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Japanese Culture

Paul Varley

Publication Year: 2000

For nearly three decades Japanese Culture has garnered high praise as an accurate and well-written introduction to Japanese history and culture. This widely used undergraduate text is now available in a new edition. Thoroughly updated, the fourth edition includes expanded sections on numerous topics, among which are samurai values, Zen Buddhism, the tea ceremony, Confucianism in the Tokugawa period, the story of the forty-seven ronin, Mito scholarship in the early nineteenth century, and mass culture and comics in contemporary times.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

More than a quarter of a century has passed since the publication of Japanese Culture. With each edition, it has expanded in size. Thus, whereas the first edition ended with World War II, the second edition included a postwar chapter (which remains the book’s longest chapter). When the University of Hawai‘i Press published the third edition in 1984, it reset the entire text and allowed me to add material throughout.

Major Periods and Cultural Epochs of Japanese History

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pp. x

Chinese Dynasties Since the Time of Unification under the Han

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pp. xi

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Author’s Notes

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pp. xiii

Japanese names: The order is family name followed by given name. Thus, Tokugawa Ieyasu is Ieyasu of the Tokugawa family. Until about the early thirteenth century, it was also common to use the possessive no (“of”) in names—for example, Fujiwara no Michinaga was Michinaga “of” the Fujiwara family.

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1 The Emergence of Japanese Civilization

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pp. 1-18

Much mystery—and controversy—surrounds the origins of the Japanese people. Before the end of World War II, it was generally believed that human occupancy of Japan dated to only about 4000 b.c. and that the inhabitants of that earliest period were Neolithic or New Stone Age people. Then, in 1949, new archaeological finds dramatically revealed that ...

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2 The Introduction of Buddhism

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pp. 19-47

The sixth century inaugurated an epoch of great vitality in East Asia. After some three and a half centuries of disunion following the fall of the Han dynasty in 220, China was at length reunited under the Sui dynasty in 589. Although the T’ang replaced the Sui in 618, there was no further disruption of national unity for another three centuries.

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3 The Court at Its Zenith

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pp. 48-76

In 794 the court moved to the newly constructed city of Heian or Kyoto, about twenty-eight miles north of Nara. The decision to leave Nara was apparently made for several reasons. Many people at court had become alarmed over the degree of official favor accorded to Buddhism and the manifold opportunities presented to Buddhist priests to interfere in the business of state.

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4 The Advent of a New Age

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pp. 77-90

The haniwa figurines of armor-clad warriors and their mounts and the numerous military accoutrements dating from the protohistoric tomb period are plain evidence that the fighting traditions of the Japanese go back to remote antiquity. There is, moreover, the strong likelihood that these traditions were nourished uninterruptedly in the provinces even ...

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5 The Canons of Medieval Taste

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pp. 91-139

The chieftain who emerged during the course of the Minamoto-Taira War of 1180–85 as the supreme commander of Minamoto forces was Yoritomo (1147–99). Unlike Kiyomori, the Taira leader who died in 1181, the second year of the war, Yoritomo deliberately avoided entanglement in court politics in Kyoto. Instead, he remained at Kamakura, his ...

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6 The Country Unified

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pp. 140-163

The last century of the Muromachi period, following the devastating Ōnin War of 1467–77, has been fittingly labeled the age of provincial wars. Although its first few decades witnessed the blossoming of Higashiyama culture, the age was otherwise the darkest and most troubled in Japanese history. Fighting raged from one end of the country to the other.

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7 The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture

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pp. 164-204

The great peace of more than two and a half centuries that followed the founding of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1600 was made possible largely by the policy of national seclusion which the shogunate adopted during the late 1630s. To many historians this policy, carried out amid fearful persecutions of both native and foreign Christians, has appeared as an ...

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8 Heterodox Trends

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pp. 205-234

The Tokugawa system of rule was shaped by the first three shoguns, who ruled from 1600 until 1651. During this half century the shogunate pursued policies—including national seclusion, alternate attendance, and the confiscation (on the one hand) and transfer (on the other hand) of daimyo domains—that increasingly strengthened its control over both the daimyos and the country as a whole.

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9 Encounter with the West

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pp. 235-270

In 1844 King William II of Holland dispatched a letter to the shogun of Japan warning him that the quickening pace of world events made continuance of the Japanese policy of national seclusion both unwise and untenable. The development of steam navigation, for one thing, now enabled the ships of Western countries readily to penetrate the most distant waters of the world.

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10 The Fruits of Modernity

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pp. 271-303

Japan went to war with China in 1894–95 over the issue, to put it euphemistically, of Korean independence. Korea had traditionally been tributary to China, a relationship that gave the Chinese a kind of protectorate over the foreign affairs of the peninsular, “hermit” kingdom. Victorious in 1895, Japan received, among other rewards, the colonial possessions of Taiwan and the Pescadore Islands.

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11 Culture in the Present Age

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pp. 304-351

After more than three and a half years of fighting, unconscionably prolonged in the last stages by the fanatical unwillingness of its rulers to recognize that further resistence was futile, Japan finally acceded to the ultimatum of the Allied powers from Potsdam in July 1945, and in August surrendered unconditionally. The last agonies of the war produced, on ...


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pp. 353-361


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pp. 363-366

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 367-371


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pp. 373-383

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863081
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824822927

Publication Year: 2000