A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

By Andrew Gordon | Go to book overview

Preface

The experience of people in Japan over the past two centuries is a fascinating and fast-paced story of the changes of modern times. The main body of this text covers Japanese history from approximately 1800—the last decades of rule by the military lords (or shogun) of the Tokugawa family—to the end of the twentieth century.

These were centuries of extraordinary transformation worldwide. The point of departure, the years around 1800, marks an exceptional moment in world history as well as the early days of a profound, and related, transformation in Japan. The industrial revolution in Britain dramatically changed the balance of global economic and military power. Political revolutions in France and elsewhere gave birth to modern nation-states and modern nationalism, spreading not only new ideas about what was just and possible for human societies but also new forms of domination around the globe. This text begins by examining the intersection of these global shifts with a developing crisis in Japan's political and social order under the Tokugawa rulers.

In Part 2 we turn to Japan's modern revolution and the astonishing transformations of the late 1800s. This was the Meiji era, which took its name from the emperor installed in 1868. During the Meiji reign, Japan shifted swiftly and surprisingly from a semicolonized status to the position of an imperialist power. Part 3 examines Japan's imperial era, beginning with the nation's rise to global power and ending with the devastating experience ofWorldWar II and its aftermath.We conclude by investigating the postwar history of contemporary Japan and the issues facing people in Japan, and around the world, today.


THEMES OF CONNECTION AND MODERN EXPERIENCE

This book's title signals the importance of two themes: modernity and connectivity. A more typical title for a work such as this would be Modern Japanese History. Such a title would suggest that the Japanese-ness of the story is central. It would point readers to a peculiarly “Japanese” story that happened to unfold in an era we call “modern.” This book is called A Modern History of Japan in order to shift the balance between Japanese-ness and modernity. It tells a peculiarly “modern” story as it unfolded in a place we call Japan.

In other words, the modern history of Japan has been inseparable from a larger modern history of the world. For this reason, a central theme of this book must be connectivity. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, ideas, events, material goods, and resources from abroad have influenced experiences in Japan profoundly,

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