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Emperor of Japan


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Table of Contents

Preface Emperor of Japan Notes Glossary Bibliography

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This is the extraordinary story of how Japan was dramatically transformed during the long reign of Emperor Meiji, from an isolated island nation to one of the five great powers of the world, poised as a rival in Asia to Russia and the European colonial powers.

About the Author

Donald Keene is Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of more than thirty books, including the definitive multivolume history of Japanese literature. He lives Tokyo and New York City.


Drawing extensively from the Meiji tenno ki, the official Japanese record of the emperor's life, noted Japan scholar and Columbia professor emeritus Keene fills this monumental work with a wealth of factual information from the emperor's childhood illnesses and tours across the country to his political role in the state apparatus. This work is also, as the title suggests, an examination of Meiji's world, and Keene uses diaries and letters of the emperor's contemporaries, as well as secondary sources, to describe important events and people in Japan's transition to a modern nation-state. Keene is seeking the personality behind the historical figure, but since Meiji kept no diary and wrote almost no letters, it is difficult to determine his personal feelings about the historical events of the time. Keene does examine Meiji's poems and anecdotes from acquaintances in order to provide a rounder sketch of the man, but often, in the attempt to personalize him, Keene must resort to speculation about how the emperor "must have felt" at particular moments. Keene is obviously attracted by the subject of his study and often points out qualities in the man that he finds lacking in European monarchs of the same period (Meiji was more frugal and less arrogant, Keene notes, than the tsar, his enemy in the Russo-Japanese War). But in the end, Keene admits that "Meiji seems almost to repel attempts by a biographer to come closer" than the officially prepared chronicles allow. Perhaps, as one contemporary politician noted, "The emperor had almost no private side to him." Keene's achievement, then, is the enormous wealth of information that he makes available to the English reader. This book will undoubtedly be the most complete picture possible of a sovereign who remains as distant as a proper Confucian ruler should. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Few scholars are as well qualified to undertake this tremendous project... [Keene's] special gifts are on display in Emperor of Japan... [which] brings us as close to the inner life of the Meiji emperor as we are ever likely to get. New York Times Book Review Utterly brilliant... the best history in English of the emergence of modern Japan. Los Angeles Times Keene gracefully marshals evidence to illuminate [an] astonishing transformation. New Yorker Keene does a heroic job of painting a personal picture of the Meiji Empire, which is an impossible task. The New York Review of Books Distinguished and massively authoritative... This book probably comes as close as we shall ever get to the man himself. Times Literary Supplement (London) Despite the book's massive scale, Keene's graceful writing holds the reader's interest throughout... This should become the Meiji biography against which all others are judged. Booklist A fresh and fascinating portrait. Choice This is a monumental work, the result of years of painstaking research and meticulous scholarship, unlikely to be superseded by any book about the Emperor Meiji in this century and destined to be required reading for all foreign students of the Restoration and the growth of modern Japan. -- Hugh Cortazzi The Japan Society The first reliable and full biography of the Japanese monarch in any language... Carefully crafted, judicious, balanced, authoritative, it is another remarkable gift from a distinguished American author. Washington Post One comes away from Keene's lively account with the feeling that one person made an extraordinary difference in Japan's history. Foreign Affairs Eminently readable... a staggering achievement. Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer The most complete picture possible of a sovereign who remains as distant as a proper Confucian ruler should. Publishers Weekly Keene... is a master narrator with an eye for fascinating details. Library Journal This book is as close to being a definitive biography of the Emperor Meiji as we are likely to see in Western languages. It is an important contribution to our understanding of Japan's modernizing experience. -- W. Dean Kinzley The Historian

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan entered world politics as a modernizing and ambitious imperial power. Previous studies of this era largely slighted the emperor himself, but Keene (Shincho Professor of Japanese Literature and University Professor Emeritus, Columbia Univ.), a titan of Japanese studies, brings the emperor out of the wings and onto center stage in this vivid and richly detailed chronicle. Using a multitude of Japanese and other sources, Keene argues that Meiji was no mere figurehead but an increasingly active participant in the politics of modern Japan, particularly after he outgrew his youthful impatience with state affairs. Keene's admiration for Meiji, an unsympathetic figure who drank to excess, ignored his own children, and often slighted his duties, is somewhat baffling on the evidence presented. Ultimately, the Meiji era is much more interesting than the man himself. Keene, a literary scholar, is a master narrator with an eye for fascinating details, but his sprawling chronicle is weak on analysis of the historical significance of an era that he views almost exclusively from the vantage point of court politics. For academic and larger public libraries. Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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