March 21, 2023

Japan in World History

Author: James L. Huffman

Oxford University Press

April 2010, $19.95

Japan in World History ranges from Japan’s prehistoric interactions with Korea and China, to the Western challenge of the late 1500s, the partial isolation under the Tokugawa family (1600-1868), and the tumultuous interactions of more recent times, when Japan modernized ferociously, turned imperialist, lost a world war, then became the world’s second largest economy – and its greatest foreign aid donor.

Writing in a lively fashion, Huffman makes rich use of primary sources, illustrating events with comments by the people who lived through them: tellers of ancient myths, court women who dominated the early literary world, cynical priests who damned medieval materialism, travelers who marveled at “indecent” Western ballroom dancers in the mid-1800s, and the emperor who justified Pearl Harbor.

Without ignoring standard political and military events, the book illuminates economic, social, and cultural factors; it also examines issues of gender as well as the roles of commoners, samurai, business leaders, novelists, and priests.

The book includes multiple voices and perspectives: women, peasants, novelists and short-story writers, dissenters, officials, business leaders and samurai. Each chapter contains 20 to 30 quotations from primary sources, which lend both authority and vitality to the narrative. Rooted in the latest scholarship on Japan’s history, overturning previously held assumptions.

James L. Huffman is H. Orth Hirt Professor of History Emeritus at Wittenberg University.

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