A History of Japan, 1582-1941: Internal and External Worlds

By L. M. Cullen | Go to book overview

Preface

L. M. C. Kyoto

This book is intended for undergraduates studying Japanese history, and for the serious reader wishing to read an account of Japan's past. Its purpose is to take a broad view, chronologically and thematically, of trends in Japanese history, and to integrate into a single interconnected narrative many themes from economics, politics and administration, some of which, like linguistic communication, vital for Japan's understanding of the outside world in the period of its isolation, tend to be studied only in specialised works. It also gives prominence to the period before 1868, because all too often accounts of Japan concentrate on the later years.

In the interest of making the narrative accessible to the reader with no specialist knowledge, the book presents a minimum of technical detail, and is sparing in its use of names of individuals and regions. As a history book should be, it is necessarily chronological, though chapters do not hesitate in the interest of analysis of major themes to look backwards and forwards, as chapter 3 does in exploring the context of the remarkably stable eighteenth century, or chapter 6 in discussing the existing levy on rice as a basis of taxation when new demands arose in post–1868 Japan.

The terminal dates of 1582 and 1941 in particular need comment. By 1582 Oda Nobunaga's unification of central Japan had laid the basis on which, by a varied process of combat, moderation and compromise, a unity of sorts for all of Japan was fashioned over the final twenty years of the century and early decades of the following one. In the wake of failure in the 1590s to create a buffer zone in Korea, the fear of outside contacts undermining a precarious harmony led to the progressive introduction of seclusion (sakoku) by the 1630s, destined to last until western pressure in the 1850s and 1860s forced its abandonment. The years from 1868 to 1941 were then to become a period in which Japan could, and increasingly did, exercise its own initiative in dealing with problems in Korea and in China and finally, and more dramatically, in challenging the United States for supremacy in the Pacific. That brought on defeat in 1945 and occupation under an American umbrella, with Japan becoming something of a dependent state (the largest United States military bases

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