Journal of World History 15.1 (2004) 99-101
[Access article in PDF]
The Human Tradition in Modern Japan. Edited by anne walthall. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Books, 2002. Pp. xx + 241. $60.00 (cloth); $19.95 (paper).
The Human Tradition in Modern Japan is a fascinating work that unearths the lives of twelve diverse men and women who lived in Japan between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. Though these people are not as "ordinary" as Anne Walthall's introduction leads one to believe—princesses, samurai, Diet members, lesbian writers, and iconic entertainers are not ordinary—they are, nevertheless, not makers of history so much as humans dealing with life's choices and the historical changes swirling around them as best they can.
The book is composed of an editor's introduction and twelve biographical chapters, separated into five chronological sections. Each section opens with a very concise, informative, and jargon-free historical overview of the period that it covers. For the non-Japanese specialist, these overviews provide an ample framework in which to place and to understand the biographies. To further aid those unfamiliar with Japanese history, each chapter opens with a brief synopsis of the main figure to be discussed and the social, political, or cultural sphere that figure occupied in Japan. Walthall has done an excellent job in unifying the twelve authorial voices into one, as each chapter flows effortlessly into the next, with no essay standing out from the others.
A major theme of this work is family and the ways in which people try to protect and to advance their family. Cecilia Segawa Seigle's essay on Princess Shinanomiya provides a glimpse into the trials and tribulations of a seventeenth-century Japanese aristocratic family and the shared human experiences, such as births, deaths, and family turmoil, [End Page 99] that these refined people had to deal with. Gail Lee Bernstein's account of an early twentieth-century rural patriarch who sent all fourteen of his children to college is illuminating for what it reveals about the power of education to socially advance one in the world, while at the same time not necessarily delivering personal happiness.
Another theme that courses through many of the essays is the role of women in history. Nishimiya Hide was the daughter of a low-ranking samurai. In her youth she served as an attendant to the wife of a very prominent Tokugawa leader. As the world Hide had grown accustomed to crumbled in the 1860s, she was forced to make it on her own. AnneWalthall's account of Hide's entrepreneurial endeavors—supplying rental futons to brothels, raising chickens, running a geisha house, money lending, running her own shoe store—is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the Meiji period and to the fortitude of Japanese women during a period in which they are usually overlooked. As Sally A. Hastings reveals, Hatoyama Haruko was a highly educated woman who epitomized the Meiji ideal of "good wife, wise mother" (ryosai kenbo). While Haruko believed that it was a woman's duty to support her husband and raise their children, she felt it was equally important for women to be educated, for only in that way could they be good wives and wise mothers. Though Hatoyama Haruko does not fit the mold of a modern feminist, this wife of a prominent politician and mother of a future prime minister was ahead of her time in her insistence that women were the intellectual equals of men. Another woman who proved herself to be the intellectual equal of men was the prolific and popular prewar lesbian writer Yoshiya Nobuko, who faced societal and governmental prejudice and has been ignored in anthologies of Japanese women writers because of her lifestyle. Nevertheless, as Jennifer Robertson argues,Yoshiya is a model woman who should be admired because she chose her own future and she gained financial independence on her own in a male-dominated world.
How people adapted to the modernizing world is yet a third theme of this work. M. William Steele's depiction of the Ishizaka of Notsuda...