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Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan Paperback – September 4, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931308
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To many, Emperor Hirohito of Japan is remembered as a helpless figurehead during Japan's wars with China and the U.S. According to the received wisdom, he knew nothing of the plan to bomb Pearl Harbor and had no power to stop atrocities like the Rape of Nanking. The emperor was the mild-mannered little man who traipsed with Mickey Mouse in Disneyland and who brought peace through surrender, certainly not "one of the most disingenuous persons ever to occupy the modern throne." Herbert Bix's charged political biography, however, argues that such accepted beliefs are myths and misrepresentations spun by both Japanese and Americans to protect the emperor from indictment. Since Hirohito's death in 1989, hundreds of documents, diaries, and scholarly studies have been published (and subsequently ignored) in Japan. Historian Bix used these sources to develop this shocking and nuanced portrait of a man far more shrewd, activist, and energetic than previously thought. Caught up in the fever of territorial expansion, Hirohito was the force that animated the war system, who, acting fully as a military leader and head of state, encouraged the belligerency of his people and pursued the war to its disastrous conclusion. To the very end, Hirohito refused to acknowledge any responsibility for his role in the death of millions as well as the brutalities inflicted by his forces in China, Korea, and the Philippines. In fact, he worked with none other than General MacArthur to select his fall guys and fix testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials--the emperor trying to protect the throne at all cost, the U.S. acting to ensure control of the Japanese population and the military by retaining Hirohito as a figurehead.

Not surprisingly, this hefty work of scholarship is making waves, as Americans and Japanese reconsider their roles in WWII and its aftermath. By placing Hirohito back in the center of the picture and puncturing the myths that surround him, Bix has effectively asked the Japanese to come out of their half-century repression of the past and face their wartime responsibility. Without doing so, he implies, the monarchy will forever impede the development of democracy. For those interested in Japan's wartime past and its influence on the present, this is fascinating, if lengthy, reading. --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bix penetrates decades of "public opacity" to offer a stunning portrait of the controversial Japanese emperor, "one of the most disingenuous persons ever to occupy the modern throne." Hirohito ascended to the Japanese throne in 1926 (at the age of 25) and ruled until his death in 1989. Bix closely examines his long, eventful reign, concentrating on the extent of the emperor's influence-which was greater than he admitted-over the political and military life of Japan during WWII. Bix's command of primary sources is apparent throughout the book, especially in the voluminous endnotes. From these sources, the author, a veteran scholar on modern Japanese history, draws a nuanced and balanced portrayal of an emperor who did not seek out war, but who demanded victories once war began and never took action to stop Japan's reckless descent into defeat. Bix makes Hirohito's later career intelligible by a careful exposition of the conflicting influences imposed on the emperor as a child: a passion for hard science coexisted with the myths of his own divine origin and destiny; he was taught benevolence along with belief in military supremacy. These influences unfolded as Hirohito was drawn into Japan's long conflict with China, its alliance with the fascist states of Europe, and its unwinnable war against the Allies. The dominant interest of the Showa ("radiant peace") Emperor, Bix convincingly explains, was to perpetuate the imperial system against more democratic opponents, no matter what the cost. Bix gives a meticulous account of his subject, delivers measured judgements about his accomplishments and failures, and reveals the subtlety of the emperor's character as a man who, while seemingly detached and remote, is in fact controlling events from behind the imperial screen. This is political biography at its most compelling. Agent, Susan Rabiner. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Professor Bix presents the story of Hirohito.
Marvin R. Weatherly
As a Japanese, I recommend this book, especially to Japanese readers.
12 Angry Men
This book presents problems on multiple levels.
Charles Miller

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 93 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Herbert Bix's biography of Emperor Hirohito of Japan is an outstanding work, but it must be read with caution, a critical eye and an open mind. The work is permeated with a sense of Bix's righteous indignation at Hirohito's escape from censure for his part in Japan's role in China and in the Second World War and this seems to color his judgment when facts grow thin and motivations are evaluated.
What Bix contributes to the historical record regarding Hirohito, the Japanese military, and Japan's wars is important and revealing. In Western culture the term "emperor" connotes Rome with a sort of English royalty superimposed on it, a blend of the two greatest empires of the Western world. What gets lost in this merger is the memory that the emperor in the Roman system enjoyed a godhead and that the empire was partly a theocracy.
Theocracy is a missing element in most evaluations of the seemingly insane strategic decisions that governed Japan's entry into, atrocities during, and conduct of World War II. The blind faith that overrode rationality in upper echelons of the Army and Navy makes more sense in the light of the theocratic Shintoist emperor system. Bound up with a system of belief in a state headed by a living god, the racist inhumanity of Japanese atrocities becomes more understandable, but not justifiable. The willingness to "die for the Emperor" in banzai charges and kamikaze flights also becomes more clear.
But where Bix's work raises question marks is in his evaluation of Hirohito's role. While Bix has unearthed an emperor who definitely had a hand in government and the fatal decisions that propelled Japan into war, and bore unacknowledged responsibility for those decisions, he has not necessarily proven Hirohito to be their animating force.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By John Barry Kenyon on September 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This very detailed book needs your determined concentration. It is indeed a meticulously researched account of the life of Hirohito. Bix writes convincingly of the successful attempts, by Americans as well as by Japanese, to ensure Hirohito avoided a trial for war crimes and remained an anti-communist symbol of national unity. He also brings forward a mass of material to illustrate that the emperor was intimately involved in Japan's military policy in the 1930s and early 1940s. Although the general reader is hardly in a position to check first hand all Bix's primary source claims, it is the small details which stick in your mind: the special naval uniform Hirohito wore as Japan attacked the US navy in December 1941 and the private grief he expressed when Tojo was hanged in 1948. Bix has made it impossible for anyone seriously now to regard the emperor as a mere cypher or a victim of war Cabinet decisions. He needed a debunk in the English language and he has gotten precisely that.
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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Marvin R. Weatherly on September 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In 1971 David Bergamini, a Rhodes Scholar, who was raised in the Orient and who speaks and reads Japanese, authored, "Japan's Imerial Conspiracy." Bergamini set forth a compelling argument in the role of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito in the planning and guidance of Japan's aggression before and during World War II. Japanese historians and western academia of the time savaged Bergamini; they closed their minds and buried the truth.
Professor Bix has researched and documented the truth of Bergamini's earlier thesis. He does not merely rewrite Bergamini's work but he puts flesh and meat on the bare bones of truth so denounced in 1971. Professor Bix presents the story of Hirohito. A story of deception extending from the Meiji Restoration to the creation of the plausible deniability doctrine of Emperor Hirohito. The Bix work sheds light as to why Japan has refused an apology to China and other of her victims of World War II; to apologize would be a grievious mortal affront to nation's sacred beliefs in the Enperor.
Publishers in Japan have refused to publish, "Hiohito: And the Making of Modern Japan." Japanese in many quarters, including the schools, still maintain the Rape-of-Nanking is but a vicious lie by those who are jealous of Japan. They cannot accept the truth that their Emperor would be a party to the atrocities committed against China and others.
To those readers who seek to fill-in the blank spaces of knowledge dealing with World War II, Professor Bix's work is a must-read. I would only hope that a like work will one day honestly document the excesses of the United States before and during World WarII.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By James E Geoffrey II on February 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Professor Bix has obviously done a great amount of research for this book, and their is no denying that it is one of the most comprehensive works about the Showa Emperor to come out in the West. However, his extensive documentation never quite seems to prove his case that Hirohito was a ruthless and determined warlord, and it is further flawed by several factual errors.
To be sure, most of those errors are about people and events outside of Japan. For example, Bix talks about Crown Prince Hirohito's visit in 1921 to the "independent" Vatican. In fact, Vatican City did not gain independence until the signing of the Lateran Accords with the Kingdom of Italy in 1929.
Leaving this and several other such errors aside, the main problem is that Bix seems determined to caricature the Emperor in spite of whatever the Emperor says or does. When Crown Prince Hirohito writes to his advisers of his enthusiasm for the League of Nations, Bix assures us that this is merely youthful enthusiasm and should not be taken too seriously. Some might argue that what the then Crown Prince wrote in a not to be published letter ought to be given at least a little credence.
Then there is the entire run up to war in 1941. Bix routinely tells us how the Emperor resisted the expansionists in the military who argued for going to war against Britain and the United States. Then goes on to say how the Emperor was really siding with them the whole time.
The problem is not that Bix's research is wrong or bad, it is that he is determined to take a very nuanced picture of a complicated man and turn it into a black & white caricature. Ignoring Bix's (repeatedly) stated opinions of the Emperor's actions, the picture emerges of an Emperor who vacilated in his role. Sometimes acting, sometimes not.
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