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Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake: how the shogun's ancient capital became a great modern city, 1867-1923 Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (September 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674539397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674539396
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,666,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Engagingly written. A stylist of great attainments, Seidensticker has a nice way with an aphorism, and his prose is studded with observations that linger in the memory...[Low City, High City] is an uncommonly perceptive and revealing analysis of the Westernization or modernization of Japan...[It] illuminates the extraordinary metamorphosis of Japan over the last 125 years more effectively and pleasurably than many books that have tackled the theme head on. (Robert C. Christopher New York Times Book Review)

I cannot imagine a finer work on the subject nor a more knowledgeable guide. Nor one more imbued with that special feeling which this city ideally calls forth...The century has seen an incredible amount of change and it is this upon which we ought properly to focus. Seidensticker gives us example after example in this rich, generous, overflowing book...What an enchanting book this is. (Donald Richie Japan Times)

Seidensticker has admirably re-created the vibrant, even tumultuous, spirit of those days when kimonos, parasols, and topknots were first traded for trousers, derby hats, and horn-rimmed glasses. (Wilson Quarterly)

Reading the narrative--precise, insightful, ambivalent--is rather like wandering, with the delights of recognition. (Kirkus Reviews)

It is a story...less of revolution and disaster than of the 'little things'...which only adds to the engrossing texture of this elegiac prose tour of a Tokyo lost. (Bloomsbury Review)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By T. C. Bestor on April 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Low City, High City is a lively and informal account of Tokyo's history from the end of the Tokugawa regime (in 1868) to the destruction of the city in the 1923 Kanto earthquake. During that half century, Tokyo was transformed from a feudal pre-industrial city of samurai and commoners to an imperial capital of bureacrats, businessmen, factory workers, and flappers. Seidensticker, a distinguished translator of Japanese literature, has written a highly readable cultural and social history of Tokyo that captures the colorful introduction of "Western" urbanism and chronicles the slowly fading old city. An absolute must for anyone with even a casual interest in Tokyo's past.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I started this book with high hopes that were quickly dashed. The book jumps around both geographically and chronologically. Seidensticker will talk about one ward of Tokyo, then move on to another, and 20 pages later start talking about the first ward again. Likewise, he'll discuss the Meiji period, then the Taisho, and then back to Meiji. The maps of Tokyo also have some errors. Seidensticker also relies, it seems, way too much on the recollections of Nagai Kafu, who he admits was a close personal friend. The redeeming quality of this book is that if you can wade through this and make heads or tail of it, there is a wealth of information on the transformation of Tokyo into a modern metropolis. It's just painful to extract it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert S. Newman VINE VOICE on December 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
When I was a teenager, I got a summer scholarhip to go live with a Japanese family in Tokyo. The experience changed me forever. Though America long remained the center of my daily life, Japan became for many years, "the alternate world". Japanese culture and the Japanese language fascinated me and I studied both for many years. I subsequently returned to Japan several times and have remained in contact with that family all my life. I'm now sixty-five. The Tokyo I first saw was only 36 years after the great earthquake of 1923 and only 14 years after the catastrophe of World War II. So it is that when I read Seidensticker's account of Tokyo, bits and pieces bob up from the flow of memory, my underground impressions and experiences not-quite-recalled, especially sounds and sights no longer to be found in the Tokyo of today. I found it most engrossing. LOW CITY, HIGH CITY is a local history---mostly of downtown Tokyo where in the Tokugawa period, the Edo culture flourished most. The author traces the tastes and tendencies of the townsmen, and how these changed under the giant wave of Western influence that began after the Meiji Reformation of 1868. He takes the process up to the Kanto Earthquake, which came just three years before the Taisho Emperor died and the Showa era (one of the most momentous in Japan's long history) started.

This is the first part of a longer history of Tokyo, but it may be read on its own. Seidensticker, who died in 2007, was an esteemed translator of Japanese literature, both ancient and modern, who lived there. If you have no acquaintance of Tokyo at all, you will find LOW CITY, HIGH CITY heavy going, I fear.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
A very readable and impressionistic discussion of the changes in Tokyo from the inauguration of the Meiji period to the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923. Based on Seidensticker's deep knowledge of Tokyo, Japanese literature, study of old guidebooks, and memoirs, this book attempts to chart the evolution of Tokyo from administrative capital of a semi-feudal state to a modernizing city. This is also partially a social history of Tokyo. Seidensticker adopts a combined chronological and geographic approach, using a roughly temporal sequence and traveling through many of the different parts of Tokyo to describe the changes across time. Its clear from his account that the combination of modernization and recurrent disasters of which the Earthquake was the greatest, destroyed much of Edo period Tokyo and what was left was finished off by American bombing during WWII. Seidensticker appears to be particularly fond of the popular culture of the Meiji and much of this book can be seen as a something of an elegy for that culture. This is not a systematic history. Demography, major changes in city planning, changes in governance are really mentioned only in passing. Seidensticker is a fine writer and much of this book is enjoyable reading but it tends to leave readers wishing for more structure and analysis.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Robinson on July 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
This author is a fine stylist, as promised. He gives us a great deal of insight into Tokyo and it metamorphosis from local capital to world center...circa his 1980 perspective.

It would be wonderful to have this level of knowledge distilled into a book more neutrally organized and with comparisons to a more up-to-date Tokyo, but we have what we have.

There is no other. This is it. Buy it now.
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