Here is a page-turning, compact history of Japan from earliest times to the present, with a focus on its often tempestuous, often creative relationships with other countries. The book ranges from Japan's prehistoric interactions with Korea and China, to the Western challenge of the late 1500s, the partial isolation under the Tokugawa family (1600-1868), and the tumultuous interactions of more recent times, when Japan modernized ferociously, turned imperialist, lost a
world war, then became the world's second largest economy-and its greatest foreign aid donor. Writing in a lively fashion, Huffman makes rich use of primary documents, illustrating events with comments by the people who lived through them: tellers of ancient myths, court women who dominated the
early literary world, cynical priests who damned medieval materialism, travelers who marveled at "indecent" Western ballroom dancers in the mid-1800s, and the emperor who justified Pearl Harbor. Without ignoring standard political and military events, the book illuminates economic, social, and cultural factors; it also examines issues of gender as well as the roles of commoners, samurai, business leaders, novelists, and priests.
James L. Huffman is H. Orth Hirt Professor of History Emeritus at Wittenberg University.