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Japan at War: An Oral History Paperback – October 1, 1993

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Editorial Reviews


"One of the essential books about World War II." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

"The stories recorded in Japan at War provide insight into the confounding complexity of extreme human behavior during the war." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Hereafter no one will be able to think, write, or teach about the Pacific War without reference to [the Cooks’] work." —Marius B. Jansen, Princeton University

"Oral history of a compellingly high order." —Kirkus Reviews

"Informed, nuanced, manysided, vivid—an impressive achievement." —Ezra F. Vogel, Harvard University

About the Author

Haruko Taya Cook is Fordham Marymount Professor Emerita in history at Marymount College of Fordham University. She lives in New York City.

Theodore F. Cook is a professor of Japanese history at William Paterson University. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 479 pages
  • Publisher: New Press; 1st edition (October 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565840399
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565840393
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #75,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By John Robinson on July 30, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
...if you are interested in history in general, or this war or nation in particular, then you must have this book. It is the definitive oral history from the perspective of the Japanese people.
Most of the interviews are with "common folks", only a few in positions of war-time influence are here. This is natural, given that these interviews were conducted long after the war ended. Also, similar to Studs Terkel's work, these are "worm's eye" views, very personal, very moving, with necessarily limited fields of view.
Regarding "david"'s comments in the preceding review: the issue of blame is not squarely addressed by most of the people being interviewed. Unlike david, however, I do not find this disturbing. These are common people. Like the interviewees in Terkel's work, they were caught up in a conflagration, moving from one private experience to another, motivated by needs of family and friends and simple survival. After the defeat, they were then caught up in the re-building. They buried their private pain, with these interviews, in many cases, being the first time they shared their experiences with anyone. This INCREASES the value of the oral history, it does not decrease it. Also, the authors clearly address this issue of "blame avoidance" and provide speculative, but very sensible, reasons for it. Not justification, quite the opposite, just reasons. Finally, some of the more well-educated interviewees DO address the issue.
I have had this book for years and have re-read it many times, always with a little greater understanding and appreciation for its value.
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67 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Luciano Lupini on December 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
A remarkable tour through the Japanese war in China in the 1930s, the salvage man to man combats in the Pacific islands, the horrific bombings of Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the aftermath of a totally devastating war on the psyche of the Japanese people.
Haruko Taya and Theodore Cook have done a remarkable reconstruction of this story, through the testimonies of the "other" protagonists.
One cannot came out of this tour, but with another perspective about the motivations and commitment of the people who fought or endured the destruction of this war, from the Japanese side. Common people and soldiers, willing to pay the ultimate price in order to defend their patriotic and religious believes, give a different, individual, impression from the one we derive from the analysis of the motivations of the War Lords and the militaristic complex in Tokyo.
Some fascinating facts are confirmed in this book . We have the story of private Tanisuga Shizuo, gas soldier in China from 1937, candidly telling some truths about the use of poison gas in that front. Now he is seeking compensation from the Japanese Government for the injuries he suffered while making poison gas during the war........ Tominaga Shozo gives a truthful account of the training of soldiers in China. That training included the practice of the proper technique to use the sword to decapitate live prisoners. Also, the last stage of conscript training required him to bayonet a living human, in order to condition soldiers to kill without remorse or hesitation during combat. The book contains some foggy accounts about certain events, like the story told by Tanida Isamu, staff officer in the 10th Army, during the period of the rape of Nanking (self denyal?
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Ronald P. Ng on August 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Being an ethnic Chinese, though born after the war, I just couldn't understand the Japanese inability to accept that they have been behaving in a most atrocious manner during the war, given the massive amount of evidence that has been accumulated to prove that point. Despite there being so much evidence pointing to the fact it was the Japanese who started the war, and yet, they seemed to think of themselves as the victims rather than the victimizers. That was something I couldn't understand.

But now, having read this book, though I don't agree with them, I could, in an intuitive sense, understand them.

At the beginning of Part Four, on page 259, it's printed these words:

"Umi yukaba, misuku kabane...Across the sea, corpses soaking in the water, Across the mountains, corpses heaped upon the grass, We shall die by the side of our lord. We shall never look back."

"Umi yukaba.." is from a collection of poetry known as Manyoushu, which dated from around 700 AD, around the Nara, Heien period. This specific poem, "Umi yukaba..." was set to music in 1937, and after 1943, it preceded radio announcements of battles in which Japanese soldiers "met honorable death rather than the dishonor of surrender." In a flash,I understood the mentality of the time. They were really still set in the medieval feudal samurai mentality. The veneer of modernity was just that, a veneer of modernity. They might be able to build and master complex machinery of the modern twentieth century, the mentality was still of feudal Heien period. Their treatment of the conquered people was justified. That's how the Heien period warriors behaved. Their perception of themselves as the victims were justified. That's what samurai warrior would feel.
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