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

By L. M. Cullen | Go to book overview

Introduction to bibliography

Japanese history has an impressively large literature in English. Scarcely existent at the end of the 1930s, it is now huge. It is difficult to survey it briefly without the likelihood, indeed the certainty, of serious omission and the risk of unfairness in generalisation. This survey is intended to survey the broad trends in the historiography, and hence it necessarily omits referring to a number of works of real consequence. For full surveys of Japanese history, though now somewhat dated, volumes 3 to 6 of the Cambridge History of Japan, published between 1988 and 1991, make a good starting point to more advanced reading. The Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan (9 vols., Tokyo, 1983) is a user—friendly and remarkably readable reference source for both history and institutions.

While Japanese history textbooks in English are moderately numerous, comparatively few of them integrate a broad spread of themes. This is especially the case for works on the post–1868 period which tend to concentrate on Japan's economic success. Works surveying earlier periods take a much broader view of Japan's history. In addition, western preoccupations or perceptions, inevitable in works for a western audience, sometimes have a patronising air. This characteristic is itself contributed to, however, by the fact that western themes and scholarly approaches were and are applied in much work in Japanese itself. This is especially so in the case of philosophical and political thought, where Germanic influence was strong up to the Second World War. The political philosopher, Maruyama Masao, in his immensely influential Studies in the intellectual history of Tokugawa Japan (1952, English translation, Princeton, 1974), started with Hegel in his very first line. 1 While much Japanese history of the 1930s and of the post—war years was in a loose sense Marxist (as was Maruyama's approach despite his denials), it would be far more accurate to say that a theoretical approach more than Marxism as such was dominant, and that it was as much evident in non—Marxist as in Marxist work.

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1
See the amusing account by the young G. C. Allen on board ship on his way out to Japan in 1922 of his introduction to a Japanese professor who declaimed that 'I am a Hegelian philosopher.' Appointment in Japan, p.3.

-302-

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