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Modern Library Chronicles #11: Inventing Japan: 1853-1964by Ian Buruma
Synopses & Reviews
In a single short book as elegant as it is wise, Ian Buruma makes sense of the most fateful span of Japan’s history, the period that saw as dramatic a transformation as any country has ever known. In the course of little more than a hundred years from the day Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in his black ships, this insular, preindustrial realm mutated into an expansive military dictatorship that essentially supplanted the British, French, Dutch, and American empires in Asia before plunging to utter ruin, eventually emerging under American tutelage as a pseudo-Western-style democracy and economic dynamo.
What explains the seismic changes that thrust this small island nation so violently onto the world stage? In part, Ian Buruma argues, the story is one of a newly united nation that felt it must play catch-up to the established Western powers, just as Germany and Italy did, a process that involved, in addition to outward colonial expansion, internal cultural consolidation and the manufacturing of a shared heritage. But Japan has always been both particularly open to the importation of good ideas and particularly prickly about keeping their influence quarantined, a bipolar disorder that would have dramatic consequences and that continues to this day. If one book is to be read in order to understand why the Japanese seem so impossibly strange to many Americans, Inventing Japan is surely it.
Buruma's early chapters are especially good, written with characteristic equanimity and clarity....But, again, it is the reverberations with contemporary Japan that give the book particular interest....What emerges from the book is a picture of a country that has not come to terms with the momentous events of its recent past. Japan is still looking for its place in the world." Anthony Head, Times Literary Supplement (read the entire TLS review)
"A witty and illuminating romp through a hundred years of Japanese history, written with Mr. Buruma?s usual style and insight. I cannot think of a wiser or clearer introduction to the subject for the general reader, and even the well informed will find something of interest." Ronald Spector, professor of history and international relations, George Washington University; author of At War at Sea and Eagle Against the Sun
Book News Annotation:
In this text for students and the general reader, independent scholar Buruma explains what happened over the course of a century during which Japan abandoned its traditional ways and entered into the modern world. The author argues that, following the drafting of a constitution in 1867, the new nation attempted to catch up with the established Western powers through internal cultural consolidation and the manufacturing of a shared heritage. Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Includes bibliographical references (p. -187) and index.
In 1853, when American warships forcibly opened Japan's ports, the island was a closed, feudal, preindustrial society run by local warlords. A Japanese child born in that year might have lived to see Japan become a great power whose military empire spanned the Pacific. That person's child would have lived through Japan's national suicide during World War II and its rebirth as a global economic force and Asia's first working democracy, symbolized by and celebrated at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. What explains this strange and fateful transformation?
In a single masterful narrative, Ian Buruma chronicles Japan's journey to its current position in the world order. It is the story of a country unusually arrogant about the superiority of its own ways, and at the same time unusually open to outside ideas. Time and again, Buruma shows, that combination has bred deep collective anxiety and wild social mood swings, with fateful consequences. Writing with a wit and authority made possible by a deep intimacy with his subject and his own remarkable gifts, Ian Buruma has produced a book that stands without rival as a single-volume account of the invention of modem Japan.
About the Author
Ian Buruma studied and worked in Japan for many years. He is the author of Bad Elements, The Missionary and the Libertine, Anglomania, A Japanese Mirror, God?s Dust, The Wages of Guilt, and Playing the Game. He lives in London.
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