Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912 / Edition 1

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Overview

When Emperor Meiji began his rule, in 1867, Japan was a splintered empire, dominated by the shogun and the daimyos, who ruled over the country's more than 250 decentralized domains and who were, in the main, cut off from the outside world, staunchly antiforeign, and committed to the traditions of the past. Before long, the shogun surrendered to the emperor, a new constitution was adopted, and Japan emerged as a modern, industrialized state.

Despite the length of his reign, little has been written about the strangely obscured figure of Meiji himself, the first emperor ever to meet a European. Most historians discuss the period that takes his name while barely mentioning the man, assuming that he had no real involvement in affairs of state. Even Japanese who believe Meiji to have been their nation's greatest ruler may have trouble recalling a single personal accomplishment that might account for such a glorious reputation. Renowned Japan scholar Donald Keene sifts the available evidence to present a rich portrait not only of Meiji but also of rapid and sometimes violent change during this pivotal period in Japan's history.

In this vivid and engrossing biography, we move with the emperor through his early, traditional education; join in the formal processions that acquainted the young emperor with his country and its people; observe his behavior in court, his marriage, and his relationships with various consorts; and follow his maturation into a "Confucian" sovereign dedicated to simplicity, frugality, and hard work. Later, during Japan's wars with China and Russia, we witness Meiji's struggle to reconcile his personal commitment to peace and his nation's increasingly militarized experience of modernization. Emperor of Japan conveys in sparkling prose the complexity of the man and offers an unrivaled portrait of Japan in a period of unique interest.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

Few scholars are as well qualified to undertake this tremendous project.... [Keene's] special gifts are on display in Emperor of Japan... [which] brings us as close to the inner life of the Meiji emperor as we are ever likely to get.

Los Angeles Times

Utterly brilliant... the best history in English of the emergence of modern Japan.

New Yorker

Keene gracefully marshals evidence to illuminate [an] astonishing transformation.

The New York Review of Books

Keene does a heroic job of painting a personal picture of the Meiji Empire, which is an impossible task.

Times Literary Supplement (London)

Distinguished and massively authoritative... This book probably comes as close as we shall ever get to the man himself.

Booklist

Despite the book's massive scale, Keene's graceful writing holds the reader's interest throughout.... This should become the Meiji biography against which all others are judged.

Choice

A fresh and fascinating portrait.

The Japan Society
This is a monumental work, the result of years of painstaking research and meticulous scholarship, unlikely to be superseded by any book about the Emperor Meiji in this century and destined to be required reading for all foreign students of the Restoration and the growth of modern Japan.

— Hugh Cortazzi

Washington Post

The first reliable and full biography of the Japanese monarch in any language.... Carefully crafted, judicious, balanced, authoritative, it is another remarkable gift from a distinguished American author.

Foreign Affairs

One comes away from Keene's lively account with the feeling that one person made an extraordinary difference in Japan's history.

Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer

Eminently readable... a staggering achievement.

The Historian
This book is as close to being a definitive biography of the Emperor Meiji as we are likely to see in Western languages. It is an important contribution to our understanding of Japan's modernizing experience.

— W. Dean Kinzley

Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
Distinguished and massively authoritative... This book probably comes as close as we shall ever get to the man himself.
The Japan Society - Hugh Cortazzi

This is a monumental work, the result of years of painstaking research and meticulous scholarship, unlikely to be superseded by any book about the Emperor Meiji in this century and destined to be required reading for all foreign students of the Restoration and the growth of modern Japan.

Post Intelligencer - Seattle Times
Eminently readable... a staggering achievement.
The Historian - W. Dean Kinzley

This book is as close to being a definitive biography of the Emperor Meiji as we are likely to see in Western languages. It is an important contribution to our understanding of Japan's modernizing experience.

Choice

A fresh and fascinating portrait.

New Yorker
When Emperor Meiji ascended the throne, in 1867, Japan was a feudal, pre-industrial dictatorship, administered by sword-wielding samurai and closed off to foreigners. By the end of his reign, in 1912, the country had become a cosmopolitan constitutional monarchy and a military superpower, defeating Russia and China. Keene gracefully marshals evidence to illuminate this astonishing transformation by focusing on the earnest, dutiful Emperor, whose Confucian conscience obliged him to wear a patched uniform and to live in comfortless and shabby rooms. Unflinchingly describing such episodes as the Port Arthur massacre, Keene also shows how Meiji's exercises of martial strength did not preclude a sincere distaste for war.
Publishers Weekly
Drawing extensively from the Meiji tenno ki, the official Japanese record of the emperor's life, noted Japan scholar and Columbia professor emeritus Keene fills this monumental work with a wealth of factual information from the emperor's childhood illnesses and tours across the country to his political role in the state apparatus. This work is also, as the title suggests, an examination of Meiji's world, and Keene uses diaries and letters of the emperor's contemporaries, as well as secondary sources, to describe important events and people in Japan's transition to a modern nation-state. Keene is seeking the personality behind the historical figure, but since Meiji kept no diary and wrote almost no letters, it is difficult to determine his personal feelings about the historical events of the time. Keene does examine Meiji's poems and anecdotes from acquaintances in order to provide a rounder sketch of the man, but often, in the attempt to personalize him, Keene must resort to speculation about how the emperor "must have felt" at particular moments. Keene is obviously attracted by the subject of his study and often points out qualities in the man that he finds lacking in European monarchs of the same period (Meiji was more frugal and less arrogant, Keene notes, than the tsar, his enemy in the Russo-Japanese War). But in the end, Keene admits that "Meiji seems almost to repel attempts by a biographer to come closer" than the officially prepared chronicles allow. Perhaps, as one contemporary politician noted, "The emperor had almost no private side to him." Keene's achievement, then, is the enormous wealth of information that he makes available to the English reader. This book will undoubtedly be the most complete picture possible of a sovereign who remains as distant as a proper Confucian ruler should. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
During the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan entered world politics as a modernizing and ambitious imperial power. Previous studies of this era largely slighted the emperor himself, but Keene (Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus, Columbia Univ.), a titan of Japanese studies, brings the emperor out of the wings and onto center stage in this vivid and richly detailed chronicle. Using a multitude of Japanese and other sources, Keene argues that Meiji was no mere figurehead but an increasingly active participant in the politics of modern Japan, particularly after he outgrew his youthful impatience with state affairs. Keene's admiration for Meiji, an unsympathetic figure who drank to excess, ignored his own children, and often slighted his duties, is somewhat baffling on the evidence presented. Ultimately, the Meiji era is much more interesting than the man himself. Keene, a literary scholar, is a master narrator with an eye for fascinating details, but his sprawling chronicle is weak on analysis of the historical significance of an era that he views almost exclusively from the vantage point of court politics. For academic and larger public libraries. Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Even Japanese who consider Meiji the greatest ruler of all time, points out Keene (Japanese literature, Columbia U.), can rarely name anything he actually did. He searches for the elusive human who was born into a country that had refused almost all contact with the West for centuries, but saw Japan transformed during his lifetime into a world power and a members of the community of nations. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231123419
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/7/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 928
  • Sales rank: 788,766
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Keene is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of more than thirty books, including the definitive multi-volume history of Japanese literature. He lives in Tokyo and New York City.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceEmperor of JapanNotesGlossaryBibliography

Columbia University Press

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