End of Semester Bits-n-pieces

You grade sixty tests, and what do you get?
Three months older and deeper in debt.
St. Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go!
I owe book orders to the campus bookstore….


Books that still need to be written about Meiji Japan1 :

  • A good comprehensive history of the Meiji era2
  • A good social history of the post-abolition samurai class. Aside from the Hirschmeier-Yamamura economic debate, there’s hardly anything.
  • a full-length biography of Kido Takayoshi (aka Kido Kōin). We’ve got Ito, and Yamagata, and Okubo and Meiji (now we need an abridged one) and Katsura Taro and Shibusawa Eiichi, and Saionji Kimmochi.
  • a history of the modernization of martial arts


Adamu at MutantfrogTravelogue did a nice survey of the Yasukuni Shrine’s Yushukan museum which ignited a 60-response comment thread. One of the subtler distortions in the Shrine is their history of Korea-Japan relations. Adamu writes

The arguments made did not seem particularly pernicious or dishonest, though certain claims (such as “Japan had repeatedly proposed national independence for Korea, but the West rejected the idea” prior to formal annexation in 1905) seemed kind of disingenuous.

My contribution to the comments was to clarify:

On the Korean issue, they are being blatantly disingenuous: the various calls for Korean independence were targetted at blunting the influence of other regional powers over the Korean court, on the grounds that—according to Japanese strategic calculations—the only natural and legitimate influence in Korea should be Japanese. They called for Korean independence from China before the Sino-Japanese war (after which China explicitly recognized Japanese interests in Korea), then independence from Russia before the Russo-Japanese war (after which Russia and the US explicitly recognized Japanese innterests in Korea). It’s still not a settled question as to when Korean annexation became Japanese policy, but there never was any question (after about 1876 or so) that control of Korea was critical to Japan’s strategic situation.

  1. inspired by the difficulties my Meiji class students had with their topics  

  2. this is the only one of this list which I would consider taking on myself  


  1. Does this list of books include those in Japanese?
    One thing I would like to read, and it may already be out there (haven’t seriously looked yet) is a book on the post-Meiji history of the former daimyo, especially their relationships with their former domains.

  2. I agree that work needs to be done especially on Kido Takayoshi. I also think, however, work needs to be done on the emergence of something akin to Habermas’s “public sphere” in Bakumatsu and early- to mid-Meiji Japan (basically, not only focusing on early bunmei kaika thinkers…).

  3. I was only thinking about works in English. I haven’t looked at the Japanese-language literature on these topics in any detail, but what I’m really after is things I can give to undergrads.

    I would think that a study of the former daimyo could be one way of getting at the post-abolition samurai question. The trick might be getting at family archives: my impression is that most daimyo families still exist in some form or another, and still control their own documents, especially for the post-Restoration. The overwhelming impression I’ve gotten is that they went into dignified retirement, with their descendants becoming military, scholars and layabouts, as well as family historians, depending on their personal proclivities.

  4. A few more, off the top of my head (so some of these may actually exist):

    – A serious study of the Freedom and Popular Rights Movement
    – The creation of the modern Japanese soldier – there’s literature on military culture and indoctrination starting in the 20th century, but the early Meiji seems like an important formative period with unique challenges
    – Trains as transformative objects, in both senses of the word
    – A biography of Katsu Kaishu – if there is one life that encapsulates the early Meiji era
    – How Okinawa became Japanese – I mean legally, not culturally
    – How Edo became Tokyo – culturally for this one
    – The Sino-Japanese war from the Japanese perspective – Everything I’ve seen was from the Chinese side
    – Hokkaido development and the displacement of the Ainu

    Let me know if you want a co-author on that Meiji book.

  5. Didn’t Steve Ericson write a book on the Meiji trains? I haven’t looked at it, though, so I’m not sure if it’s quite got the focus you want. And David Howell’s stuff on Hokkaido is pretty good (some of the old scholarship on it is still pretty sound: F. Jones, etc.). The only thing I can think of on the Okinawa and S-J war questions are from Keene: his old article on nationalism sparked by the war (it’s in one of those Princeton modernization collections), and the Okinawan chapters of the Emperor Meiji book (23, 25 and 30, mostly).

    You’re absolutely right about the rest of them: I’d be particularly interested in a real “new military history” look at the social and institutional development of the military.

    We’ll have to talk about the Meiji book, for sure. Once one of us has tenure, maybe?

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