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Home > Books & Journals > Book Review Last Updated: 13:10 01/19/2009
Book Review #97: January 19, 2008

"Modern Japan, A Social and Political History" by Elise K. Tipton

Reviewed by Sir Hugh Cortazzi

Title: Modern Japan, A Social and Political History (Nissan Institute/Routledge Japanese Studies Series 2nd edition)
Authors: Elise K. Tipton
Language: English
Publisher: Routledge
Date/Time: 2008/4/2
Pages: 297 pages including index and bibliography
ISBN: ISBN-10: 0415418712
ISBN-13: 978-0415418713


This work aims to cover Japanese history from the end of the Edo period up to the present day and is intended as an introduction to Japanese history for students at university and high school. I recognize that because I have concentrated on aspects of Anglo-Japanese history and relations my views may not be entirely objective, but I found this book disappointing and inadequate.

Elise Tipton in discussing the re-opening of Japan in the 1850s gives the impression that the Americans alone were responsible for this development. In fact as Professor McOmie, an American scholar, has pointed out the Russians and the Dutch as well as the British had significant roles. She asserts that the treaty concluded in 1858 by Townsend Harris "imposed" extraterritoriality. The terms were indeed unequal and the Japanese came to see the treaties as humiliating but they were seen as natural at a time when the Bakufu envisaged corralling the foreigners in a few treaty ports.

In her discussion of modernization in Meiji Japan Elise Tipton seems unaware of the fact that over 40% of the foreign experts were Britishand the bibliography makes no mention of the study "Live Machines: Hired Foreigners and Meiji Japan" by H. J. Jones. She should have mentioned Henry Dyer and the important Tokyo College of Engineering which was the fore-runner of Tokyo University. In her brief comments on railways in Meiji Japan she does not seem to be aware that the first railways were built and operated by British railway engineers.

In her discussion of the Sino-Japanese war she fails to mention the fact that the Japanese committed an act of war before war was declared and overlooks the reports of Japanese atrocities at Port Arthur. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902 and its successors are not, as far as I can see, deemed worthy of notice although they were significant elements in Japanese foreign policy in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Her bibliography does not include any books by Professor Ian Nish, the doyen of British historians of Japan. Only one work by the late Professor W.G. Beasley is listed despite his significant contribution to the study of Meiji Japan. Maruyama Masao's "Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics" surely deserved a mention. I could cite many other important works which deserved to be included even in a select bibliography. This one is not adequate in a work for university students.

(This review was produced in collaboration with the Japan Society, UK.)

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