Monday, January 9, 2012

Kenneth Pyle, The Making of Modern Japan

Here's another "back-log" book that I forgot to add.  This was the principal textbook of my Japanese History II class last year.  At first I found it to be confusing, but having read more of Pyle's work, I realize that it is simply a product of his writing style - he prefers to look at broader transformations, rather than on the tiny details (which I would usually expect from a history book.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Kenneth Pyle, Japan Rising: Power and Purpose in a New Era

This book, by Kenneth Pyle, has probably been my favorite so far.  Pyle combines studies of Japanese psychology, culture, and history to produce a very convincing narrative about the different stages of Japanese grand-strategy since, well, ancient times.  The whole point is to explain the strange 20-year "malaise" that has seemingly plagued the Japanese national direction, starting after a recession in the Japanese economy during the late 80's and early 90's.  To Pyle, Japan is simply biding its time.  Pyle asserts that the Japanese "situational" ethic, combined with the realist ethos it gained from nearly 200 years of pure, war-prone feudalism, dictates that the country charts its course by adapting itself to world conditions rather than by following deep, universal, principles from within.  In this way, they follow what Pyle says to be the "Prussian model," whereby a state's domestic focus is wholly dependent on its course in foreign policy.  As Pyle also notes at the beginning of the book, this is a hard concept for Americans to truly understand, because the United States has always generated foreign policy based around internally-generated principles, with our brand of American liberalism being the most recent.  With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the rapid effects of trade and technological change, and the rise of China, these past two decades have presented Japan with an uncertain international climate.  There is no clear system to which Japan's leaders and people can adapt themselves with purpose and resolve.  As a comparison, consider Japan's manipulation of the security situation during the Cold War to focus exclusively on economic growth, or how it adapted to liberal ideology following the Treaty of Versailles and the Washington Naval Treaties.  Even during the heyday of the militaristic Japanese empire, much of its ideology and strategy was borrowed from European fascism, out of the belief that it represented the way of the future.  Now, however, there is no clear answer - our international environment is is open and changing quickly, in an unprecedented way.  According to Pyle, the Japanese are waiting to evaluate the longevity of U.S. power and the potential strength of China before they make a decision, or are able to discern a new evolving world order upon which they will act.  It could be that now, as one of the world's largest powers, Japan needs to abandon its past habits and find internally-generated principles to serve as guideposts for its own independent foreign-policy.  It may also be that Japan will need to seek Constitutional revision and take responsibility for its own security.  We will have to see!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bruce Cumings, Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History

Another "backlog" book from a few months ago that I still wanted to keep track of.  Korean History is a very new subject for me, and I am still trying to learn more about it.  This was my first book on the subject, and served as a crash course in ancient, pre-modern, and modern Korean history.  Still have a long way to go.

William Farris, Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History

The dreaded textbook of my Japanese History I class.  Interesting, but I often found the ordering of each chapter to be confusing.

Haruko and Theodore Cook, Japan at War: An Oral History

Also from a few months ago - this book was recommended to me by a professor of mine.  The book is centered around interviews with Japanese veterans of WWII, concerning their war-time experiences.  Begins to explain why Japanese soldiers treated Chinese civilians so horribly, touches upon material conditions under Japanese colonial regimes in places like Thailand or The Philippines, discusses the experiences of those involved in war-time medical experiments, etc. etc.

John Dower, Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II

This was from a few months ago, but a very important book on post-WWII developments in Japan.  I most enjoyed the bits about the black markets that developed in Japanese cities following the war, and Japanese society's disillusionment with the ultra-conservative, moralistic themes of the war-time regime.  Another interesting bit concerned the blatant bias and showy atmosphere of the American-dominated Military Tribunal.

Dr. Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao

This was a really interesting book!  Dr. Li wrote much of this from his own memory (many of his journals were burned during the Cultural Revolution), so I was flummoxed as to how he remembered so much.  I guess that's what happens when you spend 22+ years as the personal doctor to Mao Zedong.  The book reveals a wide range of rather scintillating details about Mao's personal life, but it also does a good job of chronicling Mao's health and behavior in relation to political events across China throughout the 50's, 60's, and 70's.  Mao's legacy is very much mixed, and depending on how you view things, he could be responsible for the deaths of more than 30 million people.  His leadership certainly left an impact, though.  

A Brief Jikoshoukai (Self-Introduction)

Hey everyone!

My name is Van, and I am a second-year student at Georgetown University, studying international politics and Japanese.  Thanks for visiting!

This blog is mainly intended to be a tool for my own self-teaching.  I'll post more about this later, but in the past two years, I've developed a fascination with Japanese history and Japanese political issues.  It is rapidly becoming one of my biggest hobbies, and recently, I've been wanting to relate my interest in Japan's history with that of its East Asian neighbors: Korea (North and South), China, and Taiwan.  The goal is to link the past to the present, and understand how history has shaped present-day political, economic, and security issues in the region.

In doing so, my main hope is to use this blog to keep track of my own reading, and jot down a few thoughts from time to time.  You are welcome to follow along!  By no means do I have the will or capacity to turn this blog into a book-report, but at the very least, I want to be able to "know what I know," and have a list of the books and articles I've been reading.  To be effective, I have to be able to get a sense for which areas I need to focus on more, and I'll only be able to do so by keeping track of what I have covered already.  In the past, my (unfortunate) inclination has been to read a book, think about it for a week, and then rapidly forget  it.  This time around, my goal is to make as concerted, consistent, and comprehensive an effort as possible to learn more about East Asian issues (believe me, I'm starting from a pretty humble place), so hopefully this will be a good way for me to remember things and chart my progress!

(Note: Again, more on this later, but as I create this blog I am stumbling through my second year of Japanese. So on occasion, as in this post's title, bear with me as I awkwardly throw in references to my fledgling Japanese vocabulary.)