Japan: Its History and Culture by W. Scott Morton and J. Kenneth Olenik

Japan: Its History and Culture
W. Scott Morton and J. Kenneth Olenik
4th edition
(McGraw-Hill, New York: 2005)

First published 1970; subsequent editions 1984, 1994. The 4th edition is the first to include Olenik as co-author.

READ: April-May 2007

This book is a great overview to anyone who has an interest in Japanese history, but doesn't want to get stuck in thousands of pages detailing the lives, hopes and dreams of the various emperors and shogun. It's concise and informative, always interesting, and really helps one get insight into why Japanese culture has turned out quite the way it has. I found the last few chapters, about contemporary Japanese political and economic developments (since about 1970), a little weaker than the rest of the book; however, I understand that the immediate nature of contemporary events sometimes can make it difficult to figure out what is noteworthy and what is not.

Shortly after finishing this book, I headed down to Kyushu, the southernmost island of "mainland" Japan (ie., other than the Okinawan islands), and found myself recalling the history I had just recently learned. Certain events in Kyushu were at the centre of the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s, which, in turn, had a profound effect in shaping the Japan that was to eventually attempt to steamroll over the rest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century. All in all, a very, very interesting book.

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