Good Books?

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Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:26 pm

WhimsicalGypsy

I just picked up a half dozen books on Japan from the library today, but I was wondering what books you all would recommend in the area of books on Japanese History?

I'll post my reviews of the books as I read them. Would this be the right folder for this, or the Chit Chat folder?

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:28 pm

kugepoet

As always, my recommendations are for pre Edo Japan. (Hey, it's what I've been reading.)

The World Turned Upside Down is a good, scholarly overview of feudal Japan from the late Heian period to about 1600.
If you're interested in daily life in the Heian court, Ivan Morris' The World of the Shining Prince provides an excellent overview based on his studies of the literature of the period.

Giles Milton's Samurai William discusses the real life 16th century English seaman upon whom James Clavell's novel Shogun was based. Fascinating glimpses of the age of exploration, European forays into the far east for trade, and so forth.

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:28 pm

Hoshi

The Japanese Experience: A Short History of Japan was the textbook I had when I took Japanese history (up to 1868). I regret selling it back after the course was over; I remember it being a good reference tool.

If you want one that's more modern, I would recommend Japan: A Reinterpretation. It gets pretty dense at times, but it's very, very thorough in its chapters in modern Japan, politics, education reform, and gender issues.

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:35 pm

amatol

I really enjoyed the Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler.

should be able to read a descripton here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/082480 ... 7?n=283155

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:36 pm

Musashi

If you're interested in samurai history, warfare, etc, then I'd say the capacity in the west is Stephen Turnbull and the Osprey series. Osprey is somewhat the leader in military history, what they publish is usually extremely well and pedantic researched and also extremely specific (you will find stuff like "Austrian Grenzer Troops 1740-98" among their books).

For example, Turnbull's two books about shinobi are absolutely unmatched in the west. There are many other people who have been writing about them, but I have yet to see a book other than Turnbull's that is so well researched and filled with historic facts.

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:36 pm

carmen

Hey amatol! I read The Japanese Inn, too. Interesting historical angle, don't you think? I want to visit Otsu just because of that book!

Musashi, I just finished Warriors of Medieval Japan by Turnbull. Lots of good information, especially on the Ikko-ikki (warrior monks) but I was a little disappointed that much of the art (woodblock prints) have little or not artist attribution. There's a Yoshitoshi print in the book I've never seen before (Oda Nobunaga and the ninja) and I'd like to know the title, maybe the year. Overall, though, a really good book.

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:37 pm

kugepoet

Quote:
Osprey is somewhat the leader in military history, what they publish is usually extremely well and pedantic researched and also extremely specific (you will find stuff like "Austrian Grenzer Troops 1740-98" among their books).


Several of the samurai volumes put out by Osprey are by a friend and sorta sensei of mine, Anthony J. Bryant! Tony warns that occasionally Osprey's illustrators get a little confused on details when they're re-drawing something from a very early source that's not photorealistic, but they're mostly pretty good. Tony's Sengokudaimyo.com is a terrific resource for re-enactors interested in feudal Japan. I just wish he'd complete the "under construction" bits!!!!

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:38 pm

Musashi

Speaking of Anthony J. Bryant...

He was (and still is) also involved in an RPG project by Goldrush Games called "Sengoku". The original rule book is some 300 pages thick and is a piece of extremely compact information about feudal Japan. After I read it once I had to read it again, because you tend to get flooded with info.

There are still a couple of errors in it, typos mainly (like a wrong translation of the name "Kaede"), but also some information is not correct (like calling shinobi a group, or even caste of themselves, which they were not), but they're already working on a second edition, which can only get better. And, taking how massive the ammount of info in it really is, it's not a surprise that some minor errors occured.

The way I see it, Bryant and Arsenault really worked their asses off for this project.

There's a second book dealing only with shinobi.

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:38 pm

kugepoet

kugepoet wrote:

Giles Milton's Samurai William discusses the real life 16th century English seaman upon whom James Clavell's novel Shogun was based. Fascinating glimpses of the age of exploration, European forays into the far east for trade, and so forth.


I read Shogun back in the 1980s. I recently stumbled across a copy at a local bookstore and decided to have a look at it again in light of having spent the last three years actually reading about the history of feudal Japan.

To my surprise, I haven't flung it across the room in disgust yet.

First of all, I MUST cut Clavell slack for not having read Samurai William - it was published several years after Clavell's death in 1994. Clavell's novel includes no introduction, afterword or other discussion of the existence of Adams or any actuall historical sources he may have examined during the writing of the novel. There is no way to know whether he had access to the all same materials that Giles Milton uses in his 2003 biography of William Adams.

Secondly, Clavell scores a point in establishing that this is fiction by changing names to protect the historical. It's supposed to be Japan c. 1600, complete with Portuguese missionaries that showed up some time in the 1540's. England gets to keep Queen Elizabeth so that Blackthorne can adore her and revile her Catholic elder sister Mary. Japan, however, seems to exist in an alternate universe with no Taira or Minamoto or Fujiwara or Tokugawa clans - fictitious versions with different names appear instead: Fujimoto and Minowara. But then he modeled his shogun on Tokugawa Ieyasu and named him Yoshi Toranaga, which just sounds backasswards to me.

While this is not a bad device, Clavell sometimes constructs Japanese names as if he were tossing a salad of random syllables mixed with genuine name elements. Masajiro is a valid name, Masijiro isn't. He has a much harder time screwing up female names, having been content to keep things simple, with female characters like Kiku, Midori, Mariko.
Not a big deal, 90% of readers unfamiliar with Japanese names wouldn't know.

I wonder how much, if anything, Clavell knew about the use of Japanese honorifics. Just as we don't go around addressing people as "sirrah" or "my lord" or "good mistress" in the mode of Shakespeare's day, modern Japanese honorifics are not the same as those used around 1600. One would NEVER have addressed a superior as -sama during this period unless one had a death wish. It should be "Yabu-dono" or "Toranaga-dono." Again, relatively minor and most readers will at least get the intent (polite address) if not the precisely correct version.

Descriptions of men's clothing - very general and not too egregious, simply because men's wafuku didn't change too radically between the 16th and 18th centuries. Descriptions of women's dress and hair? No. Freaking. Clue.
The first woman Blackthorne encounters is described wearing a grey robe with a "wide purple band" and having her hair piled neatly on her head.
Kiku, the courtesan, is described as wearing a wide obi and a "shimoda" hairdo. Sorry, Mr. C., the respectable wife of a village headman wouldn't prance around in front of a barbarian with her neck exposed, much less the kami and all the neighbors. And that should be spelled "shimada" and you're about 150 years early on your courtesan's fashions.

Again - bugs me, but how many readers would know the difference?

The costumers for the miniseries seem to have split the difference. The men look fine for the period. Mariko's hair is up, but her kosode hasn't turned into an Edo period tube yet. Obi is back tied, but only about 4" wide, not innappropriate for mid to late 17th century.
Image
On the upside, I'm about 200 pages in and it's riproaringly good storytelling even if it's not "good history."

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:39 pm

Musashi

I also give Clavell credit that he actually knew the Japanese language, after all, he picked up this and that from it while he was a POW in the war. Though, I doubt he knew much about the old time honorifics, as they were not in use in those days anymore.

And I give him that he, according to himself, got interested and decided to write it when he learned about what his daughter had to learn for history (she had William Adams on her list on that day).

Though... there are errors, of course.

Kasigi Yabu, for example. Kasigi is a name that doesn't work in Japan, since there is no syllable "si", they had to change his name into Kashigi Yabu, which, in exchange, confused the Japanese, since both are, reportedly, family names.

Also he tends to call the Kanto "Kwanto" and good old Edo "Yedo". Too many female names seem to have a -ko ending in it, which wasn't really used back then anyway. But well, how would he know. How would anyone in the West in those years know about that, except a small number or specialists.

Yeah, Tokugawa turns into Toranaga (which he kept in Gai-jin, too), Ishida turns into Ishido, etc.

What I really hate is, that Hosokawa Gracia ends up being Blackthorne's one and only love... Mariko.

He made errors, certainly, but you gotta gime him credit for one thing: Clavell's pretty much the first Western author who picked up such a theme and with that sparked some interest among the people for Japan and her history.

As for the miniseries... one thing pissed me off in it:

Mariko doesn't get to fight, like in the book. In Osaka, she ends up fighting her way to the exit of the castle and she even kills a couple of Ishido's men. Nothing of that in the miniseries (they should have casted Kaji Meiko for Mariko instead, she'd have kicked their sorry butts :evil: )

But hey, the miniseries has Kurosawa's first hatamoto in it :P MIFUNE! MIFUNE! MIFUNE! On the recent DVD release there's a making of, too, and Chamberlain said that Mifune went in character once he was wearing his costume and grunted and barked like a daimyo of old.

I prefer Shogun rather than Gai-jin. The problem with Gai-jin is that some 30-50% of the story deal with that annoying and horribly spoiled French girl, who's name I never manage to remember... and she doesn't even get killed before the end...

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:40 pm

Sam

If you want a book on traditional Japanese culture and attitudes, try the Tale of Genji. It's the best I've read. Even though it was written +1000 years ago, it's still pertinant in many many ways.

If you want to learn about the modern Japanese cultural clash between 3 generations of people, Neon Genesis Evangelion is fantastic. Its sci-fi aspects suck, but the dialogue is great and the subject matter is dead on (and just as dark in real life).

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Re: Good Books?

Post by IG Team » Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:40 pm

Musashi

Ienaga Saburo "The Pacific War"

It's a book that miss Tojo, who's now trying to run for Upper House and has been rambling in her stupidity about a "justified" war, would never read. It would simply be too much for her to take.

The interesting part of it, however, is that it shows how the oh-so-great Meiji government already laid out the foundations of the militarism that brought Japan down into the great catastrophe. For example: The Meiji Contsitution granted basic human rights only "within the limits of the law". Thus... there were no human rights, since the laws could be changed easily by the ruling elite. It also brought down the first laws that oppressed media and regulated education into a pro-emperor way. Honestly, it emphasizes my opinion that the Meiji Restoration is just an extremely hyped event, that didn't change much for the general population. At times, it even made things worse.

Additionally, the view on what kind of influence the military really had is just scary. For example: there was a Navy and an Army minister in the cabinet. These positions were filled with military officers (in fact, law demanded that). Now, if the cabinet didn't do what the military wanted, one of those ministers simply resigned. The military then said that they had no suitable replacement, thus, the government was forced to resign. The Japanese military toppled several cabinets that way.

It also gives a great insight at propaganda and how the media and the public eduation was controlled by the government (the author experienced the public education himself). A very interesting point was a chapter about the Chinese opponents, showing that, for example, the Chinese Communists under Mao brought democracy to the Chinese peasants. Because of that, the Communist guerilla had massive support among the populace. Also did the Chinese Communist Army treat Japanese civilians at the end of the war in an unheard correct way (no looting, no raping, etc, this is actually confirmed by witnesses), while, in exchange, the Soviets and the local populace of Manchuko were not as friendly.
"Japan at war" - Haruko Taya Cook & Theodore F. Cook

Don't let the title fool you. If you're expecting the typical (often boring) lists of statistics and numbers, nope, wrong book. This one focuses on the people. The Cooks have interviewed people from different professions and social classes. The result is an (at times biased) view of the war through the eyes of the people. Why did I say biased? Well, one of the persons is a former colonel of the Japanese Army and has been in the staff of the army that took Nanking (from my experience staff officers are only good for two things: scratching their butts and carrying coffee pots). But they interviewed other people, too. A machinist (who didn't mind the beginning of the war in China, as it brought him a good paying job -he was from a very poor family), a woman (who as young girl went to Manchuria, got sick there twice, but eventually returned to marry a Japanese privateer there), soldiers (one of them was part of a gas unit), civilians (one of them an editor of one of the magazines which were strictly controlled by the military during the war), etc.

One of the most intersting parts, for me, was the account of a soldier, who had served in China and his comment about the famed "Tenno heika banzai". He said that no dying soldier ever cried that in his last moments and he had seen "hundreds who died". Or an infantry officer (lieutenant) who recalled that the soldiers in the platoon he took over had "evil eyes". He also said that he and his fellow graduates from officers' school, once in China, were eventually ordered to kill prisoners with their swords as part of the training, to get them battle ready, he also admitted that common soldiers were readied for fighting by training the bayonet on prisoners (he's one of the few officers who would admit something like this, most, especially higher ranking ones, deny such things -while any regular soldier confirms them).


"A boy called H" - Senoh Kappa

It's the account of a young boy who grows up in wartime Japan. The parents are Christians who also had contact to Americans and English before the war started (which made them suspect in the eyes not only of the Kempeitai and the Tokkô, but also neighbours). The father a tailor (who eventually ends up in the fire brigade), the mother a housewife (and eventually head of the women's neighbourhood association), and a younger sister. I found it to be a very interesting tale of the sheer madness that took grip of daily life and how even children were pushed on that completely insane "100,000,000 are ready to die for the Emperor" idea, not to mention the shock and awe when the Americans eventually came to the country with their jeeps and M1 rifles, Thompson guns and M1 carbines, which were all vastly superior to anything the Japanese Army fielded in infantry weapons (the author describes the shock he felt when one of the soldiers allowed him to draw and pick up his M1 carbine, while he remembered the heavy Japanese rifles he, as school student, trained with).

I don't think that any of the LDP fools who try to push patriotism into education these days have ever read this book.

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