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Isami's House: Three Centuries of a Japanese Family Paperback – October 7, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0520246973 ISBN-10: 0520246977 Edition: First Edition (1 in number line)

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Isami's House: Three Centuries of a Japanese Family + Naomi + A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The remarkable history of twelve generations of a single Japanese family.”
(Journal Of Asian History 2007-12-01)

From the Inside Flap

“There simply is no other book like this. No other family history presents such a range of insights into the ways in which individuals, women as well as men, have had to cope with changes wrought by the social modernization of Japanese family culture.”—James L. McClain, author of Japan: A Modern History

Isami's House is the chronicle of a remarkable family, neither aristocratic nor famous, whose rise and decline seem to parallel Japan's. It makes absorbing reading, affording a panoramic view of a rural family's rise to local prominence at the dawn of the modern Japanese nation state, the expansion of its presence to Tokyo and then the empire, its experience in war and defeat, and finally its postwar reconfiguration as a dispersed urban family.”—Norma Field, author of In the Realm of a Dying Emperor: A Portrait of Japan at Century's End
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition (1 in number line) edition (October 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520246977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520246973
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Evensen on March 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Isami's House is a fascinating book that provides a view of general Japanese history through the history of one family. As the back cover tease promises, this is an entirely new approach to history, one that presents the drama of modern Japanese history through the gripping ordeal of a single family. In this sense, Isami's House is a fascinating, gripping and original approach to Japanese history.

Nevertheless, I found myself put off greatly by Bernstein's uneven writing style and odd organization. Bernstein's paragraphs are haphazardly organized, and her sentences are riddled with clause after clause. Often, it is difficult to tell exactly where the story is going, and sentences are so dominated by detail that the point behind each story is nearly impossible to decipher.

Take, for example, this selection from page 60: "A ten-day spree of rioting by three thousand farmers in the Asakawa area in January 1798 - nine years after the French Revolution - brought a crowd to the Matsuura family's door on the morning of January 26. The fifth-generation patriarch, also called Yuemon (though his name was not written with the same characters as his deceased father's), had left with his wife and mother several days before; only family servants and a "young couple" remained at home. Rampaging peasants spilled out large amounts of the sake manufactured on the grounds of the family's compound and damaged other property as well." Did the ten-day spree of rioting begin on the 26th, or end then? Why does it matter that this happened 9 years after the French Revolution? Each sentence has a different subject, and little is done to link each separate idea together. Overall, this flaw in Bernstein's style leads to very bad, almost unreadable, prose.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Leiter on June 2, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Contrary to the first reviewer on this site, I found Isami's House eminently readable, from first to last. The book's concept is, indeed, highly original and should serve well as a resource for understanding the evolution of family life in modern Japan.

Essentially, this is the story of fourteen generations of the Matsuura family, who, until the postwar years, served as headmen of a village in northeastern Japan called Yamashiraishi. A substantial amount of information is provided about the family during Tokugawa and Meiji times, but the heart of the book concerns the family's triumphs and travails in the twentieth century. Many people in the family are discussed, including numerous in-laws, and several stand out prominently. The hero of the story, essentially, is Matsuura Isami, who lived from 1879 into the early 1960s. His wife, Ko, is also given considerable attention, as is the daughter named Toyo. It was Toyo who served as the host for Gail Lee Bernstein, the author, during her first stay in Japan, in 1963, when she was there as a graduate student of Japanese history. Since 1963 was when I, as a graduate student, also first visited Japan, I feel a personal connection to her experiences.

Bernstein hit a mother lode in becoming close to Toyo's remarkable family, as Toyo was one of fourteen siblings (seven sisters and seven brothers); a fifteenth died young. This rich field of close relatives provides the author with a wealth of material for recounting the ups and downs of modern family life in Japan, taking us through the prewar years, the war years (Toyo's family was in Hiroshima when it was atom-bombed), the Occupation, and after, when Japanese values changed so rapidly in the midst of unparalleled economic development.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Gallagher on July 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book tended to be a little dry at times and definitely a little confusing due to all of the family members that you have to keep track of. Just to prove how difficult keeping track can be Gail Lee Bernstein has added a time line, two family trees and a list of central persons to the beginning of the book. The fact that there are so many different characters represented throughout the novel makes it very hard to become attached to any specific one. However, Gail Lee Bernstein does an amazing job transitioning between all of the characters and different generation of families. Even with all of its downfalls, Isami's House is an excellent description of how life and values changed in Japan since the Meji Restoration. I also really enjoy the pictures of the family throughout the book because when it comes to memoirs I love being able to put a face to a name.

I would probably only recommend this novel to people who are truly interested in the history of Japan or its culture. Having a grasp on Japanese history would be helpful for the reader to posses, but it is not necessary.
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