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A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present, Second Edition, paints a richly nuanced and strikingly original portrait of the last two centuries of Japanese history. It takes students from the days of the shogunate-the overlordship of the Tokugawa family-through the modernizing revolution launched by midlevel samurai in the late nineteenth century; the adoption of Western hairstyles, clothing, and military organization; and the nation's first experiments with mass democracy after World War I. Author Andrew Gordon offers the finest synthesis to date of Japan's passage through militarism, World War II, the American occupation, and the subsequent economic rollercoaster.
A Chinese saying has it that "each step changes the mountain." Likewise, each major turn in history changes how we understand what went before: as Japan now continues in an economic funk that followed but did not wipe out the "economic miracle" of the postwar period, we need to rethink our histories once again to explain the origins of prosperity, the evolution of what it means to be Japanese, and the roots of obstinacy. Gordon's clearheaded, readable, and inquisitive narrative, aimed at students and serious general readers, accomplishes this task molto con brio. Head of Harvard's Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, Gordon tells a sweeping and provocative story of Japan's political, economic, social, and cultural inventions of its modernity in evolving international contexts, incorporating inside viewpoints and debates. Beyond identifying the national stages (feudalism, militarism, democracy), the author innovatively emphasizes how labor unions, cultural figures, and groups in society (especially women) have been affected over time and have responded. Recommended both for general libraries and for specialist collections.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
A concise history with a textbook tone, covering Japanese civilization from about 1600. Gordon (History/Harvard) chronicles Japanese social evolution during two dynasties, the Tokugawa and the Meiji. Superficially, he argues, the former bore little resemblance to the latter. But in terms of how they controlled Japanese society, the later regime was a logical extension of the earlier one. And both depended on the emperor for legitimacy. But while Tokugawa officials used the emperor as a mere sideshow to validate their real power, Meiji leaders placed the emperor at the center of Japanese culture, a move that helped the country grow authoritarian and militaristic. Unlike their isolationist predecessors, the Meiji decided the emperor was necessary because they felt something had to unify a Japan that was rapidly changing with the introduction of Western technology and manner of life. Women, for example, were becoming waitresses, and simple common folk (widely seen as literally stupid during the Tokugawa era) were questioning policies of the government, which for the first time had to react to worldwide economic trends. Like the Tokugawa, the Meiji dynasty didn't trust the people, so in the Japanese constitution they placed the emperor as supreme commander of the army and navy. Because the emperor was a figurehead, however, nobody controlled the generals and admirals who believed Japan had to secure foreign resources in order to stay on par with the Western powers. The Pacific war followed. Gordon uses a textbook organization, dividing his subject into the political and social realms. (War buffs will be disappointed-there's more here about intellectuals than about Pearl Harbor.) Hisdiscussion of contemporary Japan continues logically from his earlier observations, and the centered quality of Japanese society, he suggests-now in the thrall of business interests-has brought the country two steps forward and sent it one step back. Asian History majors will find this one on their reading lists.
From the Publisher
"Gordon is able to tell a story of modern Japan without reducing the history to stereotypes or platitudes, and leaving enough room for other tellings of Japan's history. It is not dogmatic or locked down. This is the best survey on Modern Japanese history available."—Lori Watt, Washington University in St. Louis
"A Modern History of Japan is the best textbook available for courses on Modern Japan and Imperial Japan. As a leading scholar on Japanese labor history, Gordon provides insightful details from the perspective of ordinary Japanese, particularly the hardships, opportunities and resistance from workers and other non-elites during Japan's industrial revolution and beyond."—George Kallander, Syracuse University
"Beautifully written and argued by one of the eminent minds and stylists in the field. Gordon convincingly situates Japan on the stage of international history as a nation whose past must be understood to comprehend the history of the modern world."—Noell Wilson, University of Mississippi
"A Modern History of Japan remains the best text for an introductory course on modern Japanese history. It has the perfect combination of top-rate scholarship, readability, and length. The new final chapter is just as well-written and engaging as the rest of the book. And it greatly adds to the strength of the book to bring the history as closely up to the present as possible, as well as to point to what may lie ahead in the future."—Sean Kim, University of Massachusetts, Boston