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Book Review – Photography in Japan

In Japan Book Reviews on March 14, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Photography in Japan: 1853-1912
Terry Bennet

9784805313114__09290.1455208216.1280.1280.jpg
Although it was published in 2006, I first spotted this book randomly at Kinokuniya in Shinjuku last month and was drawn to the beautiful cover. I’m a sucker for so-called 古写真 koshashin old photos from the Bakumatsu and Meiji Period and I have quite a few coffee table books put out by Japanese publishers. Something about the layout of this book grabbed my attention and I knew I had to own it. It’s rich in color and pays attention to important design elements that photographers pay attention to. That is to say, each page is well composed. My Japanese books tend to be a single black and white photo laid out on a plain white page. This book on the other hand, was made to be a visual delight from start to finish. Even if you’re not interested in the text, it’s still a pleasure to browse.

Quick Review

 

What I expected

What I got

Overall Impression

A history of photography in Japan up to the Taishō Period with lots of pretty pictures.

A well-researched history of photography in Japan that focused a lot on the photographer’s themselves as well as the techniques and political climate of the time.

Type of Book

An accessible photo-historical account of Japan.

Totally accessible, but the photos definitely supersede the text – I’m sure this is by design. The research is really interesting too.

Readability

Easy to read, more pictures than text.

Careful attention is paid to the composition of each page. While the text is meaningful and relevant, the photos steal the show.

Bias

I have no idea what sort of bias could be in an art history book for casual readers. They tend to just be descriptive, so I don’t expect any bias.

As expected, there wasn’t any bias in the book that I noticed. It’s honest and objective.

Audience

Non-specialists, hobbyists, and fans of art history.

Art fans, Japanophiles, photo-historians, people who like seeing beautiful things and learning about them.

Stars

★★★★☆

I wasn’t familiar with the author, but looking into his background a bit, I found that he is a pretty legit researcher of 19th century photography – especially that of Japan, Korea, and China. In fact, there is a companion version of this book specifically for research purposes called Old Japanese Photographs: Collectors’ Data Guide[i] which serves as a comprehensive index of data related to photographs and photographers of 19th century Japan. However, for all you research and footnote junkies, the edition we’re looking at today does include an appendix of commercial and amateur photographers, extensive endnotes, a glossary of photography terminology[ii], a timeline of photography in Japan, and a few other appendices.

Chapters

The progression of the narrative is essentially: the first photographic images of Japan, the early dominance of western photographers, the rise of the Japanese photographers, and the eventual incorporation of photography into Japanese culture in much the same way it had become incorporated into the western cultures. Superficially, this may seem like nothing. But keep in mind that Japan was more or less closed off to foreign technology until the 1853. The innovation of this newfangled photography thing coincided with the opening of Japan. It could be said that the history of photography and the history of Bakumatsu and Modern Japan go hand in hand.

As art history books go, this is a pretty fun one. Each page focuses on the art, but backs everything up with substantial history in the text. The book is beautifully laid out so there is a nice balance between text and art. To be honest, I’m more interested in drooling over the pretty pictures than the histories and biographies, but I’m so glad that they’re included. There will definitely be times when I’ll need to refer back to this book because of the text included at the expense of the pretty pictures[iii].

What I keep thinking is that this is actually 2 books in one – something I’ll talk about again later. On the one hand, it’s a picture book, a coffee table book. Anyone can just pick it up and look through it whimsically. On the other hand, there is substantial text that tells the stories of the artists and the photohistory. While the beautiful photos distract from the text, the text does not distract from the photos. That is my favorite thing about this book’s design; they found a sweet spot that balances visual beauty with good history and biography.

My Nitpicking

While I’m familiar with Bakumatsu photography, my knowledge is mainly related to the subject matter of the photos. In particular, I’m interested in the photos of places in Edo-Tōkyō. As for the history of photography in Japan, I can’t make any criticism and I won’t because I don’t know much about the history of photography in Japan. However, there were four things I noticed that rubbed me the wrong way. One is a factual error, the others are editorial decisions. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic book and I love it. So the fact that there are only 4 things that bugged me, is pretty good! lol

First was a comment that said Zempukuji[iv] was the “largest temple” in Edo. To the best of my knowledge, this is a common misconception held by people in Tōkyō’s Minato Ward who conflate Zenpuku-ji in Azabu with another temple, Zenpuku-ji, in Suginami Ward[v]. Any look at a map of the period would show you that other temples were much larger, in particular, the Tokugawa Funerary Temples at Kan’ei-ji and Zōjō-ji. Zenpuku-ji had massive landholdings and was extremely influential – it claims to be the 2nd oldest temple in Tōkyō – but there’s no way to call it the largest temple in Edo at the time.

The second was the editorial decision to render the place name 出島 as Deshima, rather than Dejima. While Deshima is a possible reading of those kanji, the foreign settlement in Nagasaki is regularly rendered in Modern Japanese as でじま Dejima[vi]. Even in English, I usually see Dejima.

My third complaint is also editorial – and I’ve complained about this before with other writers. Bennet renders the Japanese word 酒 sake alcohol as saké. In English, the character é is generally used for words imported from French and it usually means “yo, put the stress accent here.” In this case, Bennett[vii] uses this diacritic mark to tell the readers that this e isn’t silent. However, instead it looks like a French word; rather than SAH-ke, it looks like sah-KEI[viii]. That weird French-looking spelling is misleading to non-Japanese readers and annoying to people who can actually read Japanese and understand the conventions for Romanization. I’ve complained about this in other books I’ve reviewed. Seems like a problem that could easily be remedied with italics and/or a footnote.

Which brings me to my last complaint: endnotes. I’m happy they’re there, don’t get me wrong. I want that sweet, sweet extra explanation, but I’m just a much bigger fan of footnotes. This is just my person preference, but I think it’s easier to glance down at the bottoms of the page to quickly get additional information – if I want it – than to slip in a bookmark and search around the back of the book for a single note among pages of unrelated notes.

Things the Book got Right

Well, pretty much everything. This book has a great balance of properly researched history and jaw dropping eye candy. Because the book is in color, it’s seems like colorized versions of the photos are given preference over black and white. This is what drew my attention to the book in the first place. The book is a large coffee table book with real emphasis on being visually appealing. There is a good balance between text and images. Most Japanese photography books are just black and white photos printed on a white background – maybe a small blurb and attribution. This book is laid out with loving detail and the pictures correspond with the biographies of the respective artists. The chronology is easy to follow, both visually and textually.

Earlier, I complained about some editorial decisions, but there’s one really important thing they got right – something every book, website, TV show, etc. must get right in my opinion: the order of Japanese names. This book does it correctly: family name first, given name[ix] second. It seems like a little thing, but it’s really, really important to use a person’s name correctly and I was happy there was no pandering to western convention on this matter.

The book does present some pretty legit history. There are a lot of details about things that were considered common knowledge for years, but have been overturned by recent discoveries and scholarship. For example, some photos from the Bakumatsu and early Meiji Period have been commonly attributed incorrectly because prior to the introduction of photographic copyright, photos from individuals were sold to studios that reprinted and sold them under their own names. Another interesting thing I learned was that author Jack London[x] went to Japan in 1904 as a war correspondent covering the Russo-Japanese War and was actually arrested for taking pix of sensitive military locations. I had no idea.

Fave Photos

In conclusion, I’d like to mention a few of my favorite photos in the book. The first is a shot of the shōgunate officials and translator taken after the signing of the first treaty with the Americans.  From a historical perspective, this is truly a priceless photograph. I’m pretty sure no one present at the signing of that first of the so-called “unequal treaties” had any idea of the insane Pandora’s Box they had just opened. Just looking at their faces begs so many questions. It was just a casual photo to mark a diplomatically momentous occasion, but the ramifications of that day sent shockwaves throughout the country and the culture.

There were about 3 photos of Zenpuku-ji, the home of the American Legation – essentially the first American Embassy in present day Tōkyō. One is a widely reprinted shot; the other 2 were first timers for me. Granted all three shots are of the 中門 nakamon middle gate which leads to the 本殿 honden main hall, but each give little unique details of the buildings that sat in front of the gate. I’ve spent a lot of time pouring over those pictures trying to pick out little differences. It’s a lot of fun for me cuz… that’s the kind of nerd I am.

Lastly, one photo that immediately grabbed my attention was a picture by an Austrian photographer casually labeled “Shiba.” Instantly, I recognized it as one of the destroyed Tokugawa mausolea at Zōjō-ji. The photo is taken from an odd angle, outside of the shrine and clearly shows the wall that marks the perimeter. I’d never seen the photo before so long time readers will know why I was so excited to see this particular pic[xi]. I will probably try to contact the author in the near future to get a little more info about the picture because I think there’s a good chance it may be Daitoku-in, the funerary temple of the 2nd shōgun, Hidetada.

My Closing Thoughts

In conclusion, this book is awesome because of its dual nature. On one level, you can just appreciate it as a beautifully designed picture book with stunning photographs of a Japan lost to time. On the other hand, the biographies of the photographers and all the research presented in each chapter are easy to read and filled with interesting anecdotes to keep the reader entertained. I want to emphasize that the book really does seem dual purposed and the design reflects that. You can peruse the beautiful photographs – and honestly, that’s probably what you’ll do first. But you’ll be glad all that non-distracting text is there when you get more and more curious about the provenance of the photographs, the stories behind them and the artists, and advances in technology that came along the way.

I came away from this book with a real sense of respect for the difficulties early photographers faced – especially in a place as remote as 19th century Japan. As an amateur photographer myself – emphasis on amateur – I’ve found myself inspired to take more photos. If any of these photographers could imagine the ease with which we can just point and click with our digital cameras today – hell, most of our phones take better throw away pix than they could – I think they’d be mind-blown and humbled. But it really should be the other way around. They were the pioneers lugging huge amounts of gear, portable darkroom tents, and glass plates for exposures. They didn’t really get any “do overs.” They had to get the shot right the first time. The notion of “editing a photo” didn’t even exist. They had to fix things in the chemical printing process or the hand colorization process. I got a sense of awe about the art of photography that I didn’t really have before. And any book that leaves me humbled, awestruck, and inspired is a good book in my mind. This book achieved all that for me.

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[i] I haven’t seen or read the book. I’m just going by the description in this edition. But apparently that data was going to be included in Photography in Japan, but increased in scope and warranted being a book of its own, rather than an expansive appendix at the end of this book.
[ii] In the age of point and click digital cameras with no chemical processes, this is really useful for anyone born after the death of pure analog photography.
[iii] And then I’ll probably get distracted for another 20-20 minutes by the pretty pictures. This always happens.
[iv] I would have written Zenpuku-ji, but that’s not my complaint because both are legitimate romanizations.
[v] The story I’ve heard passed around is that both temples named Zenpuku-ji were connected at one time and because they were so powerful, they had to be split. If that were actually true, that would have be a stretch of land from Edo Bay to present day Suginami Ward, a swath of real estate even larger than the shōgun’s capital. I’m highly suspicious of this claim and I can’t find info one either temples’ websites to back it up. Furthermore, there is most likely no connection between the two temples.
[vi] The Deshima rendering is probably result of dialects, non-locals, or non-native speakers who were only conversant in pidgin Japanese. Another possibility is that the local dialect did, in fact, call the area Deshima, but when Tōkyō became the capital of the Japanese Empire and Standard Japanese became the norm nationwide, that Dejima became the new standard reading. I don’t know. All I know is that current Japanese sources overwhelmingly use Dejima.
[vii] And I don’t know if this was Bennett’s decision or his editor’s decision…
[viii] I forwent all the IPA conventions because this is a book review.
[ix] Yes, yes, yes, I know. Japanese people changed their names all the time, so “given name” isn’t an accurate term. Sue me.
[x] Yes, the same Jack London who wrote The Call of the Wild.
[xi] As you should all know by now, I’m obsessed with the Tokugawa Funerary Temples.

10 Ways to Learn Japanese History

In Japanese History on October 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm

日本史やばくねぇ?
What is a good book about Japanese History?

japan_history

I get a lot of private messages about the blog, and in the last month or two I’ve gotten a few that were asking more or less the same thing. Here’s one reader’s e-mail:[i]

I’m a JET living in Saitama and working in Tokyo. Sometimes I get lost reading your blogs because I don’t know the basics of Japanese history. Your Japanese Eras page is great, but sometimes I see other era names come up that I don’t recognize. I want to educate myself on Japanese History as a whole but I don’t know where to begin so can you recommend some books or websites for me to come to grips with Japan’s long history? I haven’t really studied Japanese either so I’m looking for English books.

This is a great question. And to everyone else who asked similar questions and I told to wait[ii], I’m going to answer all of your questions today.

When I started this blog, I wanted to explain Japan to foreigners in basic terms. If you go back and look at the earliest blogs, they were pretty simple and assumed the reader didn’t know anything. But as the focus has become more and more specialized, I’ve found it harder and harder to be general and beginner-friendly. I think I’ve gone past the point of no return on that one. But for those of you who are trying to keep up, this page will arm you with all the goodies you need to come up to speed in some ways.

japan a cultural history (book)

Japan: A Short Cultural History
George Bailey Samson

I picked this book up about 12 years ago while killing time at Penn Station in NYC. I had never read anything about Japan or Japanese history at the time. It was a cheap paperback that I could read on the train while commuting. I read it once during some summer commutes in NYC. A few years later, after learning a little more about Japan history and having visited Japan twice, I re-read it. It was even better the second time[iii]. I don’t have the book here with me in Japan, but I have fond memories of this book.

It was written in the 1930’s and I had no idea at the time that it was a classic survey of Japanese history; I was just looking for some light reading. So this is great, broad overview of the history of Japan. Because of its age, modern academics may level some criticism at this book, but for the beginner, it’s accessible, clear, and is a great launch pad into other areas of Japanese history and culture. I recommend you start here.

the life of tokugawa ieyasu (book)

The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu
A.L. Sadler

This is another book I just picked up randomly. By this time, I could shop on the internet easily and I found a used copy and was delighted to find the locations of the Tokugawa shōguns’ graves in one of the indexes. No matter what long term fans of Japanese history think of this book, it pointed me in the right direction towards my goal of surveying all the Tokugawa shōguns’ graves; a goal I still haven’t attained (10 years later).

This book was first published in the 1930’s, so while scholars of today may have some bones to pick with it, it is a classic. Understanding Tokugawa Ieyasu is one of the keys to understanding the Edo Period, but the man himself barely lived in the Edo Period. He was very much a product of the late Sengoku Period and as such the door that he helped close very much affected the door he helped open. People who love Japanese history tend to get burned out on Ieyasu over time, so it’s best to learn as much as much about the dude as you can in the beginning. This book is a great place to start.

edo the city that become tokyo (book)

Edo, the City that Became Tokyo: An Illustrated History
Akira Naito

I’m recommending this book without having actually read it cover to cover. I don’t even own it. But I have seen it from time to time and what I saw looked like Coffee Table Book PLUS. And the PLUS would be “plus awesome.” It’s not a survey of Japanese history, but it is a survey of Edo-Tōkyō history, and as such, it’s relevant to JapanThis!.

I like pictures and maps and drawings to accompany historical writings (something most historians suck balls at doing – the pictures are always a lazy afterthought). That’s one of the reasons I try to include so many picture here. If you want pictures to enhance your history reading, you’re probably gonna dig this book.

the tea ceremony (book)

The Tea Ceremony
Sen’o Tanaka & Sendo Tanaka

My grandmother-in-law gave me this book. She’s a tea master to some elite families and I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying tea with her, but I haven’t undergone any training yet. That said, this book has helped me understand tea culture in Japan a lot. It especially helped me with my recent article on Yūrakuchō. It’s also helping me bond with my grandmother-in-law, which is fascinating.

This book really emphasizes the history and architectural and design elements of tea ceremony as a Japanese cultural phenomenon. It won’t really teach you how to do tea ceremony. But, of course, that’s the point. It’s an aesthetic. You’ll have to learn the art from an accomplished tea master. But this book will definitely prime you for the world you’re stepping into.

musui's story (book)

Musui’s Story
Katsu Kokichi

OK, I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this may be one of the best books in the world. Hands down. A middle class hatamoto (direct retainer of the shōgun) writes a book to his son about how to grow up and be a good samurai – a noble example of leading by example, which was the samurai’s role in the Edo Period – but in teaching said lesson he just tells crazy stories bragging about what a fuck up he was. Imagine a book written by your craziest friend that was just a bunch of “This one time, I was sooooo wasted that…” stories. Imagine those stories being in the late Edo Period – all with the premise of “Son, one day you’ll grow up and be a man. And I want you to learn from my mistakes. But, OMG, this other time, I went drinking and whoring in Yoshiwara and…”

Needless to say, Kokichi’s son grew up to be the legendary Katsu Kaishū who saved the Tokugawa, saved the city of Edo from destruction, saved Edo Castle, and assisted in a reasonably bloodless transition of power from shōgunate to imperial court.

The awesome thing about this book is it will shatter any romanticized ideals you may have about samurai. It humanizes them by showing you what daily life was like for middle class samurai families at the time right before Commodore Perry came and Japan fell into chaos. This is, quite literally, the calm before the storm. It’s fascinating and you won’t be able to put it down.

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You wanna podcast? We gotta podcast!

You’d think there’d be a lot of podcasts about Japanese history, but there aren’t. But there are a few very unique and very awesome people who have pioneered the Japanese History podcast world. There are thousands of books on Japanese History but in this day and age some people don’t want to read or just don’t have the time. In that case, get your podcast on. I’m also going to talk about a few other online resources.

 

a short history of japan (podcast)

A Short History of Japan
Cameron Foster

First, I’d like to introduce A Short History of Japan which made for an awesome and fun survey of Japanese history from the obscure mythological beginnings of the Yamato Court up to an abrupt ending at the beginning of the Edo Period. I know that I’m not the only one who has been kept hanging since the podcast stopped.

This podcast is great for the beginner because the host, Cameron, doesn’t assume any previous knowledge of Japan or Japanese History. Nevertheless, he goes into detail on a number of issues[iv] that were awesome for me because if this were a book, my eyes would have glazed over. But in this format, it’s fantastic.

samurai-archives

Samurai Archives

I’ve been referring to these guys for solid information on Japanese History since the first time I got interested in Japanese history. I kiss their collective asses regularly on JapanThis! – as anyone who actually clicks the embedded links I painstakingly add to every articles knows.

Originally a website featuring a wiki, original articles, reference materials, interviews and one of the nerdiest community forums I’ve ever seen, in recent years they started podcasting. Episodes 10-24 are a panel discussion-style survey of Japanese history from pre-historic times up to the unification of the realm under Toyotomi Hideyoshi[v]. This is an excellent place to start your path into Japanese History. The best thing is that these guys cite their sources, so if you find something you like, they’ll tell you where to get more material[vi].

If you’re looking for an awesome podcast that is still going, then this is the one for you. Since that initial survey they did, the podcast has covered a broad range of topics – often with a skeptical and un-romanticized view of old Japan[vii]. Many, but not all, episodes require a certain familiarity with the chronology and major events. But just by listening, you’ll start to get a feel for the world you’re stepping into. They have a decidedly academic but off the cuff approach. They’re undeniably the rock stars of Japanese History on the internet. I can’t recommend them enough.

japan world

Japan World
Chris Glenn

Recently, I’ve really been digging this guy’s site. Although it’s a bilingual site, for beginners, it’s probably a bit intimidating because the content is mostly Japanese. But if you’re interested in Japanese History, consider subbing to this RSS feed and think of that as a chance to improve your Japanese reading skills while still getting some quality interviews and articles in English, too.

This website is one to watch. I don’t think there’s been a website like this for Japan History yet. It’s run by one Chris Glenn who has a host of media credits and is involved in many efforts to spread Japanese culture far and wide.

wiki - history of japan

Wikipedia

Duh.

If you haven’t looked here yet, then maybe you should. In terms of a general chronology, Wikipedia isn’t half bad[viii]. All of the resources I mentioned above have much more interesting angles, but if you just need a quick crash course, then this is good.


Crash Course

Speaking of crash courses - here’s how Japanese history is generally viewed from a western, narrative view. The mispronunciations “eedo,” “bukoofoo,” and “tiyotomi hiday yoshi” plus the bizarre claim that the emperor abolished the bukoofoo and restored imperial power to himself make this well worth the watch[ix].

UPDATE: I knew the Samson and Sadler books would catch me some flak. These are both books I bought blindly years ago (and have fond memories of). They were some of the first books I ever bought on Japanese History… about 10 years ago, if my memory serves me well. I included disclaimers along the lines of “some modern academics may have problems with these books.” Well, sure enough, some did.

One of said academics who teaches a survey course of Japanese History is Mindy Landek. She has a great blog and a Twitter feed that I highly recommend.  Her substitutions were these:

These books could be replacements for the Samson book that I recommended.

As for a biography of Ieyasu, yes, I know Sadler’s 1930’s book must be outdated, but I haven’t read any more recent book on the topic. So if anyone else wants to recommend a bio of Ieyasu for beginners, please leave it in the comments below to share with us all.

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[i] They wouldn’t let me use their name, so I didn’t. If you send private messages, please let me know your preference, too.

[ii] Or I didn’t reply to (just because I’m busy, nothing personal, ok?)

[iii] Because I had more context.

[iv] The spread of Buddhism and the arrival of guns and gun powder come to mind.

[v] With a brief mention of Tokugawa Ieyasu at the end; the implied joke being that there were no real samurai in the Edo Period… an idea no doubt put forward by the inimitable Nate Ledbetter.

[vi] Something I should start doing… but can you imagine the amount of footnotes I have then?

[vii] While it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea, there is a serious military perspective as well. One member, Nate, is a career military dude who brings the martial reality of the Sengoku Period through rational and skeptical analysis – something that is generally overlooked in Japanese History.

[viii] I wouldn’t trust them on specializations, including etymology.

[ix] If I were recommending a fun survey course of world history for high school kids, I would recommend this series because it’s fast paced, witty, and makes history look cool

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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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!

江戸散歩東京散歩

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!

よみがえる江戸城

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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