A History of the Japanese People

A History of the Japanese People is a comprehensive history of the Japanese Empire from its mythological beginnings up to the date of publication in 1912. Because the copyright has expired, it can be downloaded free, which is very convenient for anyone who wishes to learn more about the earliest Japanese history.  Naturally, this book cannot cover more recent events, including World War II and after, but the lack is more than made up for by the authors’ exhaustive coverage of Ancient, Medieval, and early modern Japan.

The first chapters do drag a bit as the authors describe the mythological history of prehistoric Japan. The myths and legends are rather disordered and the names of the gods are confusing and repetitive. Once they move on to firmer ground, the story becomes more engrossing.

Despite the excellent quality of this work, two weaknesses made the book less than completely satisfactory. First, the kindle edition does not include the illustrations or the maps. I could do without the illustrations, but at least one map of the Japanese islands would have enabled me to follow the events better, especially the military campaigns.  The second weakness is that in a comprehensive history such as this, there are many unfamiliar (to the Western reader) names and terms and it is sometimes difficult to remember them all. A glossary would have been helpful. Despite these weaknesses, I highly recommend this book.

I might add, not as part of the review, in light of later events in Japanese history, it is a bit chilling to read the authors defense of Japanese aggressions in Manchuria and Korea, especially when they suggest that the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 was for the benefit of the Korean people. I think few Koreans would agree with that sentiment.


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