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4 More Bad Ass Books on Japanese History

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on May 8, 2013 at 12:44 am

I decided to update my list of Bad Ass Japanese History Books. If you wanna see my last list, it is here.

Three of these books have been sitting on my shelf. But one I just got a month or so ago.
2 are out of print (but used copies seem available on Amazon). All 4 are in Japanese only, but the second book is a photo book, so anyone can enjoy it.

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江戸京散歩
Edo-Tōkyō Sanpo
Edo-Tōkyō Walks

江戸東京散歩 - Walk Around Edo Tokyo

Notice my gold Tokugawa bookmark?

Similar to 江戸散歩東京散歩 which I mentioned last time, this book features historical maps of Edo on the page and modern maps of Tōkyō on the right. The old maps have more detail and there is much more of Tōkyō covered than in the other book. It doesn’t include restaurant or shop information, so it’s really designed for history enthusiasts rather than casual sightseeing.  There is a general map of the whole city of Edo and also a page dedicated to 大名小路 daimyō kōji daimyō alley (modern Marunouchi).  There’s also a dedicated map of Edo Castle (always a handy thing to have). There’s a brief write up about the major bridges and hills of Edo. Each modern map has a history walk path laid out, but in the back there are 12 “select” routes. The maps and indexes have become indispensable for doing my place name series. Because it has more maps, I’ve been using it a little more than 江戸散歩東京散歩 – which is still a very fine book.

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甦る幕末
Yomigaeru Bakumatsu
The Bakumatsu Brought Back to Life

甦る幕末 Bakumatsu Photos

This book is one of my prized possessions. It was published in 1986 and I believe it is out of print. It is collection of 800 photographs of Japan during the final years of the Tokugawa Shōgunate (the photos are from the University of Leiden’s collection). There really isn’t much text, just one line descriptions of the pictures, so even if you can’t read Japanese you’ll still be mesmerized by the scenes and the people. Many of the pictures represent sites of important events of the bakumatsu, as well as casual shots of temples and shrines. The last section is of photos of people active during the bakumatsu, everyone from the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, to lowly samurai body guards and servants of foreigners living and working in Japan at that time. I never get tired of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you’re a bakumatsu person!!

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幕末戊辰西南戦争
Bakumatsu Boshin Seinan Sensō – Ketteiban

Bakumatsu: the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion – Definitive Edition

幕末だぜ! It's the muthafuckin' bakumatsu, baby!

I love these illustrated Japanese history books. They’re always full of maps and detailed descriptions of events and have lots of photographs and explanations of how things went down. This book is awesome! For example, there’s an illustration and description of a Shinsengumi procession – basically a super flashy version of a daimyō procession. There are detailed descriptions of the western firearms and uniforms used in the Boshin War and the Satsuma Rebellion (the Seinan War). The boats also get serious treatment – which is fascinating. The battlefields and strategies also get decent coverage – even though that’s way over my head, I know many samurai enthusiasts love that shit. The assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma and the Ikedaya Incident also get multiple pages with loads of diagrams and illustrations. Basically everything about the final death throes of the bakufu and the last resistance of samurai who refused to go out like little bitches is in here. Fun book!!

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日本100名城 公式ガイドブック
Nihon 100 Meijō Kōshiki Gaidobukku
Official Guide to the 100 Famous Castles of Japan

日本100名城公式ガイドブック

OK, I love a Japanese castle as much as the next guy, but there are some SERIOUS castle otaku out there. There are loads of books and websites (in Japanese and English) about Japanese castles. I’m not a castle geek, but I do think Japanese castles are totally fucking bad ass. When I bought this book in 2007, I’d only been in Japan 2 years (maybe less) and just bought it for the pictures (my Japanese sucked). The book is a Guide to the “100 Fine Castles of Japan,” a list designed by the Japan Castle Foundation to promote tourism and education about castles. I didn’t know it at the time but the list had just been compiled the year before and this book was literally a portable guide to walk you through the ABC’s of Japanese castles. It’s got loads of pictures and a スタンプ帳 stanpu-chō stamp book so you can collect a stamp from each castle to prove that you’ve been there (but if you tell me you have, I’ll believe you. I don’t need to see a stamp. I like to trust people).  Although there are a lot of pictures and illustrations in this book, there’s a lot of text in Japanese. Seems like somebody should translate this book into English if they really wanted to boost tourism and education related to Japanese castles. (Update! I just checked and this book has been updated and is still in print. It’s even for sale directly from the Japan Castle Foundation website.)

If you want to see my past list, you can find it here.

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  1. Any recommendations for English books like these? The history stroll book would be great but I can’t read Japanese.

  2. i’m also interested in an english book like that.

  3. Thanks for the info. Looking forward to reading the rest of your list.

  4. Thanks for reading and commenting, guys!

    I don’t know of any books like these in English. I agree an English version of the walking tour book would be fantastic.

    In Japan these kind of history books get printed all the time and then go out of print and a few years later another publishing company makes a similar book. They’re fantastic, but I’ve never seen anything like them in another language, unfortunately.

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