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Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879 Paperback – January 1, 1988

ISBN-13: 978-0879237738 ISBN-10: 0879237732 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 136 pages
  • Publisher: David R. Godine; 1st edition (January 1, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879237732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879237738
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Professor Noel Perrin has written an elegant monograph, magnificently illustrated with a wealth of Japanese prints. --New York Times Book Review

Through his description of one historical event in Japan s national experience, Noel Perrin has written a book as tight and elegant as haiku. The story is a fascinating one: Japan s introduction to, mastery of, and subsequent abandonment of, the gun.... Perrin s work is so crisp and interesting, and so loaded with background information and revealing anecdotes, that the whole peculiar episode it describes jumps to life from its pages. --The New Republic

This is a significant story, and Perrin tells it marvelously well, with rich detail, captivating quotations from observers of the time, both Japanese and Western, and a wealth of revealing comparisons with contemporary technology, warfare, and life in Europe. This little book is both thought-provoking and a delight to read. --Edwin O. Reischauer, Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan

Through his description of one historical event in Japan s national experience, Noel Perrin has written a book as tight and elegant as haiku. The story is a fascinating one: Japan s introduction to, mastery of, and subsequent abandonment of, the gun.... Perrin s work is so crisp and interesting, and so loaded with background information and revealing anecdotes, that the whole peculiar episode it describes jumps to life from its pages. --The New Republic

This is a significant story, and Perrin tells it marvelously well, with rich detail, captivating quotations from observers of the time, both Japanese and Western, and a wealth of revealing comparisons with contemporary technology, warfare, and life in Europe. This little book is both thought-provoking and a delight to read. --Edwin O. Reischauer, Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan

About the Author

Noel Perrin (1927-2004) was the author of thirteen books and a frequent contributor to Vermont Life, Country Journal, The New Yorker, and other magazines.

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Customer Reviews

The material is well cited and the footnotes clear and understandable.
B. Austin
The book uses interesting pictures, which I enjoyed looking at as much as I enjoyed reading the story.
Kimberly De Boer
End of story, no mysterious Japanese reverence for the sword or resistance to modern things required.
W. D ONEIL

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 60 people found the following review helpful By W. D ONEIL on June 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you take a course relating to Japanese history of this period one of the first things they will do is warn you off Perrin. He had no real knowledge of Japanese history but got this neat idea about how he imagined it happened and then looked for facts to "prove" his point, ignoring all the things that didn't fit with what he "knew" just had to be the truth.

The fact is that guns helped the three great unifiers of Japan (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu) create a government that was strong enough to end war completely for 250 years (from 1615 to the 1860s). Guns were unnecessary and not needed, so not many were made. End of story, no mysterious Japanese reverence for the sword or resistance to modern things required.

See for instance the review by Conrad Totman in _Journal of Asian Studies_, v. 39 (1980): 599-601.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Peter E. Fuchs on January 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
I read Noel Perrin's little book soon after it was first published in a different imprint, but returned to it around the time of the Gulf War in 1991 to remind myself of a few things that Professor Perrin wanted us to think about. I think many readers may mistake it as primarily a book about Japanese history or about the Tokugawa clan who banned guns mainly to maintain civil order in what was a genuine police state, one they were to rule for 250 years. Though a long-time student of Japan, I shudder to think of someone like Saddam Hussein picking up a few lessons from the Tokugawas. Perrin's point, though, was peace. He wrote this book, I believe, because he was a passionate anti-nuclear activist and advocate of non-proliferation. In talking to friends, he learned how the Tokugawas had - perhaps for the only time in human history - decided to give up a weapon of mass destruction, and they did it in part because they saw it as an evil, and a threat to their martial society. Samurai were expected to live and die by the sword, though the warlords who fought it out for control of Japan in the war-filled years around 1600 that brought the Tokugawas to power were perfectly happy to use massed muskets in battles that created more carnage than would be seen on any battlefield until the Napoleonic wars. At the end of the day, Perrin's assessment of the moral purpose of the Shoguns who banned the gun is probably naive, these were power hungry and paranoid dictators who sought to prevent massed musket attacks against themselves. But the book provides a fascinating vignette of how a society reordered itself and learned to live in peace for 250 years. I consider the book one of the more elegant essays on the confrontation in mankind's history between our inexorable bloodlust, and our yearning for something more sublime.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1997
Format: Paperback
This well-written, nicely illustrated, and brief volume provides solid historical evidence that technology is not a force of nature: human beings can and do decide which technologies to adopt and develop. Perrin's book is an excellent companion to Richard Sclove and Steve Fuller's DEMOCRACY AND TECHNOLOGY, where the question of who should decide, and how, is elaborated
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Holt on June 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
Perrin's book has a great focus: the Japanese gun. Usually, one associates the sword with Japanese martial arts. Here, Perrin explains that the Japanese not only adopted the arbusque but improved on it to a point where it became too efficient a means to kill the enemy. Ironically, the Tokugawa shoguns had to eliminate it to preserve the Pax Tokugawa that would run for 250+ years.
The book is easy to read: he approaches the material from a variety of angles (source material from Japan, modern comparisons of contemporary European nations as well as contemporary comparisons by visitors back in the 17th and 18th centuries). It is also well documented -- the list of notes alone provides one with a shopping list of future reading. Overall though, I felt the book failed to expand and build its argument -- it just kept repeating itself chapter after chapter.
Another complaint I have is that, looking at the Japanese sources, Perrin tended to rely upon WWII Admiral Seiho Arima's _Kaho no kigen sono denryu_. Arima's research into pre-Meiji gunsmithing does seem like a good source of material, but one wonders if there were other sources of scholarship to include. Otherwise, Perrin relies a lot on Western scholarship.
A final complaint about the book is the reproduction of the artwork. The black and white reproductions at times are fuzzy. A close-up instead of the full work at times might have been more helpful for the reader.
Although the book is written in a light scholarly tone which anyone can read, if it were not for its tight focus on its subject matter I would not recommend the book. Its value lies in its exploration of a subject which goes overlooked in studies of Japanese culture. A half-hearted recommendation.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
Perrin thoroughly undermines his case with his unstoppable arrogance and partiality towards the Japanese. To him, they were the best at everything they tried their hands at, and the poor West serves as a bumbling, backward foil to this genius people. While Japanese superiority in a number of fields is well-documented (and Perrin does a good job with the quality of swords) Perrin's chauvinism is jarring and makes it hard to hear him. It also blinds him to what seems to be the major force behind the Japanese reversion to the sword: at the same time, Japan closed itself almost entirely to foreigners (who had introduced guns and every innovation having to do with them to Japan). The ferocious chauvinism of 17th - 18th century Japan (which one might daresay existed through, say, 1945, and contibuted not a small amount to their cruel wars of conquest in Asia), combined with a centralized, authoritarian, non-democratic, government and pacified country-side, are clearly the major forces behind the reversion to the sword - and this much is clear using nothing but Perrin's book! Still, he can't admit it, which is frustrating. By avoiding this critical aspect of the Japanese reversion to the sword, with all of its very unsavory aspects, Perrin sabotages any understanding of what such an action meant and could mean for us. Maybe a more thoughtful commentator can provoke us to ask some meaningful questions.
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