From Publishers Weekly
Jensen conducts his readers through the labyrinthine path taken by Japan over the last 400 years, from centralized feudalism under the shoguns of Edo (now Tokyo) to Japan's postwar emergence as one of the world's most developed and peacefulAnations. For Westerners the most fascinating aspect of this monumental work will be Japan's always uneasy, sometimes violent relationship with the outside world. Jensen pays careful attention to Japan's struggle to differentiate itself culturally from China and to subjugate Korea. With the West, Japan's first hesitant acceptance of Portuguese and Dutch traders gave way to contemptuous rejection of Western values, religion and culture. The debate thus framed has resounded throughout the last two centuries, and Jensen patiently explains how xenophobia and openness to the outside world have alternated as dominant impulses in Japanese life. Jensen does his utmost to make intelligible the complexities of Japanese politics since 1600. Besides politics, he ventures into economics, military affairs, literature, education, social organization and both high and popular culture. He observes that postwar Japanese managed "to achieve in business suits what they had failed to bring about in uniform," and he shows how this extraordinary result came about, in the context of Japan's long and conflict-ridden emergence into the modern world. Japan has been a subject of intense interest in the West in recent years, though only serious students will want to read this lengthy history. Still, it should receive major review coverage, and sales may increase if it's promoted with Herbert P. Bix's Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (Forecasts, July 31). (Nov.)
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Despite our deep national involvement with the Japanese people since the end of World War II, this still frustratingly insular nation remains a puzzle for Americans and other westerners. Perhaps, as some have suggested, genuine understanding will remain elusive. Still, Jansen, professor emeritus of Japanese history at Princeton, strives valiantly to explain the foundations of modern Japanese history and culture in this richly detailed, smooth-flowing narrative of the past four centuries of Japanese development. While acknowledging the sweeping changes that occasionally buffeted Japan since the Meiji Restoration, Jansen emphasizes the remarkable strands of continuity in Japanese history that have helped maintain unique social cohesion in an internally dynamic culture. Although well written and not bogged down with useless detail, general readers are advised to devour this massive work in small doses; if they do, they will find it a greatly rewarding examination of an admirable but enigmatic and ancient land. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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