The End of the Shoguns and the Birth of Modern Japan
How did the end of the shoguns pave the way for modern Japan? Between the eighth and twelfth centuries, emperors ruled Japan. But powerful families gained the loyalty of the samurai - the emperors’ warriors. In 1185 one local lord took control as shogun, leader of the samurai armies. For the next seven hundred years, the emperors were ceremonial figures, and the shoguns ruled Japan, banning interaction with the Western world. In the nineteenth century, Westerners demanded that Japan open to trade under the threat of invasion. Japan’s shogunate realized it didn’t have the military technology to fight them. When the shogun government made concessions to the Westerners, Japanese lords were outraged and returned their support to the emperor. The shogunate crumbled. In 1868 Emperor Meiji became ruler of Japan. He opened Japan to modern technology, and his military advisers created a global fighting force. The end of the shoguns, which led to the birth of modern Japan, was one of the world’s pivotal moments.
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Twentyfirst Century Books
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As Monty Python might have put it: "This is not a book for reading, this is a book for laying down and avoiding."
Intro texts are important. Writing history books for non-historians is important. But this book falls flat on its face. I lost count of spelling errors (e.g. "Namoro Shigomitso" for Shigemitsu Mamoru), unnecessary overgeneralizations (e.g. labeling the entirety of Mutsu Province as "Aizu"), and downright, out-and-out wrong information (calling an early 1870s print by Utagawa Yoshitsuya, depicting a participant in the Sakurada Gate raid, as having been by Utagawa Toyokuni and depicting a daimyo). Particularly damning is the use of all-English sources, most of which appear to have been at least 25 to 30 years old at the time this book went to print. While I understand that some historians who do comparative work might not have the languages necessary to use primary texts, one can always enlist the aid of consultants or co-authors who have the necessary skill. This author did not do so-- and the book even includes a statement on the importance of primary sources. You cannot write a book on 19th century Japan, expound on the importance of primary sources, and only have the statements of Westerners constitute your primary source material. That's poor scholarship, and it's unfair to the Japanese people, who are the focus of study here.
I suggest reading Mark Ravina's "The Last Samurai" or Mikiso Hane's "Peasants, Rebels, Women, and Outcastes" instead-- they're a lot more responsibly written and a great deal more enjoyable to read.