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Recently in books: history Category

Japan : A Short Cultural History

Genre: Japanese History
Author: George Sansom (1931)

review in one breath

While the number of good academic texts on Japanese history is innumerable, here is one I picked up a decade ago in Ikebukuro and haven't stopped consulting since. The chronological scope of this book ranges from the Kojiki myths to the end of the Tokugawa Era. As the title suggests, Sansom focuses primarily upon cultural rather than purely political/economic developments (though these are included). Thus herein the focus is upon the development and evolution of literature, art, religion and philosophy.

As a primer to pre-Meiji Japanese culture, I can wholly recommend this valuable book.



Yankees in the Land of the Gods : Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan

Genre: Japanese History
Author: Peter Booth Wiley (1991)

review in one breath

Author Booth Wiley has done some immaculate research here and lays this early history out in a narrative which is easily read and engaging. The apex of the historical tale is the role of Commodore Perry in opening Japan to the Western world, but this is about so much more than Perry's own adventures. Fundamental aspects of early Japanese culture and characters come to life and are given an invaluable historical context, including even the minute details of how each local region treated these mysterious foreigners. It is also filled with excellent original illustrations, maps and photos of the encounters, including Japanese art depicting the sunken-eyed, large-nosed Westerners.

This book seems to be out of print and rather obscure but you can buy it very cheaply on Amazon. I even had to upload my own cover scan so Amazon could show a graphic.



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