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A Brief History of Japan: Samurai, Shogun and Zen: The Extraordinary Story of the Land of the Rising Sun (2017)

por Jonathan Clements

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921290,547 (4.08)3
This fascinating history tells the story of the people of Japan, from ancient teenage priest-queens to teeming hordes of salarymen, a nation that once sought to conquer China, yet also shut itself away for two centuries in self-imposed seclusion. First revealed to Westerners in the chronicles of Marco Polo, Japan was a legendary faraway land defended by a fearsome Kamikaze storm and ruled by a divine sovereign. It was the terminus of the Silk Road, the furthest end of the known world, a fertile source of inspiration for European artists, and an enduring symbol of the mysterious East. In recent times, it has become a powerhouse of global industry, a nexus of popular culture, and a harbinger of post-industrial decline. With intelligence and wit, author Jonathan Clements blends documentary and storytelling styles to connect the past, present and future of Japan, and in broad yet detailed strokes reveals a country of paradoxes: a modern nation steeped in ancient traditions; a democracy with an emperor as head of state; a famously safe society built on 108 volcanoes resting on the world's most active earthquake zone; a fast-paced urban and technologically advanced country whose land consists predominantly of mountains and forests. Among the chapters in this Japanese history book are: The Way of the Gods: Prehistoric and Mythical Japan A Game of Thrones: Minamoto vs. Taira Time Warp: 200 Years of Isolation The Stench of Butter: Restoration and Modernization The New Breed: The Japanese Miracle… (mais)
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Six-word review: Japan sure has lots of history.

It seems to me that being Japanese must be complicated in a way that I can only dimly imagine.

Even though I never set out to study Japan, I find that my reading over the years has included a disproportionate number of Japan-related titles, from the novels of Haruki Murakami to Donald Richie's analyses of the films of Kurosawa, most of which I've seen; from Tanizaki's quiet meditation on shadows to a hefty tome on Japan's recovery from World War II; from Mr. Nakano's thrift shop to the imperial palace. I've given a thoughtful viewing to the films of Ozu and examined photos of samurai artifacts and traditional Japanese hairstyles. On a separate track, I've studied Zen Buddhism.

The more I read, the less I feel that I comprehend.

I thought that reading a broad-scoped history of Japan, packing fifteen or more centuries into a compact 300 pages, would give me a sense of context and place some events of lore and legend in relation to events of record. And perhaps it would have, if I had read it straight through and sustained the connections from one era to another. Unfortunately, this was the Kindle book I chose to read in waiting rooms and during down time on volunteer shifts, and so for me it was seven months from beginning to end.

I didn't manage to sustain much at all, apart from the experience of having it go on and on and on, which is pretty much what Japanese history has done. But I did gain a sense of vast complexity: of recorded deeds interwoven with myth, of tradition, of numerous strands of culture and ethnicity braided into one, of geographic smallness and military might, of privilege and poverty, humility and insuperable pride. Politics and poetry blend with cherished archetypes and deep symbolism; much is not as it seems. A reverence for delicate beauty abides with bloodthirsty ferocity. Zen and samurai, samurai and zen. I am only guessing. I know nothing.

Between the time before World War II and the emperor's surrender on August 15, 1945, the world changed.

If this book has not greatly enlarged my understanding, the book is not at fault. There is too much to know. I progress by mere inches. ( )
1 vote Meredy | Mar 27, 2019 |
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This fascinating history tells the story of the people of Japan, from ancient teenage priest-queens to teeming hordes of salarymen, a nation that once sought to conquer China, yet also shut itself away for two centuries in self-imposed seclusion. First revealed to Westerners in the chronicles of Marco Polo, Japan was a legendary faraway land defended by a fearsome Kamikaze storm and ruled by a divine sovereign. It was the terminus of the Silk Road, the furthest end of the known world, a fertile source of inspiration for European artists, and an enduring symbol of the mysterious East. In recent times, it has become a powerhouse of global industry, a nexus of popular culture, and a harbinger of post-industrial decline. With intelligence and wit, author Jonathan Clements blends documentary and storytelling styles to connect the past, present and future of Japan, and in broad yet detailed strokes reveals a country of paradoxes: a modern nation steeped in ancient traditions; a democracy with an emperor as head of state; a famously safe society built on 108 volcanoes resting on the world's most active earthquake zone; a fast-paced urban and technologically advanced country whose land consists predominantly of mountains and forests. Among the chapters in this Japanese history book are: The Way of the Gods: Prehistoric and Mythical Japan A Game of Thrones: Minamoto vs. Taira Time Warp: 200 Years of Isolation The Stench of Butter: Restoration and Modernization The New Breed: The Japanese Miracle

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