Books on Japanese History II
Books on Japanese History II: read reviews on books on Japanese history both ancient and modern, the samurai, the Edo Period and World War II.
Of all the lives of the most-well known heroes and villains of World War II, the life of Mitsuo Fuchida, who planned and led the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, has to be one of the most interesting.
Written from Fuchida's memoirs, the story begins in his youth, moves to his navy career with the rise and fall of Japan's military, and ends with his becoming a born-again Christian who served as a missionary in various countries until his death.
Throughout his memoirs, Fuchida wasn't afraid of criticizing the iconic figures of the war, calling US Supreme Commander Douglas McArthur "arrogant" (he's far from alone in that assessment) and several times questioning the competence of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was the Marshal Admiral of the Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combine Fleet during World War II until his death. Throughout the book the reader can feel Fuchida's fierce pride and love of Japan.
After he led the successful raid on Pearl Harbor, Fuchida was summoned to meet Admiral Yamamoto and Japan's emperor. After the war concluded, he met with Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, and also future president Nixon. Amazingly, he also met Chester Nimitz, William Halsey and James Doolittle ("a Christian who revered God"), among others. Among the non-military figures he encountered was Billy Graham, perhaps the world's most famous evangelist. Their meeting was at a Billy Graham Crusade, and it was a moving experience for everyone there.
Fuchida was aboard the USS Missouri during the signing of the Instrument of Surrender that ended the war, and was also in Hiroshima both the day before and the day after the world's first atomic bomb was detonated above that city.
The book is focused to some extent on war strategy and history, and those who enjoy those things will certainly be entertained and educated. There are lots of details of specific battles and war strategies, although even casual readers will be able to follow along without getting lost.
He criticizes Japan's failure to follow up its attack on Hawaii with more action, saying that Japan let America freely retreat and rebuild. Fuchida attributes Japan's loss at Midway to Japanese "hubris." He later says that Japan's goal at the start of the Battle of The Philippines was to sink all 100 ships there from America, killing each of the 300,000 Americans they expected to invade. "It may sound brutal, but it was the reality of war," he wrote. Interestingly, the reader reaches the two-thirds point in the book before Fuchida first mentions his wife and children, the older of whom is already a junior high student. Fuchida's life always seemed to be focused on other things besides his family. Despite the heavy emphasis on war and its collateral damage, the book's pace is smooth and there is no wasted musing about unimportant tangents.
It is early 1942 and seven-year-old Jeanne Wakatsuki is living happily in Long Beach, California. She adores her imperfect father and gracious mother, and she enjoys her large family.
Then, on February 19, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt signs executive order 9006, and Wakatsuki and her family are rounded up with the other 110,000 West Coast Japanese and ordered into one of the 10 hastily-built relocation camps. She and her family were ordered to Camp Manzanar in Owens Valley, California. A little over 10,000 Japanese were sent to Manzanar, mostly issei and nisei (first and second generation). They had to get rid of all their possessions in a short amount of time. Most are paid pennies on the dollar for their worldly goods.
Farewell to Manzanar is a first-hand account of what life was like in that camp.
The book was originally written in 1973, then updated in 2006. The updated version has added a 10-page readers' guide with discussion questions and a 2006 interview with the author.
For someone who has a right to be bitter for having part of their childhood taken away, and for someone whose hero father lost much of his will to live, the author shows remarkable restraint. A tone of bitterness is nowhere to be found in the book. There are some feelings of wistfulness, but no hatred.
There is, in fact, a real feeling of "shoganai" (it can't be helped).
This is especially noteworthy in its contrast with today's America, where constantly offended snowflakes are buying every victim card they can and playing them as fast as they can.
Interesting historical notes are scattered throughout the book. These include:
Although the quality of the food was not good, especially at first, there was always enough to go around.
At its peak, Manzanar was the largest city, or, rather "city," between Reno, Nevada and Los Angeles, California.
In 1943, all of the families were given Christmas trees by the U.S. government.
The camps were starting to be closed before the end of the war because of a lawsuit that the government figured it would lose.
Many of the volunteers who came into the camp to teach were Quakers.
By the time the camps closed, there were schools (the high school even had a year book), churches, sports leagues, Boy Scout troops, tennis courts and other things like the rest of America.
Thirty years after being moved to the camp, Wakatsuki returned to see the little that was left of Manzanar with her husband and two children. Again, the reader is given melancholia and sadness but no anger or hate. Truly, this must have been some woman.
Although the book will never be considered a scholarly tome (nor is it meant to be), the reader will certainly end up learning about this part of American history, both from reading the lines in the book and reading between the lines.
There are few outright tear-jerking parts, according to your level of understanding and compassion, perhaps, but the book will leave you feeling a bit slump-shouldered and wondering how this could have happened.
NOTE: In 1976 this book was adapted into a TV movie. It starred Nobu McCarthy, who portrayed both Houston and her mother.
In 1993, the movie Schindler's List was a box office smash, receiving seven Academy Awards (and 12 nominations) and garnering $321 million in ticket sales. The movie told of the actions of Oskar Schindler, a German whose actions during World War ll are credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jewish people.
Lesser known is the story of Chiune Sugihara, "The Japanese Schindler," whose courageous actions as a diplomat in Lithuania during the war saved the lives of 6,000 people, most of whom were Jewish.
A Special Fate is a biography of Sugihara's life, from his January 1, 1900 Gifu Prefecture birth to his return to Japan with his family in 1946, soon after they were released from an internment camp where they had been held for 18 months. Curiously, two things not mentioned anywhere in the book are his 1919-35 marriage to Klaudia Semionovna Appollonova and his quitting his job as Deputy Foreign Minister in Manchuria to protest Japanese maltreatment of the local Chinese.
Sugihara became vice-consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1939. Part of his assignment was to keep an eye on Soviet and German troop movements.
The next year, as things deteriorated, people started getting desperate to leave the country because of the danger. They needed visas, and for some reason a rumor started that they could get Japanese visas enabling them to leave, so they flocked to and camped out in front of the Japanese Consulate where Sugihara was.
Three times Sugihara asked his superiors in Tokyo if he could issue transit visas to Japan, from where the people could supposed transfer to Curaçao, a Dutch island where entrance visas were said to be unnecessary. Twice they answered no. He did not wait for their third answer.
He started writing visas as fast as he could. The more he wrote, the longer the lines became outside the consulate. He wrote thousands of transit visas, some for families, some for individuals, spending 18-20 hours a day for six weeks doing nothing but writing these life-saving visas.
When it came time to leave, and he postponed his departure as long as he could, Sugihara and his family went to the train station. Masses of refugees followed them. Even as he sat on the train, moments before it pulled out, Sugihara was furiously writing visas on shreds of paper. As the train gathered speed and was about to clear the platform, Sugihara threw all of his remaining diplomatic stationary out of the window, hoping that it could somehow be made into visas.
When the Sugiharas finally did get back to Japan, life was tough. He was asked to resign his government post, most likely because of his disobeying his government, and had to survive on menial tasks for the rest of his life.
The 186-page book is certainly compelling overall, but it is written at a young adult level (some chapters are only three pages long), so readers will find it less than robustly challenging. If you have an iron will, it can be read in one sitting.
Note: There have been several books written about Sugihara's actions, including Righteous and Courageous by Carl Steinhouse. There has also been a movie made about him called Persona Non Grata (2015). Its box office receipts are $6.3 million.
Carl Peter Thunberg, a Swedish botanist-physician, 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).
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out
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.
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 Yasukuni 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, analyzing 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 analyzed 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 down played, 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.
Edited by John Breen
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 right wing, 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.
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 tooth comb 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.
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 plebeian 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
by John Dougill
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.
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 Kamakura 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 chastity 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.
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 over arching 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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