East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History

Product Description from Amazon.com Designed for the East Asian history course, this text features the latest scholarship on the region’s cultural, political, economic, and intellectual history. Coverage is balanced among East Asian countries, with approximately 20 percent of the text focused on Korea, an area that has become increasingly important in world politics. Special attention is devoted to gender and material culture, themes are reinforced through the text’s pedagogical features. Full color inserts on topics such as food, clothing, and art objects illustrate the rich artistic heritage of East Asia and bolster the coverage of material culture. Features include a range of primary source documents on topics such as women’s independence and students-turned-soldiers, and biographical sketches throughout the text highlight the lives of popular figures and ordinary people. "Connections" features provide an international context for the history of East Asia, including topics such the origin and spread of Buddhism and a global perspective of World War II.
Year of Publication
2nd (June 20, 2008, paperback)
Number of Pages
Wadsworth Publishing
ISSN Number
ISBN-10: 0547005342
Average: 3.8 (13 votes)


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East Asia - Ebrey

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 06/24/2010

Ron Sivillo
• 9th grade Honors Social Studies (1st Semester -- American Civics / 2nd Semester – World Geography)
• 11th/12th grade – Asian Studies (elective)
• Excerpts from the book are appropriate for 9th (Honors Level) and 11th and 12th grades
1. What did you already know about early modern (Tokugawa) and modern (1868-present) Japan before starting the readings? (A brief answer will be fine for this question.)
Being a political science major, I have always gravitated toward the contemporary aspects of the courses I have taught. My desire to learn history has always been dwarfed by intense need to consume information about current issues and trends. Luckily for me, my teaching course load has remained heavy on the contemporary aspects of economics, government, politics, etc. Certainly, this has not exempted me from understanding and teaching history; however, it has allowed me to deal with the topics of my courses with a heavy emphasis on the 20th century and forward. Even for the Asian Studies course which I teach (actually co-teach), pre-20th century topics have typically been taught by the “co-teacher.” However, having been a participant in the NCTA Seminars (2007), I have gained a solid grounding in the Tokugawa and “modern” eras of Japan. Admittedly, though, the Ebrey text has provided a richer and more detailed account of these time periods.
Specifically, in terms of what I already knew before reading the Ebrey text, can be summed up as “limited.” Clearly, before the NCTA seminars, my knowledge was limited by the heavy attention paid to World War II Japan and certainly post-World War II Japan in high schools and popular culture and media. Certainly, the media I have consumed most of my adult life (most prominently The Economist, The Nation, BBC News and the New York Times) has dealt with contemporary Japan (or at least post-WWII Japan). As mentioned, even the courses I teach had not forced me to learn more in any great detail. Therefore, before the readings, I was certainly aware of the relative peace of the Tokugawa period and the blossoming of the arts in Japan (i.e., Kabuki theatre) and the social class structure of Japan (Daimyo, Samurai, etc.). Moreover, incursions by the Europeans (16th c.) and the eventual isolation of Japan was at least documented in my memory bank. The United States’ (and other western nations) incursions into Japan (19th c.) and the eventual dismantling of the Tokugawa Shogunate was also part of my understanding of Japan. Further, the militarization of Japan and its quest for natural resources, to wars with China and Russia (20th c.), to the conquering of Korea and eventual conflict in World War II rounded out the “big ideas” of which I was aware.
2. What did you learn about Japan from the Ebrey/Murphy readings? (What was new information to you, for example? What surprised you? What was most interesting?)
This is a relatively difficult question as the text is a rather detailed account of Japan (and the other East Asian countries). Nonetheless, overall I would have to say that I have learned (and perhaps found most interesting) that post-war Japan’s “economic miracle” did not materialize with at least some level of dissent and political/social protest (see. p.p. 540-541 of Ebrey text). For instance, I found it interesting that Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had such a strangle-hold over the Japanese political and legal systems that those who opposed its policies typically had to resort to working outside the political system. This was exemplified by demonstrations (mostly in the 1950s) against American military bases and nuclear testing, and through opposition to the centralization of educational policy. In fact, a slew of issues marked the 1950s, perhaps most prominent the 1959-60 political demonstrations over revision and extension of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which involved over 134 Japanese groups and organizations. Simply put, a conservative and progressive thread in Japanese politics, groups which had differing viewpoints on how Japan should progress into the latter half of the 20th century, clashed more than I had realized before reading parts of the Ebrey text. However, Japanese productivity and ingenuity progressed and propelled Japan into the economic success that it is to this day.
3. Finally, what would YOU want to know about this material if you were considering using it in your classroom? Please tell the reader what the book is about, and make suggestions for how you would use it (or have used it) in class.
This book is, essentially, precisely what the title implies; that is, a cultural, social, and political history of East Asia. It spans the earliest civilizations of East Asia through the early years of the 21st century. The book is rather comprehensive, and in areas where it might be less detailed than some readers may desire, it provides a “Suggested Reading” summary after each chapter. For most high school students, the book will likely be more detailed than practicable. Perhaps in an elective, one which concentrates only on East Asia, will the text be entirely digestible by a high school student. However, for an instructor whose knowledge base of East Asia is underdeveloped, the text is accessible and relatively detailed.
In terms of what I would “want to know if (I) was considering using it in (my) classroom”, I would want to know how “decipherable” the material is for students who are at the high school level. For instance, in the 9th grade World Geography class which I teach, I find that much of the material is too dense and detailed for the attention that can be paid to it in my curriculum. Certainly, the information in the text is rich and detailed, and provides very good background knowledge for the instructor. Moreover, the text provides primary-source documents and other enriching pieces of information, many of which add depth and “real life” examples of the factual information contained in the text (i.e., Material Culture, p. 337). However, my belief is that this is primarily a college-level text, and therefore information would have to be adapted to a level commensurate with the reading comprehension and skill level of the students in the class.

Review of Ebrey Text by Andrea Marterella

Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 05/25/2010

Andrea Marterella
English: World Literature (10th), PSSA (11th), Journalism (9th through 12th)
Pine Grove Area High School
Appropriate Grade and/or Age: Gifted 9th and Upward. I have used this text in my own classroom in order to understand historical context of literature and some literary comprehension as well. Additionally, some of the modern information has been helpful for my Journalism students.
I found the text to be understandable and an enjoyable read. I liked the biography sections and found those to be great tie-ins with my curriculum. I feel that the students will enjoy the clarity and simplicity of the writing as well as the real life example from specific time periods. I’ve already have figured out ways to incorporate specific literary examples from the text into my lesson plans for next year for my 10th graders!
I already knew that historical Japanese political culture had profound influences on American political culture. For example, during the late 1800s there were issues with property taxes (346). The readings reinforced those ideas. Additionally, I see many parallels with European cultures. That example would be a parallel with the Industrial Revolution (346).
I learned:
 Prior to 1830 Samurai were permitted to have swords and surnames; after 1840 all were permitted to have swords and surnames. (Chapter 19)
 In the 1800s, novels depicted the immediate world of human feels-commenting socially. Is this Romanticism? (Chapter 19)
 A captain of a Russian survey crew made international headlines while held. (Chapter 19)
 The metric system, the new calendar and Western timepieces brought the standardization and regularization modeled by military organization to ordinary work practices. (Chapter 20)
 Blood tax- all citizens should willingly sacrifice themselves for their country . Possible parallels to the Vietnam war ? (Chapter 20)
The text discusses Asian history and goes into detail regarding religious and literary histories as well. I have used the text, in a small way, with my Journalism students while discussing propaganda. I feel that next year, I will be able to incorporate more aspects of this text with my students. This year, I had decided to include more historical aspects. This went well and students were able to understand the context of the literature, which we discuss, with more emphasis on historical analysis. This upcoming school year, we will look at biographies discussed in the text in hopes that students will then be able to bridge understanding of humanity and common themes within cultures.

Technical Book

Field of Interest/Specialty: Fine Arts
Posted On: 05/14/2010

Darla Rodriguez
Pine Grove Area High School
Pine Grove PA
Fine/Studio Arts
I already knew a bit of information about early modern and modern Japan from the NCTA seminar course. However, my husband and I are addicted to the History Channel and like to view specials on TV. I knew how Kyoto and Nara were major capital cities. I also knew the extent in which one was not allowed to marry across class lines and the types of classes, the samurai following their master till their deaths with honor and truth. Japan is fabulious for dealing with lots of people in a small area, mostly mountains. Architectural designers, and product designs for living within the world trade has dramatically increated over that last decade alone.
In terms of class rules and how religion, the degree which Buddhism and Confucianism had affected the people were more clear when re-reading this. The story about the scribe that said he was married (because through his Confucianism belief, he was loyal to the mother of his children. Touching story that helps the reader to connect to the religious turmoil’s with personal beliefs.
The class flow is an interesting structure. Japanese rulers whose reign carried down the family line and if they were too young, then their grandmother could become their regent. Grandmothers have a serious role in many different cultures, and that is an interesting link. I also liked that the merchants, that do not create anything, they live off the work of others are the end of the class line.
The asides of the culture works that are in the book is a neat feature. As an art teacher, I enjoyed the extra tid-bits that are an easier read then the rest of the textbook, making it an area that is good to share with regular-education high school students. The inclusion of only a few pages on modern Japan show that the true culture of Japan has changed with the new generations. Discussions such as the discussion of Gyaru girls and female workers and show western influences.
This book is best geared for a teacher reference for lesson planning and resources. However, the images in the book are not all color, and that would only help as a reference point to look for more viable images. The textbook would be good for a High School AP World literature/Asian studies or for college level students. When discussing Asia, I have used this book for lesson planning and using this for a lesson plan springboard. I have gained information for China Lessons, but only one Japan lesson (tea bowls).


Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 05/13/2010

Jae Hwang
Wheaton High School
Silver Spring MD
Courses Taught:
Government (10th)
World History (11th)
Global Issues (10th)
My studies have included Japan, which includes the Edo Period and the Tokugawa era. I understood the feudal system of rule that existed in this era, along with the great Shogun’s that lead the country, such as Tokugawa Leyasu. In addition the creation of a stratified society is another point worth mentioning when reflecting on the Tokugawa society. I also understand that the famous Meiji Era follows the Tokugawa era and “modernizes” Japan in the image of the west.
I read many different sections of the book and found that much of the information was very in-depth. Reading about the early state and society of Japan, I did not know that in the past such a diverse group of people ranging from Southeast Asian to Mongolian now make up the very homogenous Japanese society. The importance of Buddhism and Confucianism are both very well known throughout East Asian history, but the negative image of Buddhism as seen through Gyoki in the 700’s and Yoshida Shinto in the middle ages were surprising. The reading also made it clear that by the 8th century Buddhism had become incorporated into the Japanese beliefs, but it is still amazing to see how Buddhism flourished as an imported religion when compared to that of Shinto belief, which focuses on worldly benefits rather than enlightenment. I always associated Japan with Shinto and did not know to what extend Buddhism impacted Japanese society. Finally the fact that the various monarchs and leaders of Japan, such as Shirakawa and even to an extent those during the Tokugawa era abdicated their power as leaders to allow for a stable and controlled transfer of power was fascinating.
To be honest, this book is a bit too dense for my high school students who come from varying backgrounds. I believe that the textbook is great for teachers and college level students, but not high school level students. The book setup is also very complicated, with no consistent pattern, but that of the varying notions and interests of the author, it is difficult for a reader with limited background to fully construct a steady and clear timeline and understanding of any of the East Asian countries. It would be better if the book was arranged in such a way that allowed the reader to continue on a certain topic or issue, but currently the various topics represented in the book are organized in sporadic manner. This is a great book for people with a basic background in the subject matter, but not for students in high school that might pick up the book to survey East Asian History. Finally, the vocabulary and sentence structure is also too nebulous for students who already have a difficult time with new words and foreign terminology.

Review by: Amy Swartz

Field of Interest/Specialty: AP World History & World Religions
Posted On: 05/13/2010

Amy Swartz
Courses: 9th grade World Cultures I; 11th grade Advanced Placement US. History; 11th & 12th grade elective courses: Global Issues; World Religions
Warrior Run High School
East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History would be appropriate as a reference for teachers and as a textbook for older or more advanced high school students.
1. Previous to reading the Ebrey text, I was fairly familiar with the main concepts presented in the assigned chapters because the World Cultures I curriculum used at Warrior Run contains a unit on Japan. The Tokugawa period was a time of Japanese isolation from the world and resulted in internal growth and development. Shogunate guidelines impacted the lifestyle of the daimyo class. Travel to and from the capital and religious pilgrimages impacted Japanese industries, commerce, and religious experiences. The Meiji period brought a more centralize, representative government and morphed the upper classes from traditional samurai into that of government officials and administrators. In addition, Japan welcomed western technologies and ideas. As Japan entered the 20th century it became more involved in world affairs (Russia, Korea), thanks to the United States and Matthew Perry. Economic conditions produced an expanding middle class. A shift to military rule, in addition to overpopulation and lack of natural resources resulted in the desire to build an empire to meet Japan’s growing needs. These goals resulted in Japan’s involvement in World War II and the subsequent period of US occupation, which helped Japan advance economically.
2. Compared to my current textbook, this text provides more detailed information and analysis. I found that the sections that addressed the plight of the poor and lower classes contained new, more specific statistics and information. For example, Chapter 19 discussed religious and cultural contributions. I did not know that Kabuki troupes increased their profits by performing throughout the countryside. Additionally, Chapter 20 outlines how the Meiji government established their parliamentary democracy. I was surprised that suffrage was limited to men who could pay a fifteen yen/year property tax which qualified only 1.1% of the population to vote. Also, the section about Japan’s work force in the 1890’s was interesting. Like in the United States at the time, working conditions and low wages were major concerns. Men earned five times as much as women, however, they didn’t make enough to pay rent and buy minimal food. Chapters 26 and 30 were most informative as they addresses specific information about the workings of the US occupation and keys to Japan’s success in forming one of the world strongest economies.
3. East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History contains thirty chapters which are divided into 6 units of study and are organized chronologically. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction which concludes with three or four essential questions addressed in the chapter. The chapter contains graphs, images, and supplemental sections entitled biography, material culture, and supplemental documents. Throughout the text, the “Connections” sections address cross-cultural connections between Asia and other parts of the world. The text contains a timeline, map and index, however a glossary is not included. The supplemental sections (biography, material culture, etc.) would be useful for class discussions and more in-depth study. I have used sections of the text to provide more in-depth information for my students.

Review of "East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History," Ebrey, et.al

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art History, Art and History
Posted On: 05/13/2010

Susan W. Brown
The Park School
Baltimore, Maryland
Upper School Art History and Studio Art
4th and 5th Grade Studio Art
I came to the Ebrey text a neophyte—I know very little about Japanese history. I’ve taught visual arts to 4th and 5th graders for 15 years and Western art history to grades 10 through 12 for the past 10. My art history class this fall was my first foray into East Asia; although I hoped to cover both China and Japan, we only skimmed the surface of Chinese art. As I reread Ebrey in preparation for our trip and to familiarize myself with the history I will teaching to my students next fall, a number of things struck me—some positive, many negative.
At its best, the Ebrey text gives the reader a working overview of Japan’s governmental systems (the shogunate, the daimyo, the “bakufu,” the dissolution of the shogunate, the turmoil that follows, the imperial restoration, just to name a few), the changing economic conditions as the country moved from its agrarian roots to a “modern” industrial nation, the shifting class systems as the population moved between village and city, and the tensions inherent in society experiencing continual, monumental changes. What I found new and most interesting were the “Material Culture” insets: that the approach to Night Soil followed the stratified aspects of society at large, that human power propelled transportation until the advent of the rickshaw in 1869, that rice (rice!) was not a staple of the Japanese diet until its importation from China and Korea in the last quarter of the 19th century and that new selections of meats and selective adaptation of Western foods help improve Japanese nutrition, that as the middle class shifted from merchants to government bureaucrats their housing needs also shifted, that the transistor (a staple of my own childhood) went through a number of incarnations before its “technological breakthrough based on high-performance alloy germanium,” and finally, the rise of Manga with its cultural and societal implications.
I would be hard pressed to use Ebrey for anything other than short, supplemental readings as I did when I taught the art of China last fall. The text is dry, choppy and hard to follow. The visuals are disappointing in their size, quality and labeling. Ebrey at times deals with cause and effect, but rarely is there an interesting narrative that moves the reader forward or impels her to want to know more. People, drama, anecdotal stories and experiences, and the examination of primary sources all make for fascinating historical reading; they peak your interesting and keep you questioning. Ebrey deals with all of these, but only tangentially, through insets and text interruptions, not within the main body of the text. The Manga inset encapsulates what can be so intriguing about history and what Ebrey does so rarely: to take a topic or idea, deal with its inception, explore its rise and decline (and in this case its popular appeal) and relate those factors to societal conditions. Ebrey focuses on facts, figures and abstractions while only dabbling in the interesting.

Katrina Krady Manheim Township High School Lancaster, PA 9th-12th Learning Support Social Studies- Ancient History, World History, and Civics/Economics/Global Perspective

Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 05/12/2010

Manheim Township High School
Lancaster, PA
9th-12th Learning Support Social Studies- Ancient History, World History, and Civics/Economics/Global Perspective
Before reading this textbook, my knowledge about Japan from 1603 to present was very general- broad topics with few details. The basis of my knowledge came from the textbooks I used which were very limited because they are written at lower reading levels. I would search the internet to supplement those textbooks.
Reading this textbook gives me the details I need to fill in my content. Here is a bit of what I learned from this textbook.
1. Japan 1603 to 1800-
a. The Tokugawa shoguns developed an elaborate government structure with four or five councilors rotating jobs and running the country.
b. During this time an official handwriting style for documents, paper money, and national roads were established.
c. I found it interesting that the daimyo allowed the cultivators to drop off fresh vegetables and collect “Night Soil”. Only later to realize that money can be made from charging the collectors to take the “Night Soil” away.
d. The agricultural and commercial revolution that occurred began the trend of smaller families which is happening in Japan today.
e. That some Samurai turned to learning and understanding society because of the lack of opportunity to gain fame in battle.
2. Japan 1800 to 1867-
a. Russia tried to open relations with Japan only to be shut out.
b. Japan’s ideology of superiority to other countries and their strong desire to keep Christianity out of Japan became aware.
c. Trivia- Rickshaw came around in 1869.
3. Japan 1868 to 1900-
a. Japan tried so hard to keep the west out but they had to take into count the western military technology, laws, governmental systems- constitutions, food, clothing, and science.
b. Japan created a constitution and set up a parliamentary democracy.
c. Importing of raw materials increases and the exporting of manufactured goods increased by the 20th century.
d. Japan became aware of the need to expand their boarders.
4. Japan 1900 to 1931-
a. Japan went to war with Russia. Later, the US helped negotiate a peace settlement.
b. Japan and the US made the Taft-Katsura agreement giving Japan control of Korea and the US the Philippines.
c. When Japan attacked Manchuria cooperation with the west ended.
d. Japan’s second industrial revolution occurred and they started the reign of Japanese electronics being second to none.
5. Japan 1931 to 1964-
a. Japan suffered in many areas during WWII- physical destruction, economic destruction, and political destruction.
b. The United States occupied Japan after the war and all its details.
c. The Korean War helped Japan’s economic growth.
6. Japan 1964 to present-
a. Japan has gone through some troubled times and some times of prosperity during the last 40 years.
b. Pollution and the dependence on oil has been a concern for Japan but they adjusted by building fuel-efficient and less-polluting cars. They cleaned up their act. This allowed them to take over the American market for cars when new laws came out.
c. Political concerns affected the economy and international relations.
I use this textbook as a reference book for me. It is filled with details that can be easily understood. The format of the book intertwines Asia history and culture. You understand what is happening in Asia during each time period. The Connections, Material Culture, Documents, and Biography sections give the book added dimensions of periodic breaks from the detailed text.

Review of East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art
Posted On: 05/12/2010

Julie O’Leary
Visual Arts
Grades 6-8
Talley Middle School, Wilmington, DE
I knew a little about early modern (Tokugawa) and modern Japan before reading this text. When I was in undergraduate school I took an East Asian art history class and had learned briefly about Ukiyo-e art in Japan and that time period. The book refreshed my memory of things I have learned in the past and taught me more in depth about Japan.
I learned many interesting and new facts from reading this text. I am really interested in the Edo period including the culture and politics. I did not know that the status people were born into was what they would remain. If one was born a guard then he stayed a guard. Rulers’ personalities and competences did not really matter and this did not change until the mid to late 1800’s. Even within the shogun’s castle, people lived within their status groups. The most important people near the castle and the least on the outskirts. During this period, traveling was restricted. People were not allowed to travel overseas and many bridges were not built for safety.
I really enjoyed reading the material culture, biographies, and documents in the text and learned a lot of new facts. From reading the text, I learned that during the Meiji Transformation rice was not really eaten before 1873 when it was imported from China and Korea. Most people ate wheat, barley and millet. I guess I always imagined people in Japan eating rice. Also, after the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, middle class homes were built in western styles. They had more privacy and were better for convenience (they didn’t have to stay at home to wait in case someone came by) and entertaining. The middle class also started living in the suburbs and commuting to work compared to the past when people lived above their shops. After reading from the Diary of Hayashi Toshimasa, I was able to gain the perspective of a pilot who died during World War II. It was very interesting reading the emotions that the pilot was going through during the war.
I think this book could be used for high school/college students. This book would be too challenging for middle school students, but would be good as a resource for teachers. It has given me a lot of background knowledge to share with my students. Since I teach art, I also use other books as resources that focus more on the visual arts. I wish this book had more images and more examples of East Asian art (what is in the book is very limited).
When reading this book, it is easy skip around in the book and read what topics go with your curriculum. Different chapters cover different countries and time periods. Within the chapters are sections that are primary sources with biographies, documents, and material cultures (which I mentioned above). These sections would be great to share with older students giving them a first hand look at the time period and culture.

Well-written text, offering readers a clear and through grounding in East Asian culture and history

Field of Interest/Specialty: Studio Art & Art History
Posted On: 05/10/2010

Kachina Martin
Studio Art and Art History – 9th through 12th grades
Muhlenberg High School, Laureldale, PA
East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History is a well-written text that offers readers a clear and through grounding in Asian history, without being overwhelming given the vast span of time and geography the text addresses. This text has worked well with my junior and senior students at Muhlenberg, which I expected, given that the other texts I use with these students are also written at the collegiate level (Gardner’s Art through the Ages and Arts and Ideas). While we do not currently have a place for this text in its entirety in our curriculum, I have used excerpts with my honors and college level high school juniors and seniors. This text has also proved to be an invaluable resource for my understanding of the history of East Asia, enabling me to enrich my lectures and offer more in-depth information about the artistic traditions within these cultures.
The danger in a single text that aims to cover the history of China, Japan, and Korea is that the text will be too generalized. However, throughout East Asia, the authors have included some important features that truly make history come to life, and enrich the reader’s understanding of a particular event or time period by taking an in-depth look at specific people, documents, and objects. For me, I was most drawn to the many first person accounts found through the chapters, such as excerpts from diaries and biographies. The range of individuals profiled in this manner was wonderful – from the wealthy ruling classes to the lowly peasant – offering a wide and varied perspective on both the mundane aspects of daily life as well as important, pivotal moments. I thought the text also offered a nice balance of male and female perspectives, as women seldom had the same rights as men, regardless of standing in society. Information such as this has a far greater impact on students then a simple listing of facts and figures. It is easy to distance oneself from the human side of history, and excerpts such as these help the reader to see individuals, and enable the reader to feel greater empathy and understanding for people of other cultures.
As an art historian, I was drawn to the many images of paintings throughout the text that act as a primary resource from which the reader can glean a great deal of information about the culture and what it holds as significant. However, the majority of these images is very small and is mainly in black and white. Although there are sections of color plates, it was cumbersome to have to page ahead or back to reach these sections to look at an image, and then flip back to the reading. As such, rated the text 4 out of 5 stars; I would suggest that the third edition enlarge the images further as well as print them in color to better enable readers to learn from these important works.
The text is chronologically organized, allowing the reader to see the development of these countries from ancient times to present day. Significantly, the history of East Asia is frequently connected to other cultures in abbreviated sections subdivided under the heading of Connections, creating an international context for the history and culture of Asia. As a part of a team-taught honors course entitled Global Studies at Muhlenberg, I have referenced these sections frequently in my lectures in an attempt to make students aware of the inter-connections between the many cultures we study, offering a global perspective on the development of image-making.
Prior to this seminar, I had very little knowledge of East Asian history beyond what I had gleaned from teaching non-Western art history. I feel much more confident about my understanding of East Asian history and culture after reading this text. In regards to Japan, I knew very little about either the culture or the history prior to completing the assigned chapters beyond my personal interest in shibori, which I had studied mainly from an artistic perspective, versus a historical one.
I learned a great deal from the assigned chapters on Japan. Specifically, I found myself especially interested in the development of art and culture from the Edo period to modern day. The Edo period is when the poetry form of the haiku was raised to a fine art (286), and this time period was made famous by the woodblock prints of the ukiyo, or the “floating worlds” that existed on the fringe of respectable society (287). These prints would have a profound impact on European artists, especially the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Kabuki begins in the 17th century as well, and women are banned from performing on stage after fights erupted over the “charms” of a prostitute who attracted customers by erecting a stage and singing to attract her clients (288). By 1715, Kabuki actors were including advertisements for products within their routines; it is fascinating to consider that this is where the idea of product placement may have begun (290)!
The strict controls that the Japanese government attempted to impose upon women and their bodies in the 1840s reveals a great deal about the lack of suitable employment for women, and the rise and acceptance of prostitution, both licensed and unlicensed, that has its roots in the Edo time period (327). Even today, Japanese society regulates the kinds of vocations in which women can excel, and despite the Diet’s passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1985, as of 1988, women’s earnings are at 50% of men’s (515-16). Women in Japan today face many of the same challenges as women in other industrialized nations, attempting to balance the demands of a family and the expectations of society with a desire for advanced education and a fulfilling career. The excerpt from Fujita Mariko’s essay was chilling, as one can see how women continue to uphold and even enforce the expectation that other women must fulfill the role of a professional housewife in order to maintain the balance of society (516-517).

Ebrey Text

Field of Interest/Specialty: Medieval World
Posted On: 05/10/2010

Sharen Pula (The Park School of Baltimore) 5th grade Subjects taught: Literature, Writing, History, Mathematics, Science, Poetry, Architecture (The Medieval World)
1. My knowledge of the early modern (Tokugawa) and modern (1868-present) Japan was quite limited. I teach a yearlong course about the entire medieval world from the conversion of Constantine in the 4th C to the later part of the 15th C. Thus, my focus is on the Classical Period 500-700 CE Early Historic, 700-794 Nara Period, and 794-1185 CE Heian Period, and the Shogunate that includes the Kamakura Period 1185-1333 CE and the Ashikaga Period 1333-1573 CE.
2. An idea I found of interest was to follow the “Thread of Government” and the “Thread of Religion” from earlier times to throughout the Edo Period, the final period of traditional Japan. During this time there was internal peace, political stability and economic growth under the shogunate. There was a strong belief in Neo-Confucianism. Superiors ruled by example and had the moral duty to treat subordinates correctly. Morality was a focus as was education and a strict hierarchical class structure in government and society. The emperors ruled symbolically in Kyoto while the real power was exerted by the shoguns in Edo. There was a rice based economy and a complex form of feudalism. The Hierarchy was as follows: Warriors, Farmers, artisans, merchants (at the bottom because they didn’t produce anything). Existing outside of the rule of the regular feudal government were the Shinto/Buddhist priests and monks, doctors and the outcasts.
The Shogunal Power had 3 key strategies: divine power in the name of the Emperor to maintain legitimate authority that was beyond question (though Emperor was little more than a puppet), complete control of the Daimyo (feudal lords), and isolation from the West especially China. The stability gained during this period doubled the population, increased and urbanized the merchant class, and expanded village industries such as silk production, textile weaving, sake brewing, etc.
How does a society establish stability? Military lords? (Daimyo) With the rise of the warrior class that provided protection, Japan experienced considerable growth.
I was surprised how closely the system in Edo mirrored that of Medieval Europe. In the shogunal and domainal governments, class lines were firmly fixed, men born of guards stayed guards. There were decrees to regulate behavior similar to the code of chivalry in Europe. The powers in charge forbade Christianity and set up a national system of temple registration to ensure compliance. Taking advantage of technological advances in fortifications, the shogun’s castle was enclosed behind multiple stone walls (concentric walled castles) surrounded by moats. There was a rise of towns and a merchant class.
I found it interesting to see the rise of capitalistic tendencies. Japanese society experienced an unprecedented increase in urban growth, and consumption centers appeared. There was a tendency towards the purchase of processed food and cloth that previous generations had made themselves. Labor and leisure were oriented toward the market. Purchasing finished products saved time.
Shinto means “the way of the gods” and the spirits or “kami” were located in the sky, islands, waterfalls, mountains, and trees. Mount Fuji is sacred. Some animals are also sacred because they are messengers of Kami. There are no rules or scriptures in Shinto. People gave offering to Kami for good harvest and in order to protect you from bad luck.
I was able to deepen my knowledge of the spread of Buddhism, which was introduced to Japan in 552 AD and where it became the official court religion in 770 AD. It was during this time that the power centered on the court (putting Buddhism close to the seat of influence. At this time, the Japanese were beginning to produce a culture that was truly Japanese, not Chinese. (Muraski Shikibu wrote the Tale of Genji.) During the Medieval period, a remarkable religious tolerance was usual among Japanese. The Buddhist monk, Gyogi, went to Shinto Sun Goddess, Amaterasu and asked for her opinion of Buddhism. By 8th C Buddhism had become so naturalized that it started to blend with the native beliefs. People learned that deities and Buddhas supported each other and both needed festivals and ceremonies. Important Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples entered into a symbiotic relationship; the shrines provided a place so that deities might hear sutra recitations and deities protected the Buddhist temples.
My first thoughts rest on the power of religion. What would a society be like if, in fact, it could be governed by the teachings of Buddha and Confucius? If people are not born good, but must be taught to be good and to self –regulate, what would a societal structure resemble that had these ideas as its foundation?
I have a clearer sense of the timeline of significant events such as when a powerful clan in the Yamato region, near Nara, began expanding its domain around 400 CE. The Yamato rulers took the title of “emperor” and claimed to be of divine origin, directly descended from the Shinto sun goddess, Amatersu. This direct link enabled a certain succession of rulers to dominate Japanese society. (I would have liked the text to tell the story of Amatersu and her influence over Japanese culture. According to legend—the imperial family was founded in 660 B.C. The Emperors descended from the Sun Goddess. Many times during history the Emperors had no political power. The Shoguns ruled Japan from 1190 AD onward. It was, however, the Emperor who interceded with the gods—he is the only one who can. Emperors have come of the same unbroken line since 600 A D and are still treated with the same respect and reverence.
What enables a society to support the practice of different religions in one place as it occurred in the 15C in Spain? Christianity, Judaism and Islam experienced a peaceful co-existence until the Inquisition.
Always of interest are the following essential questions:
How does geography dictates culture?
How do individuals manage their environment?
What influence does technology play in shaping a culture?
What are the basic needs of culture? (Art, Music, Stories, Myth, Religion, Food,
Traditions/Celebrations, Architecture, Government, Housing, etc.)
What are the effects of trade between cultures?
To what extent can a culture be open to the flow of ideas and yet retain its uniqueness?
3. I characteristically don’t use a textbook. Instead, I read from a variety of sources. For example, if studying the Silk Road, I would read books such as The Silk Roads: Highways of Culture and Commerce by V. Elisseef, The Potter’s Art by Glassie, The Book of Silk by Scott, Life along the Silk Road by Whitefield, The Poems of Basho, and Atlases of Sacred Places. A text that I have found particularly useful for studying Japan is entitled, What Life Was Like Among Samurai and Shoguns (Japan AD 1000- 1700) Time Life Books. Student books such as The Silk Route: 7000 Miles of History, Calliope booklets have been helpful as well.
It has been helpful to have a comprehensive text, such as Ebrey that spanned the pre-history through the 16 C of China, Korea and Japan. I do, however, feel so strongly about the sense of story –the place that narrative plays in the teaching of history. So much about a society is revealed in the stories they tell and the art they produce. I view history as a story and am therefore most interested when there is a strong narrative presented. I find the works of Will and Ariel Durant quite engaging. In Heroes and History: A Brief History of Civilization they talk about social order promoting cultural creation. The story is richly detailed. Therefore, in the Ebrey text, I especially liked the document sections (containing primary sources and quotes) I found these clearly written and informative. The “Connections” sections, the “Material Culture” sections, “Making Comparisons” sections and the “Biography” sections held my interest as well. I did find the text a bit dry and dense. The actual wording of the sentences sometimes made it difficult to access the information. Statements could have been made and followed up by examples or specifics that would have conveyed the information more clearly. A statement could have been made and then the text could have been interrupted at that point by a story that explained in further detail the particulars.
If I taught High School, I would focus on topics from the sections I listed above and seek out other sources that could expand on the information given. For example—Suppose a lecture on a particular topic were to be “visually” based. I’d take the ideas presented in the Ebrey text and pose the question “What do we know about a society through its arts, products, architecture, religion, textiles, etc.?” I’d go to http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ website given us during the seminar and construct a PowerPoint that conveyed this information visually. I’d have the students observe and analyze the visuals. In addition to being instructive, this analysis would excite them to dig more deeply.