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New Book: Breaking Open Japan

 
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Obenjo Kusanosuke
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:30 pm    Post subject: New Book: Breaking Open Japan Reply with quote
Has anyone read George Feifer's Breaking Open Japan? It was published by Smithsonian Books in 2006. I recently picked this up and will soon get to it after I crunch through the Saga of the Samurai series that I just got that tells the history of the Takeda clan. The Saga series is written by fellow forum member Ujisato-sama.

Breaking open Japan is the story of what went on in 1853 when Perry and his squadron of black ships showed up in Edo (Tokyo) Bay. It seems like Perry and crew were actually under orders to come back to the US with great teriyaki sauce--something that the Japanese were reluctant to fork over and was kept out of the continental US until Mr. Yoshida came along with his sauce. Laughing . Others say that Perry was just looking for a place that serves some decent sushi. I doubt it

Seriously, this book looks interesting and I am wondering if any of you read it. I am hoping this book complements the first quarter of Walter Lefeber's wonderful history of US-Japan relations, called Clash. Also, for those of you interested in Perry's mission to Japan and the Japanese reaction, George Kerr's Okinawa: The History of an Island People touches on this from an Okinawan perspective as Perry stopped off in Okinawa before proceeding to Edo Bay.
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nagaeyari
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Don't forget Perry's journal, itself. Or this version!

The reviews of Breaking Open Japan are all great (five stars) on amazon. I guess I'll have to pick it up, eventually.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 6:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
nagaeyari wrote:
Don't forget Perry's journal, itself.


I actually got to flip through a first edition of that book - I knew the librarian so she made an exception.
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Obenjo Kusanosuke
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 03, 2007 10:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Hah-do-Nagaeyari-san wrote
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Don't forget Perry's journal, itself. Or this version!


Yes, I know that Perry's Journal is out there but I have been reluctant to give it a try because of a paralyzing fear that the prose may bore me to tears or put me to sleep after every paragraph so I'll never get through it. Don't get me wrong--I could easily muster through it as a reference if I was doing a serious academic project or writing something myself, but I am reading for entertainment/personal interest and enlightment. Besides, based on other things I have read or documentaries I've seen on Japanese TV, Perry has always come across to me, right or wrong, as bit of an imperious and unappealing persona with a nagai yari up his backside Shocked adding to his image as a stiff bore.

I did get through Sir Ernest Satow's A Diplomat in Japan but he published it in the early 1920s and the prose of that period is a heck of a lot easier to get through than mid-19th century stuff. Also, Satow was quite a character who seemed to live on the wild side in his younger years in Japan and this makes his story so interesting. The only thing with the edition I have is that font size used is so darn small, I developed a permanent squint as a result of reading this book.

Also, as I mentioned in my previous post, I found Walter LaFeber's work, The Clash!: US-Japanese Relations throughout History (Norton, 1997)to be a very good book. Has anyone else read this? LaFeber writes well and makes the history interesting. His book on the US and Russia during the Cold War was required and enjoyable reading for one of my many classes on int'l relations many, many moons ago.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 3:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
nagaeyari wrote:
Don't forget Perry's journal, itself. Or this version!

The reviews of Breaking Open Japan are all great (five stars) on amazon. I guess I'll have to pick it up, eventually.


My college actually has Perry's journals. Nothing much Sengoku era but they have perry's journals, the inhumanity.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2007 6:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Just some friendly advice from your friendly, neighborhood Wave Tossed: I believe that this discussion should be moved to the Bakumatsu forum. Smile
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Townsend Harris left a journal too.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:00 am    Post subject: Townsend Harris's Journal Reply with quote
shikisoku wrote:
Townsend Harris left a journal too.


Yes, I know he kept a journal and it may be interesting to know what that pompous けつのあな may have thought. I should try to get a copy. I don't profess to know much about him, but what I do know about him kind of turned me off. I know he came to appreciate certain things about Japan and the Japanese over time, but I am not really sure if this appreciation is genuine or if it stemmed from the pleasure he got out of having Okichi, the unfortunate woman he was given by the local bakufu officials as a play thing to try and calm his temper down. Actually, the tragic story of Okichi is more fascinating to me than Townsend Harris, who for all accounts, was a big failure in pretty much everything he did before coming to Japan when he was in his 50s.

Regarding poor Okichi, of course when Townsend Harris returned to America, he wasn't going to dare bring his Japanese mistress back with him, so he left her in Shimoda, where she was shunned by the locals because she was tainted as result of her "intimate" relationship with a vile gaijin. Shunned, Okichi turned to alcohol, had a business go bust, and eventually killed herself by drowning. The poor woman was totally used and abused by both her own gov't, people and Harris.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 3:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Wasn't this story a base for song about "Girl in Red Shoes" ? Or was it Kimi Iwasaki ?
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
_RK_ wrote:
Wasn't this story a base for song about "Girl in Red Shoes" ? Or was it Kimi Iwasaki ?


Madame Butterfly?
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Obenjo Kusanosuke
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
_RK_ wrote:
Wasn't this story a base for song about "Girl in Red Shoes" ? Or was it Kimi Iwasaki ?


Madame Butterfly definitely has some of the elements, but the actual Hollywood movie about Harris and Okichi is called The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)directed by John Huston and starred John Wayne(!!) Shocked as Townsend Harris and Aiko Ando as Okichi. So Imamura was also in the film. I never saw this. Has anyone seen it? If so, put a response here notifying all of us that you posted a review under the movie section of the forum. Thanks!!
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2007 6:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Obenjo Kusanosuke wrote:

Madame Butterfly definitely has some of the elements, but the actual Hollywood movie about Harris and Okichi is called The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958)directed by John Huston and starred John Wayne(!!) Shocked as Townsend Harris and Aiko Ando as Okichi. So Imamura was also in the film. I never saw this. Has anyone seen it? If so, put a response here notifying all of us that you posted a review under the movie section of the forum. Thanks!!


I saw it years ago, and so don't remember it very well. The only scene I remember is John Wayne kicking the ass of a giant Rikishi-looking street thug guy, only to then in turn get his ass kicked by the big thug's tiny little friend with some handy jujutsu skills.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 1:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
_RK_ wrote:
Wasn't this story a base for song about "Girl in Red Shoes" ? Or was it Kimi Iwasaki ?


"Girl in Red Shoes" is Meiji period.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 06, 2007 4:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Humble as I am I am aware of this fact- just thought that folktales are circulating for a long time before getting formalized and sometimes they have roots in more then one incident. Sorry for bringing this up.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 10, 2007 3:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
nagaeyari wrote:
Don't forget Perry's journal, itself. Or this version!

The reviews of Breaking Open Japan are all great (five stars) on amazon. I guess I'll have to pick it up, eventually.



I was so impressed by the reviews I just bought a copy.Looks good
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 2:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I just ordered it too. It sounds terrific. I was glad to read about it here.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 4:28 pm    Post subject: Re: New Book: Breaking Open Japan Reply with quote
Obenjo Kusanosuke wrote:
I recently picked this up and will soon get to it after I crunch through the Saga of the Samurai series that I just got that tells the history of the Takeda clan. The Saga series is written by fellow forum member Ujisato-sama.


Where did you order these? Amazon's got 1 copy of vol 4, and that's it.

XXX EDIT: Nevermind, I found his website--are these really worth it? They look like self-published Osprey books. Who is this guy?
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 5:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
LT, you must have been still away, but Terje Solumn was actually a member of the forum here--he dropped by for a visit.

His books are great. I only have the first volume, but I'mpretty Tatsu and a few others have the rest.

I'd recommend them over Osprey, myself. But..that's not saying much from me Laughing
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 6:17 pm    Post subject: Re: New Book: Breaking Open Japan Reply with quote
ltdomer98 wrote:
Obenjo Kusanosuke wrote:
I recently picked this up and will soon get to it after I crunch through the Saga of the Samurai series that I just got that tells the history of the Takeda clan. The Saga series is written by fellow forum member Ujisato-sama.


Where did you order these? Amazon's got 1 copy of vol 4, and that's it.

XXX EDIT: Nevermind, I found his website--are these really worth it? They look like self-published Osprey books. Who is this guy?


Domer, the level of detail contained in these books is something that I found quite amazing. Ujisato researched all of this himself, using Japanese sources, both in print and getting on a plane to come to Japan to check out all the historical places, museums, libraries, etc.

I just finished volume 2. It has embarrassingly taken me a long time to get through these, and I think things will pick up now that I've started volume 3, which begins with Shingen taking control of Kai after exiling his father.

Overall, I am rejoicing that there is something in English that is detailed, well-researched and devoted to the entire history of the Takeda Clan and I know Ujisato plans on taking the same format and applying it to some of the other clans, even the lesser-known ones.

The only problem I've had with the Saga series so far is the terrible editing job Ujisato's publishers did. Their sloppiness creates some confusion which forces a number of passage re-reads and there have been some questionable translations i.e. ume = apricot! But again, I have to recommend these books. The level of detail is astounding and I am pretty sure the Saga series will be of much help to me during our March-April study group!
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
So content good, editing bad...got it. There's nothing on his website (that I found, but I only looked for a short time) about his background or qualifications, but as long as it's good info, that's probably good enough for me.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2007 2:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
ltdomer98 wrote:
So content good, editing bad...got it. There's nothing on his website (that I found, but I only looked for a short time) about his background or qualifications, but as long as it's good info, that's probably good enough for me.


I put off buying them for the longest time since they weren't on Amazon but mainly because of the ridiculously lame title, which led me to believe they were fanboy fictionalized accounts. The price and lack of general availability probably keep a lot of people away as well as the fact that it's a series.
They are excellent, though. Very detailed and throrough research (most all of which is from Japanese sources, many of them primary), and he adresses all sides of an issue when there are more than one. He's not afraid to call a myth a myth or present information that makes the Takeda look bad. Lots of diagrams and detailed maps, too.
The most glaring shortcoming is that the books don't include an index. Bad, bad, bad.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2007 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Sounds like I'll be making a purchase. Cool.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2007 4:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
What's his take on Takeda Yoshinobu's suicide? I'd be real interested to hear the theory on that.
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 28, 2007 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
kitsuno wrote:
What's his take on Takeda Yoshinobu's suicide? I'd be real interested to hear the theory on that.


I'll see if I can find it (since it doesn't have an index-did I mention that?Just Kidding)
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 29, 2007 5:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote
Well, looks like we'll have to wait a while to find out his thoughts on Yoshinobu. The latest volume only goes up until 1558, and Yoshinobu hadn't even been wounded at Kawanakajima yet.
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