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Books - Japan

Ashigaru 1467-1649 , Stephen Turnbull, A colourful study of the often over looked infantry man of medieval Japan. Good illustrations of a neglected area.


Samurai Armies 1550-1615 , S.R.Turnbull, Richard Hook.A small but excellent book for this period especially for the wargamer with great colour plates and many illustrations including standard troop formations used during this period. An easy and enjoyable read.


Ran [1985] , Another classic from this masterful director, Ran meaning Chaos is a reworking of King Lear with dutiful sons replacing the daughters. It tells the tale of a kingdom torn apart by the greed of a Lords sons and the scheming revenge of a woman. In colour with spectacular battles showing use of arquebus and cavalry and a stunning attack on a fortress it is a must for those interested in samurai warfare.


Ran [1985] , Another classic from this masterful director, Ran meaning Chaos is a reworking of King Lear with dutiful sons replacing the daughters. In colour with spectacular battles showing use of arquebus and cavalry and a stunning attack on a fortress it is a must for those interested in samurai warfare.



15 Best Books About Japan To Read

These are 15 of the best books about Japan that are worth reading if you plan to visit or are just interested in Japan life in general.

This list could easily be ’50 books to read’ as there are so many to recommend but these 15 books about Japan are my favourite.

Some of these are what I regard as some of the best books about Japanese culture and Japanese history and they also cover modern-day life and everything in-between.

After spending several months travelling around Japan and writing travel guides for the places visited I decided to write articles about Japanese culture, books, movies, and more so if you’re planning a trip to Japan or are just interested in Japan, then these will all give a good insight into the Japanese way of life.

The descriptions used are part mine about why I loved the book, and part is taken from the description on the book itself to give you a full idea of what it’s about.

There are also links (affiliate) to Amazon where you can get them to read if you want.


Hideki Tojo

Hideki Tojo was Japan's prime minister from 1941 to 1944 and Chief of Staff of the Japanese Imperial Army. He was accused of being responsible for the killing of 4 million Chinese as well as conducting biological experiments on prisoners of war. Following his country's surrender in 1945 he tried to kill himself with a pistol. However, he survived, confessed to the crimes and was hanged in 1948.

Japan's revered war criminals


A History of Japan to 1334 , Том 1

This is a straightforward narrative of the development of Japanese civilization to 1334 by the author of Japan: A Short Cultural History. While complete in itself, it is also the first volume of a three-volume work which will be the first large-scale, comprehensive history of Japan.

Taken as a whole, the projected history represents the culmination of the life work of perhaps the most distinguished historian now writing on Japan. Unlike the renowned Short Cultural History, it is concerned mainly with political and social phenomena and only incidentally touches on religion, literature, and the arts. The treatment is primarily descriptive and factual, but the author offers some pragmatic interpretations and suggests comparisons with the history of other peoples.

A History of Japan to 1334 describes the growth from tribal origins of an organized state on a Chinese model, gives a picture of the life of the Royal Court, and examines the conflict between a polished urban nobility and a warlike rural gentry. It traces the evolution of an efficient system of feudal government which deprived the sovereign of all but his ritual functions and the prestige of his ancestry. The structure of Japanese feudal society is depicted in some detail and explained in terms of its internal stresses and its behavior in peace and war, especially during the period of the Mongol attacks in the last decades of the thirteenth century. The volume ends with the collapse of the feudal government at Kamakura under the attack of ambitious rivals.


‘The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives’: Personal stories present a fresh perspective on Japan

For much of history, writers focused on “the greats” — always men, bar a few anomalous women — seen to shape their time.

The 20th century saw a profound shift in emphasis to social history, people’s history and latterly, the history of those pushed to the margins — women, people of color and the working class. At times this change felt like a dialectic struggle, a political choice rather than an academic one: to concentrate on the lords or the commons, the generals or the home front. In his second book on Japanese history, cultural historian Christopher Harding has found a way to synthesize both approaches.

Following his 2018 book, “Japan Story,” which was a more traditional and chronological run-through of key events, Harding’s new work scales things down to the level of the individual. He tells the personal stories of 20 figures representing defining eras, moments or aspects of Japan’s past and, by doing so, illuminates the whole with a fresh and fascinating perspective.

Some of his subjects are the great and eminent — Oda Nobunaga and Sakamoto Ryoma are two men you really can’t leave out of Japanese history. Emperor Kanmu, who founded Kyoto, represents the royal lineage, while Murasaki Shikibu, author of the “Tale of Genji,” and Osamu Tezuka of manga series “Atom Boy” fame would top anyone’s list for luminaries of the arts.

Other inclusions are more surprising but welcome. The little-known monk Shinran is an excellent example for understanding the often confusing power struggles within organized spirituality in Japan, while samurai and diplomat Hasekura Tsunenaga’s trip to Rome to see the pope in 1613 is the kind of story that gets lost in the broad sweep of history. In this book, such stories are made prominent.

It’s Harding’s choice to include Masako Owada, the current empress of Japan, that perhaps best embodies what the historian has achieved with this book.

For some, Empress Masako represents the fairytale dream of a commoner marrying her prince. For others, she personifies the ripping tensions of modern Japan: the multilingual, high-flying career woman shackled in marriage by a misogynist system that demands nothing from her but silence and fertility, all the while excluding her daughter from the line of succession. In the space of 30 pages, Harding portrays a real woman whose hopes and struggles are palpable, and then deftly connects her to a Japan grappling with its role in the world and its identity at home. Modernity and tradition are the two poles of Masako’s life, much like the rest of Japan.

By shifting focus without losing the renowned figures or the sweeping trends but rather leavening them with formerly unsung individuals, Harding is able to say something new about the history of Japan and reinvigorate old stories. As such, this book can act as a primer for the archipelago’s long and complex story, or as a refreshing take on familiar periods for those already well-versed in the emperors, shoguns and battlefields.

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What's the best book about Japanese history? September 22, 2005 11:35 AM Subscribe

I've been reading Lone Wolf and Cub (as well as some Samurai Executioner) and it struck me that I really don't know much about Japanese medieval history. I mean, I know a little about the samurai, and the structure of the country, and the various periods that history is divided into. But I'm lacking a lot of detail, and I'm in the mood for a meaty but readable history of Japan, preferably from early times to the dawn of modernity. Does anyone have any suggestions? If I really need to read 2-3 books rather than just one, that's fine too.

I should also throw in the caveat that I don't speak or read Japanese, so any books would have to be in English.

The Japanese were actually pretty good at recording their own history. It's very informing to read translations of the original sources, especially if there are good footnotes. I suggest the Heike Monogatari, especially. It's about the 12th century civil war that pulled Japan from one era into another. Also, Junichiro Tanazaki wrote a wonderful short story about a blind blind masseur caught up in the fighting between the momoyama and moromachi periods. It's a good introduction to the history surrounding the start of classical Japan.

You'll want to read any book about Nobunaga or Tokugawa Ieyasu to help sort out that era (muromachi, momoyama and edo periods). It is confusing (people are constantly killed and replaced), but this time period is a the heart of samurai culture. War in Japan 1467-1615 is short, but it covers this warring states period.
posted by Alison at 1:24 PM on September 22, 2005

Best answer: George Sansom's books (3 volumes covering premodern Japan) are so dry as to be unreadable, in my opinion.

The Cambridge History of Japan is very good, I find--that's a whole lot of volumes, though.

I'd recommend "Everyday Life in Traditional Japan" as short and informative--more cultural than historical.
posted by Jeanne at 2:14 PM on September 22, 2005

Response by poster: Followup- I read Everyday Life in Traditional Japan on my vacation. It was just what I needed! Thanks, Jeanne.

I'm now moving on to Japanese Inn, which was mentioned in the endnote.
posted by selfnoise at 5:50 PM on October 23, 2005


A History of Japan, 1615-1867

This is the concluding volume of a three-volume work that culminates the life study of the West&aposs most distinguished scholar of Japanese history. A straightforward narrative of the development of Japanese civilization to 1867, the three volumes constitute the first large-scale comprehensive history of Japan.

Unlike the renowned Short Cultural History, it is concerned mainly This is the concluding volume of a three-volume work that culminates the life study of the West's most distinguished scholar of Japanese history. A straightforward narrative of the development of Japanese civilization to 1867, the three volumes constitute the first large-scale comprehensive history of Japan.

Unlike the renowned Short Cultural History, it is concerned mainly with political and social phenomena and only incidentally touches on religion, literature, and the arts. The treatment is primarily descriptive and factual, but the author offers some pragmatic interpretations and suggests comparisons with the history of other peoples.

A History of Japan: 1615-1867 describes the political and social development of Japan during the two and half centuries of rule by the Tokugawa Shoguns, a period of remarkable development in almost ever aspects of the national life. Under Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, a system of checks and balances to keep the great feudatories in order began to be devised. His successors continued this policy, and indeed the essential features of government by the Tokugawa Shoguns was a determination to keep the peace. Freed from civil war, the energies of the nation were devoted to increasing production of goods in agriculture, manufacturers, and mining.

Breaches in the traditional policy of isolation began to occur with the arrival of foreign ships in Japanese waters, the first intruders being the Russian in the 1790s. Thereafter, the government struggled to keep foreign ships away from Japanese ports, but before long the pressure of the Western powers, strengthened by the arrival of warships under the command of Commodore Perry in 1853, forced Japan to take part in international affairs.


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SOURCES

(1) Ienaga Saburo, Japan's Past/Japan's Future: One Historian's Odyssey, trans. Richard H. Minear (New York: Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001), 155.

(2) Laura Hein and Mark Selden, "The Lessons of War, Global Power, and Social Change," in Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States, ed. Laura Hein and Mark Selden (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2000), 3-4.

(3) Richard H. Minear, "Support Statements of Nominators and Supporters," Nomination of Prof. Ienaga Saburo for Nobel Peace Prize.

(4) Nozaki Yoshiko and Inokuchi Hiromitsu, "Japanese Education, Nationalism, and Ienaga Saburo's Textbook Lawsuits," in Censoring History: Citizenship and Memory in Japan, Germany, and the United States, ed. Laura Hein and Mark Selden (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2000), 97.

(6) Murai Atsushi, "Abolish the Textbook Authorization System," Japan Echo, (Aug. 2001): 28.

(7) Quoted in Nicholas D. Kristof, "Japan Bars Censorship of Atrocities in Texts," The New York Times, 30 Aug. 1997.

(8) Nishio Kanji, "Restoring Common Sense to the Teaching of History," Japan Echo, (Aug. 2001): 33.

(9) "International Scholars' Appeal Concerning the 2002-Edition Japanese History Textbooks," Center for Research and Documentation on Japan's War Responsibility.

(11) "Seoul Stands Firm: President Rebukes Japan for Textbooks, Shrine Visit," Korea Now, (21 Aug. 2001): 6-7.

(12) Mari Yamaguchi, "Japanese History Textbook Shunned," The Japan Times, 16 Aug. 2001.

(13) "Only 0.03% of junior high students to use disputed textbook," Kyodo News, 16 Aug. 2001.

(14) James W. Lowen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, (New York: The New Press, 1995), 241.


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