Of Thoughts and Swords

A blog about Science, Philosophy, Wargaming, Literature and other things, in three or more languages.

Readings: Japanese History 2

As promised (mostly to myself) I read Everyday things in premodern Japan. The hiden legacy of material culture. written by Susan B. Hanley.

Hanley tries to grasp what impact things of everyday use have on lifestyles and how these things evolved or changed during the Tokugawa Period (1615-1868 a.d.) and early Meiji (1868-1912). Basically it is a book of the movement to dispel the myth that Tokugawa Japan was a medieval society, and therefore the transition into a modern state in such short time in the Meiji period was nothing but miraculous. It does that by trying to ascertain the way people lived.

She puts the figures of standard of living (a terminus for the general income per capita, which is reached by dividing the GNP(or GDP, I don´t care enough about these terms to look it up) through population, meaning more income for the same people = higher standard of living) against the physical well-being of the population and tries to look behind the cold numbers to determine how this affected the general population.

Hanley tries different angles and wrangles the best out of the few sources that are available. Her picture is incomplete and based on many an assumption here and there but generally sound. She also compares different aspects, e.g. the hygiene in cities to western cities of the same or even later time period in order to determine how the people lived. In many a comparison the West fares not well in numbers.

The book definitely has to offer several interesting insights into the Tokugawa and Meiji eras and in ways of historical comparison. So a very interesting read indeed.

One of the major problems is the fact that the book effectively is the amalgam of several articles which Hanley had published over the years. That not only gives the impression of a publishing for publishings sake (a very bad normative pressure in academic circles), but also produces several redundancies in the chapters. Sometimes the exact wording reappears several dozen pages later. Redundancy is nice, but in a book like this not needed in such a large extent. Without them it would fall well under 200 pages though and I suspect that is the reason d´etrere for doing it.

So what is next?


This little bugger, which I do not actually even remember acquiring… I have to get back to reading about Asian swords, as I want to hold a lecture about them in November, so let´s see what is in there.



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This entry was posted on March 6, 2015 by in Japan, Scientific, Swords and tagged , , , , , , .
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