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  • Samurai to Soldier: Remaking Military Service in Nineteenth-Century Japan by D. Colin Jaundrill
  • Oleg Benesch
Samurai to Soldier: Remaking Military Service in Nineteenth-Century Japan by D. Colin Jaundrill. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv + 229. $39.95 cloth.

D. Colin Jaundrill's Samurai to Soldier is an important, well-argued book that addresses a significant gap in our understanding of Japan's transition from the Tokugawa to Meiji periods. Focusing on the making of the modern Japanese military, Jaundrill provides a substantial contribution to debates concerning continuity and change before and after the Meiji Revolution of 1868. Samurai to Soldier places the 1872 conscription order in a much longer process of military reform. In doing so, Jaundrill challenges existing narratives that portray this event as the end of the warrior-centered order or the beginning of a new type of army reliant on commoner recruits. Samurai to Soldier takes its story to the eve of the Sino-Japanese War in 1894, before a decade of major military expansion further changed the relationship between soldiers and society. The end point of this study reflects Jaundrill's focus on the Tokugawa–Meiji transition, as well as his wariness of approaches that read early Meiji military history primarily through later events, especially the conflicts of the 1930s and 1940s.

One particular strength of the book is its interweaving of military and social history. This approach to the Japanese past is recognized in the works of scholars including Katō Yōko, Stewart Lone, Richard Smethurst, and Yoshida Yutaka, to name but a few.1 A major recent [End Page 344] milestone is the nine-volume series Chiiki no naka no guntai 地域のなかの軍隊.2 Much of the earlier work deals with aspects of the imperial period, but Chiiki no naka no guntai spans its entirety. Here, one strength of Jaundrill's study is his illuminating our understanding of developments before and after the Meiji Revolution. In line with more recent trends, Jaundrill argues for an approach that sees militaries as "actors" in the making of modern nation-states rather than mere "extensions" of them (p. 6). At the same time, Jaundrill is careful not to overestimate the influence of the military on broader society, especially during periods of rapid transition when a wide variety of changes were happening simultaneously. At these junctures, Samurai to Soldier focuses on the military aspects of the history, including tactics, organizational changes, and technological developments. In this regard, a great deal here is certainly of interest to military historians. The discussion of Japan's adoption of modern firearms drill in the 1850s is especially interesting: it reveals the opposition reformers faced from the established martial artists and other parties with vested interests.

Gunnery reform is the central theme of the chapter 1, which covers 1841–1860. This chapter is structured around a close study of the Takashima-ryū 高島流 school of gunnery, which was originally founded in the 1830s on the basis of European texts acquired through Dejima 出島 (the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki Bay). Jaundrill plots the development of the school from these origins to its receiving shogunal patronage and its role in introducing the newest technology from Europe. At the same time, Takashima-ryū suffered from a major backlash from other established martial arts groups that taught more traditional Japanese gunnery, swordsmanship, and other disciplines.

The shogunate's inability to push through its own martial arts reforms in the face of groups with such vested interests reflects larger issues and provides another perspective for viewing the ultimate [End Page 345] collapse of the Tokugawa. Even in domains such as Satsuma 薩摩, attempts to modernize gunnery during the 1850s largely failed due to conservative intransigence; some warriors even harbored a desire to revert to the tactical ideals of the sixteenth century. As Jaundrill persuasively argues, the major problem with modern gunnery was that this technological military reform necessitated organizational reform that undermined existing power structures. This idea ties in with his larger argument concerning the military's role in shaping the nation-state. Jaundrill places the shogunate's attempts at reform in the broader context of changes in warrior status over the course of the Edo...


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