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History in Review

Reading Colonial Japan: Text, Context, and Critique

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Reading Colonial Japan
Text, Context, and Critique. Edited by Michele M. Mason and Helen J. S. Lee. (Stanford University Press, Stanford: 2012. xiv, 302 pages, Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-8047-7697-4

Reviewed by Harry S. Chou - May 23, 2012

College students studying Japanese history are often constrained to reading material written in English by Western commentators and historians as there has been very little material translated from the original Japanese into English, thus restricting an in-depth study of Japanese history to those who can read Japanese. To help bridge this deficiency, Michele M. Mason and Helen J. S. Lee have compiled an anthology of texts on the Colonial Japanese experience. Originally written in Japanese, by Japanese authors, the essay's in this collection have all been translated into English. In addition, each text is preceded by a brief introduction and is accompanied by an essay that helps to put the various features in the text into context with world and Japanese history. A critique of each text is also included.

Covering the period from 1869-1945, this book looks at Imperial Japan and its actions as a colonial power, from the viewpoint of the Japanese. These texts help readers to get an 'insiders' look at how the Japanese internalized, understood, and benefitted from the colonial experience. These texts also provide insights into how the Japanese perceived the peoples that they had colonized. As such, Reading Colonial Japan: Text, Context, and Critique is an essential text that should be required reading in all university level courses dealing with Japanese history, Japanese studies, colonialism, cultural studies, and Asian history.

The texts in this anthology are eclectic in nature and cover a wide assortment of topics from cooking to the legal protections provide to those colonized. Also included are works of fiction, as well as commentaries written by a Japanese housewife living in Manchuria with her husband, and army officers. Throughout, these texts present an intriguing look at the Japanese colonial experience, and the contextual essays and critiques provide readers with an in-depth understanding, albeit uneven, of the Japanese view of Japan's Imperial ambitions. While designed for use in a classroom setting, this text will also be of great interest to general readers with an interest in Japanese history. Reading Colonial Japan: Text, Context, and Critique, edited by Michele M. Mason and Helen J. S. Lee will make an excellent addition to both public and private, academic libraries.

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