The Shortest History of Japan

From Mythical Origins to Pop Culture Powerhouse - The Global Drama of an Ancient Island Nation

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Pub Date Jul 30 2024 | Archive Date Jul 17 2024

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Zen, haiku, martial arts, sushi, anime, manga, film, video games . . . Japanese culture has long enriched our Western way of life. Yet from a Western perspective, Japan remains a remote island country that has long had a complicated relationship with the outside world.

Even at the nearest point, Japan—an archipelago strung like a necklace around the Asian mainland—is considerably farther from Asia than Britain is from Europe. The sea provides an effective barrier against invasion and has enabled the culture to develop in unique and distinctive ways. During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shoguns successfully closed the country to the West. After Japan opened, it swung in the opposite direction, adopting Western culture wholesale. Both these strategies enabled it to avoid colonization, one of the very few non-Western countries to do so, and to retain its traditions and way of life.

This delightfully readable history will be of interest to people who know nothing about Japan, but also full of insights for those who do, with an aha moment on every page. With a novelist’s eye for color and character, Lesley Downer takes the reader through the great sweep of Japanese history, focusing on the dramatic stories of larger-than-life individuals—from emperors descended from the Sun Goddess to warlords, samurai, merchants, court ladies, women warriors, geisha, and businessmen who shaped this extraordinary modern society.

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ISBN 9781891011665
PRICE $16.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

This was a nice overview of Japanese history that was written in a way that would be very accessible for even people who don't have any prior knowledge of the country's history. I also appreciated that it didn't gloss over Japan's more recent controversial history, since it seems many people today have already forgotten it.

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Japan has a very long history, so how short could this book be? Just kidding! Downer has done an excellent job of presenting an overview of the history and this would be enough to ground the reader and let the reader see which period they might be more interested in exploring. It's quite readable and the chapters are in managable chunks. This is the kind of book that I'd happily return to to refresh my memory on Japan's long history.

Thank you to NetGalley. The author has done us a great service with this book!

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I loved this book. I liked the non-flowery writing style with its clarity and conversational tone. Considering the time span and magnitude of the subject matter, there is an astonishing depth of information in what is actually a relatively concise book. Lesley Downer opted to explain why things happened as opposed to just offering a collection of dates, places, and names. Obviously Downer couldn’t go into a lot of details, but I feel like she covered all the major ones. The book is fast-paced and impossible to put down, yet it doesn’t feel rushed. This is a great book for anyone interested in the history of Japan. Thank you to Netgalley and The Experiment for the advance reader copy.

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