education establishment.

Jake Davies

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Yasukuni

Yasukuni, The War Dead and the Struggle for Japan's Past

Edited by John Breen

ISBN 0-2317-0042-3
202 pp

If there is one single thing that symbolizes the recurring tensions between Japan and its neighbors over questions of history, it's the infamous Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. For Japan's neighbors, as well as for a large section of the Japanese population themselves, the shrine represents a brutal, aggressive war and a time of imperial expansion, as well as a perceived lack of sincere apology for said war. For the nationalistic rightwing, who hold political power to a greater extent than their size would suggest, it is a symbol of a just war, a period in which Japan held its rightful place as leader of Asia, and an example of the sacrifice and patriotism they seek to re-instill in modern Japan. There seems to be little middle ground between these extreme positions.
This book seeks to fill the gap in English-language material on Yasukuni by providing contributions from multiple viewpoints by Japanese, Chinese, and western authors.
Some of the contributions come from extreme, intractable viewpoints both pro and con mentioned before, and these are unlikely to change anybody's mind. More interesting and useful are the contributions that delve into the history of the shrine. Breen's own chapter on the loss of historical memory as well as his excellent introduction were highlights of the book, and Seaton's analysis on Japanese media coverage of prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni makes clear that the issue of Yasukuni remains controversial among the Japanese themselves.
After reading the book my own attitudes towards Yasukuni softened a little, and I see the legitimacy of a shrine for war dead, but the shrine has most certainly been appropriated by the nationalistic right-wing to further their own agenda. This seems to be an attitude that is fairly widespread within Japan.

Jake Davies

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The Politics of Nanjing

The Politics of Nanjing: An Impartial Investigation

by Kitamura Minoru
translated by Hal Gold
University Press of America

ISBN 0-7618-3579-2
173 pp

More than 60 years after the fact, the events surrounding the fall of Nanjing to the Japanese Army in 1937 remain clouded in hyperbole and rhetoric. The continuing denial of the "massacre" by the Japanese government continues to fuel tensions between Japan and China, and so it was with some hope of discovering some new facts that I began to read Professor Kitamura's "impartial" investigation. By the second chapter however, it became blatantly clear that this book's claim to impartiality is invalid.
Kitamura has gone through an enormous amount of materials and records with a fine toothcomb and collected together many discrepancies and facts that support his thesis that the massacre is a masterpiece of Chinese propaganda. To further his agenda he fills in gaps in the historical record with opinions that have no basis in fact, and he ascribes meanings to people's actions that are unverifiable and often extremely tenuous. He presents evidence as a prosecutor, rather than as a judge and as the book progresses, any attempt to mask his bias is dropped so that by the end of the book we can read a simple explanation as to why the Chinese claim of 300,000 victims can be dismissed: "The Chinese are reputedly and unquestionably - cultural exaggerators." One wonders what the good professor makes of the reputed and unquestionable inability of the Japanese government to admit to unpleasant truths.
He ends on the subject of "the emotions of memory", and it is worth quoting in full:
"from these ethnocentric emotions, people can easily be lead to a simple choosing of one conclusion concerning history. Then, Sun Gee continues, that if the Chinese continue clinging to this tendency, it makes it impossible for Chinese thinkers to face complicated international political relations, and they cannot participate effectively in living history."
This strikes me as the exact situation Japan finds itself in as regards its relations with its Asian neighbors.
However, if one reads the book with one's critical faculties fully operational, there is some interesting information unearthed by Kitamura. For instance there seems to be a lot of circumstantial evidence linking the Australian journalist Timperley, who was instrumental in reporting on Nanjing to the world and whose reports were influential at the War Crimes Trials, with the Chinese propaganda Ministry, and an interesting section that suggests that some of the more bizarre atrocities claimed by the Chinese may have their roots in Chinese cultural taboos.

Jake Davies

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Japan's Longest Day

Japan's Longest Day

by The Pacific War Research Society

Kodansha International

ISBN: 4-7700-2887-3
339 pp

This is a much more interesting exploration, given the rather dry name of the book's authorial group, than one might expect. It covers the 24 hours between noon on August 14 and August 15, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito announced over national radio Japan's imperial decision to accept the Potsdam Proclamation unconditionally, surrender to Allied forces, and end WWII. This broadcast not only concluded 15 years of martial action and aggression throughout the Pacific region by Japan and marked the nation's first military defeat. It also stunned the entire populace, perhaps mostly so for transmitting the decidedly mortal and shockingly diminutive voice of their emperor, delivering its high-pitched message through the plebian airwaves for the first time in history.
The authors go to great lengths to make the book a compelling drama, and they mostly succeed, as they follow hour-by-hour the wrenching decisions of the emperor and his cabinet, an attempted coup by one wing of the military, and the grisly murder and suicides of some of the nation's highest-ranking officers. Occasionally, their attempt at concluding each chapter with a cliff-hanger falls short or feel stale, but for the most part, this book is captivating. It offers a fascinating window into Japanese warrior mentality and national pride as they collided with the end of the Second World War, evoking how chilling and touching both could be, and how tragic and disturbing was the destruction wrought on the shores of every nation touched by the Pacific War.

Tracy Slater, PhD

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Kyoto

Kyoto

by John Dougill

ISBN 0-19-530138-2
242 pp

Author John Dougill has lived and taught in Kyoto for many years. Here he brings to bear his Oxford academic credentials on what is, in many ways, a similar city a somewhat enigmatic entity brimming with history that holds a special place in many people's imaginations, whether they have ever been there or not. Indeed, this book is part of Signal Books' "Cities of the Imagination" series, which seeks to capture the essence of famous cities as diverse as Calcutta and Moscow. Dougill has certainly achieved this aim in his Kyoto.
The book is billed as a cultural and literary history, and such it is, but Dougill's great enthusiasm for Kyoto enlivens the meticulously researched details to the point of general accessibility. The author is the ideal host: witty, with an ear for the entertaining anecdote; and at the same time effortlessly knowledgeable and unafraid of rendering an opinion where appropriate. The structure of the book is ten thematic strands that approach the city from numerous different viewpoints, thus allowing us to get an overview of the key elements that inform Kyoto without feeling overwhelmed. We begin with "City of Kammu", the eighth-century Japanese emperor who attempted to escape the "straitjacket" of Buddhist politics by moving the seat of power from Nara to Kyoto. After many side excursions to the Cities of Zen, Noh and Tea, among others, we end up in the City of Geisha. Wendy Skinner Smith's elegant line drawings are a great accompaniment on our journey.
This book would be an excellent gift for someone coming to Kyoto, someone who has lived here some time, or even someone who simply has a place for Kyoto in their imaginative heart.

Richard Donovan

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Selling Songs And Smiles

Selling Songs And Smiles: The Sex Trade in Heian and Kamakura Japan

by Janet R. Goodwin

University of Hawaii Press

ISBN 0-8248-3068-7
208 pp

Janet Goodwin's book charts the history of asobi - early professional erotic entertainers in Japan - who sung and danced for aristocratic clients as well as offered accompanying sexual services - the 'Songs and Smiles' of the book's title. In the four hundred years from the Heian to the Kamukura period, roughly from the mid-10th to the mid-14th century, asobi gradually lost their earlier, mainly occupational status as entertainers and began to be re-classified as "whores" and "prostitutes" confined to licensed "brothels" . Though never illegal and never totally stigmatized, the sex trade in early Japanese history increasingly came under the watchful eyes and control of the male-dominated elites.
Changing attitudes to marriage, property rights, female sexuality (marriage was not clearly defined in the Heian era and female chasity not particularly valued), the increase in influence of the Buddhist clergy, their practice of clerical celibacy and the expansion of available sexual services for townsfolk and villagers outside the aristocracy, lead to restrictions on the asobi's previously enjoyed lifestyles and rights. During the period a transgressive identity was gradually constructed for asobi, as authorities attempted to regulate female sexuality in order to control the family and inheritance of property.
In Heian times, asobi were usually found plying their trade to the upper classes on busy waterways and pilgrimage routes. Records of the time speak approvingly of the asobi's professional skills: "her knowledge of all the sexual positions, the merits of her lute strings and buds of wheat, and her mastery of the dragon's flutter and tiger's tread techniques." By the mid-13th century, the available sources increasingly point to such women as "base" and "lewd", and construct the "whore" as a counterpoint to the "good" wife - steadfast, faithful and loyal.
An entertaining insight into the period for both specialist and general reader alike.

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The Emergence Of Meiji Japan

The Emergence of Meiji Japan

by Marius B. Jansen

Cambridge University Press

ISBN 0521484057
368 pp

Many books on Meiji Japan use the arrival of Perry's black ships and the opening of the country as a marker for the onset of the changes that would lead to the momentous Meiji Restoration. The Emergence of Meiji Japan, however, delves far deeper into the cultural, social, political and economic environment of the late-Tokugawa era to explore the myriad of factors that set the stage for the restoration. The book goes on to analyze the various developments and effects of the Meiji era in all of their complexity. As a selection of chapters from The Cambridge History of Japan, penned by some of the most respected scholars in the field, this work provides a thorough look at one of the most frequently analyzed time periods of Japanese history.
The Emergence of Meiji Japan is divided into five chapters: "The Tempo Crisis," by Harold Bolitho; "Late Tokugawa culture and thought," by H. D. Harootunian; "The Meiji Restoration," by Marius B. Jansen; "Opposition movements in early Meiji, 1868-1885," by Stephen Vlastos; and "Japan's drive to great-power status," by Akira Iriye. Though the premises of the five pieces are somewhat independent of each other, there is a sense of continuity to them.
Among other overarching themes, the book illustrates how the social changes and economic hardships that had begun to surface by the beginning of the Nineteenth Century pushed Japan to the boiling point by the end of the Tempo era. The multitude of popular responses to these conditions, such as philosophical and religious movements, public unrest, and calls for policy and institutional reform, made it clear that the old order could not hold up under the circumstances of the time without undergoing drastic change. Therefore, although the challenge posed by foreign intervention certainly called the authority of the Shogunate into question and brought the urgency of Japan's situation into focus, this book demonstrates that this happened in an environment that was already ripe for change.
In addition to its comprehensive analysis of the conditions of pre-Meiji Japan, the book explores the undertaking and effects of the restoration in great detail. Among the other topics covered, this work analyzes how the various interests of the cultural and political movements of pre-Meiji Japan were either partially appeased by the restoration, or sacrificed in the name of the new order. It also evaluates various historiographical approaches to thinking about the Meiji Restoration and looks at how the foreign affairs and political situation of post-restoration Japan mutually affected each other.
Rich in information and analysis, The Emergence of Meiji Japan is an academic undertaking of impressive scope. This book will not disappoint those looking for a well written and revealing analysis of this historic period. History is rarely a simple case of cause-and-effect, and The Emergence of Meiji Japan makes it clear that this axiom holds true for this dynamic era.

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