Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912
by Donald Keene
When Emperor Meiji began his rule, in 1867, Japan was a splintered empire, dominated by the shogun and the daimyos, who ruled over the country's more than 250 decentralized domains and who were, in the main, cut off from the outside world, staunchly antiforeign, and committed to the traditions of the past. Before long, the shogun surrendered to the emperor, a new constitut...more
Hardcover, 928 pages
Published April 10th 2002 by Columbia University Press
(first published 2002)
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Keene sets out to portray Meiji the man not the era, but ends up concluding that this "almost ostentatiously impassive" (718) monarch may not have had any personality beyond his driving sense of duty and a mess tent humor. The book is best approached as a court-centered history of Japan's most dynamic period of modernization and Westernization. As such it depicts in fine detail the interpersonal register of joining in the European nation-state system, such as the Japanese royalty becoming "cousi...more
Quite uncharacteristically I was unable to finish this biography. As I recall (and it's been several years) I couldn't get past about page 150. It wasn't that the subject matter wasn't fascinating; the problem was that Keene has no sense of priority. The book is loaded down with far too much detail with no concession to relevance.
In 1867, the final shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, resigned, ending centuries of tradition & a nearly 250 year-old shogunate founded by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1603. With abdication of the shogun, came the call for the emperor, who, was the focus of elborate rituals, but had absolutely no power under the shogunate, to be placed back in the forefront. The same year that Yoshinobu abdicated, Emperor Komei died & his teenage son took the throne as Emperor Mutsuhito, better known as Emperor Meiji who...more