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Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879 1st Edition

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0879237738
ISBN-10: 0879237732
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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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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: 0.5 x 6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #198,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 64 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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17 of 20 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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12 of 15 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. Austin on May 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I picked this up after hearing the Vampire Weekend song. Not really the usual transition, but I liked the song and after finding out where the name came from I liked the book too.

It's a very short book with some illustrations peppering the 90 odd pages. The material is well cited and the footnotes clear and understandable. While I enjoy history, my tastes tend toward Western culture so it was fun reading on a subject I had no prior knowledge of.

Noel Perrin's writing style is very good so I will be looking for more of this works in the future.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ron Braithwaite on July 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
It's been some time since I read this book but it left an impression. After enthusiastically replicating Portuguese matchlocks for 100 years, the Japanese warrior class abandoned them in favor of traditional weapons. A previous reviewer wrote that one of the reasons for this reversion was that the matchlocks had been so effective in consolidating feudal power that they were no longer necessary or perhaps even destabilizing. The author believes that the Samurai reckoned that matchlocks weren't quite 'cricket' because a relatively untrained commoner using his gun could be more than a match for a highly skilled Samurai swordsman.

Yes, it is entirely probable that the Samurai felt this way. After all, guns diminished their status. Warlords, however, although respecting tradition, are all about power so I believe another explanation is necessary. I'll offer a theory that I've had for a long time. Why was the first handgun ever used ANYWHERE? The first handgun was little more than a simple handheld pipe, totally ineffective beyond a range of twenty feet or less. They were as dangerous to the user as to the enemy. Early handguns oftentimes blew up . They also had to be ignited with a lighted match so the danger of exploding one's powder stores, and blowing a gap out of your own line, was always there.

Just as importantly, rapid firing and accurate long range weapons were already available. The bow and the crossbow had existed for centuries. In the case of the bow, it was possible to get off 15-20 shots in the same time that it took to load and fire the pipe-gun. So why were guns ever used in the first place? They were dangerous and inefficient. The matchlock isn't much better. It is cumbersome to load--inaccurate--and requires a lit match to fire.
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