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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.


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.


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!!


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!!


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


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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Some Bad Ass Books on Japanese History

In Japanese Castles, Japanese Food, Japanese History, Travel in Japan on March 30, 2013 at 8:08 am

Make that… on Edo/Tōkyō History specifically.

For my series on place names in Tōkyō, I often scour the interwebs for old maps of Edo so I can get a feel for the local landscape back in the day. I also constantly refer to a couple of books that I have at home for comparison.

Today, I’d like to share a few of these books with you.

江戸散歩東京散歩 Edo Walk Tokyo Walk

An awesome book for designing historical walking tours of Tokyo!


Japanese bookstores are full of flavor-of-the-month history books, so you should always check the shelves. But this one was definitely cool. (The link is to the new edition, I have the old one).

This book lays out some Edo-centric walking tours you can do around Tōkyō. It includes side by side maps of Edo and Tōkyō as well, so you can plan your own walks and sightseeing adventures. The beauty of the old maps is that they include a legend that breaks down daimyō residences into specific categories (upper, middle and lower residences) and it uses current pen-based writing conventions (for example an original Edo Period map might say 甲ヒ literally Kōhi but actually Kōfu while this book uses the modern 甲府 Kōfu). It also recommends shops and restaurants in certain areas, which is why if you decide to buy it, definitely by the newer edition.

よみがえる江戸城 Edo Castle Resurrected

An awesome book about Japan's biggest and baddest castle!


One of the most disappointing things about living in Tōkyō and loving Japanese history is that the biggest and most important castle of the Edo Period is pretty much gone. All that remain are a few moats, a few gates and bridges and some turrets.

This book is totally bad ass. With maps and pictures (some real, some digital reconstructions) it takes you on a tour Edo Castle building by building. The maps of the moat and gate systems are invaluable to me when I write about place names near the castle because much of the original network has been torn down or simplified. If you love castles or just want to know what the hell Edo Castle was like on the inside, you’ll love this book. Even if you can only read minimal Japanese (or nothing), I think you could get a lot out of this book. When I bought it, I could barely string together a complete sentence in Japanese let alone read about Japanese History, so… there ya go.

Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology

Tokyo - A Spatial Anthropology (English Edition)

Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology (English Edition)

This is out of print, but I recently scored a copy to research my neighborhood. What’s awesome about this book is that the author, Jin’nai Hidenobu clearly loves the shit out of Tokyo. He talks about all the transformations of the city (fires, wars, earthquakes, urban sprawl) and especially illuminates the more mysterious side of the transformations – for example, how was all the land that compromised daimyō estates redistributed by the Meiji government? This is a question I could never find a decent answer for via Google. But something as simple as this explains volumes about how former daimyō residences of the Edo Period became centers of 下町 shitamachi downtown culture in Tōkyō in successive eras. It’s a fascinating book. I can’t recommend it enough if you, too, love the shit out of Tōkyō.

I might buy the Japanese version for my wife.

Tokyo - A Spatial Anthropology (Original Japanese Edition)

Tokyo – A Spatial Anthropology (Original Japanese Edition)





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Check Out These Japanese Castles!

In Japanese Castles, Japanese History on March 21, 2013 at 12:10 am

If you’re interested in Japanese Castles, you should definitely check out this site:

I love this site because it’s organized really well. For example, if I’m travelling in Japan and I want to know if there is (or was) a castle in the area, I can just search by area.

Since I live in Tokyo (and Japan This! is primarily concerned with Tokyo), there is a special grouping on the front page for Tokyo Area castles.

If you want to visit Japanese Castles and you’re not sure which ones are worth the trip you can check out his 5 star castles and 4 star castles.

I didn’t know the Hikone Castle was so bad ass until I read about it on this site. This summer I’ll be visiting Shiga Prefecture — only because I read about Hikone Castle on

Learn about Japanese Castles in Japan

The only reason I recommend it is because it’s totally freaking awesome.

There aren’t a lot of people blogging and running websites about Japanese History, so if you are a fan of Japanese History, you should subscribe and support as many quality sites as you can. This one is definitely worth your time.

Oh, I almost forgot! Jcastle is also very newbie friendly. There are a lot of specialized terms that have to be used when discussing castles. He’s got dedicated section to names and types of structures that you’ll see when you visit Japanese castles. For example, wtf is a 天守閣 tenshukaku or a 唐破風 karahafū. (I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to click the links and visit the site for yourself to find out).

Learn about Japanese Castles!

You can learn about architectural features and terminology so you actually understand what you’re looking at the next time you visit Edo Castle… or any Japanese Castle.

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