Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan
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Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  770 ratings  ·  72 reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer PrizeIn this groundbreaking biography of the Japanese emperor Hirohito, Herbert P. Bix offers the first complete, unvarnished look at the enigmatic leader whose sixty-three-year reign ushered Japan into the modern world. Never before has the full life of this controversial figure been revealed with such clarity and vividness. Bix shows what it was li...more
Paperback, 832 pages
Published September 4th 2001 by Harper Perennial (first published 2000)
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William
Herbert P. Bix's biography of Hirohito surpasses that of Edward Behr (Hirohito: Behind the Myth, New York, 1989) in depth and nuance. Bix has spent an enormous amount of time among original Japanese-language sources. Behr consults Japanese-language sources infrequently, and when he does so it is through translation. Since Hirohito left virtually no writings that would have given substance to his views, Bix has had to look closely at the diaries left by those who worked with him, and other source...more
Hadrian
This long and comprehensive biography of the Shōwa Emperor in English has received critical acclaim here, and even a largely benign, if mixed, reaction in Japan. I browsed the Amazon.co.jp reviews after writing mine, and two of most popular negative reviews complained about the 'unintelligible' (意味不明) translation, but they considered the ideas in the book worthy of further analysis.

The main thesis of this book is that the Emperor Hirohito was not blameless in the conduct of the aggressive Japane...more
AC
Nov 24, 2010 AC rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: japan
I read this book several years ago, when it first came out in paperback -- I knew very little at that time (not that I know much now) about Japan, and so cannot say how good it is. I have read some of the criticisms of it. It certainly made a persuasive case, so far as I could tell, against what was still the common view that Hirohito was merely an uninvolved cipher, who was used by the militarists and ultranationalists. According to Bix, Hirohito firmly controlled events by allowing his ministe...more
Tyler Anderson
Whenever I construct a course of reading for myself, I always try to include an important biography of an major figure. This was my biographical selection for a short course (4 books?) on Japanese history I read in 2007. While overall I came away from this reading series feeling like I understood hardly any more about Japanese history and society than I had before I started, my gleanings from Hirohito were the notable exception. This wan an informative and engrossing narrative, digging pretty de...more
Emmanuel Gustin
The thesis defended by Bix is, as he states on page 683 of the paperback edition, that emperor Hirohito was "the vital energizing leader of the war." But in this he does not convince. Bix' hostility to his chosen subject and his lack of sympathy for the monarchical institution in any form frequently appear to lead him astray, drawing conclusions that reach too far beyond the available evidence. Crucially, the portrayal of Hirohito as an effective, authoritarian war leader conflicts with the obse...more
Chris
Wow, this was a tough one. It wasn't a bad book by any means - it was well-researched and informative and certainly illuminating. But it was a tough read anyway.

Bix had a very important purpose in writing this book other than simply writing a biography. He wanted to look at Hirohito's true role in the wars of Asian aggression and World War 2. One of the most enduring myths of modern Japanese history is that Hirohito was a passive ruler, manipulated by his advisers and the military. He pretty muc...more
Eugene Woodbury
Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert Bix is somewhat misnamed, as 600 of 700 pages deal with the first half of Hirohito's life, from 1901-1950. 1950-1989 constitutes a long footnote. It's more: Hirohito and the making of WWII. It is Bix's analysis of WWII that set this hefty biography apart from previous efforts and common wisdom.

In short, Bix argues that the Showa emperor, rather than being a passive pawn of the Tojo militarists, was deeply involved in every aspect of WWII. He was...more
Michael Gerald Dealino
"It wasn't me!" "No soy culpable!" " "Wala akong kasalanan!"

There are times in our lives when we become defensive, especially when something wrong did occur. But I guess one of the most defensive persons in the twentieth century was the late emperor of Japan, Hirohito.

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Professor Herbert Bix does what Jung Chang and Jon Halliday did to Mao Zedong, in that it definitively lays out the truth that Hirohito, and the imperial system itself, bears the most resp...more
Jonathan
A very thorough and readable political biography. Bix's thesis is that Hirohito ruled as well as reigned, and that he was one of those directly responsible for Japan's aggression and war crimes in the Second World War. A combination of Japanese duplicity and the American occupiers' policy under MacArthur saved the emperor from prosecution as well as the throne itself, which the Americans found convenient for keeping order in Japan as it demobilized and reconstructed after the war. My problems wi...more
Adelle
This was wasn't a book that pulled you along. I found I had to push myself to read it. I think a large factor in my struggle was that it was difficult for me to keep track of the various Japanese names. Also, I didn't have a strong Asian history background to build on. But once Hirohito assumed the throne, and once I could tell that his decisions were building towards WWII---of which I have some basic knowledge0--it became an interesting read. I never got the hang of the names, though.
George
Embracing Defeat -- meet your match! As with Dower's book, Bix makes heavy use of Japanese language primary source materials. Bix is coy in the beginning when he warns the reader that access to historical imperial records remains limited, but the breadth and depth of his research can't be faulted in the slightest. A highly enjoyable and insightful read!
Chris
My first biography of one person in years. A great take down of Hirohito's historical whitewashing and political exoneration and particularly strong in the postwar chapters.
Elizabeth
I remember it being a lot dryer than I was expecting it to be.
Laura
The author's thesis is that Emperor Hirohito was not a traditional "constitutional monarch" in the European sense of the meaning, that he did not sit powerlessly and passively by while his ministers made all the decisions, until after Nagasaki he stepped forward and suddenly, somehow, exercised his will to bring peace. Instead, the author persuasively makes the case that Hirohito exercised power from the time he assumed the throne, while careful never to publicly be seen to do so. According to B...more
Matt
Minor complaint: Classified by the Pulitzer committee as non-fiction, but is much more of a biography.

There are madmen (Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Mao). There are despots (Pinochet, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, Charles Taylor, Milosevich). There are statesmen (MLK Jr., Washington). There are stereotypical politicians (the majority). And then there are the miscellaneous. The buffoons (Chiang Kai-Shek), the figureheads (post-WWI European royalty), the revolutionaries (Lenin, Ho Chi Minh), and the visi...more
Kevin
I'm really enjoying this book. The author makes a great case that Hirohito was far more than a figurehead through World War II and also manages to convey a lot more detail about how the institution of the Japanese throne has operated since Meiji.

The book offers reasonable detail on Hirohito's actions but sometimes gets bogged down on terminology and doesn't quite give enough cultural background to convey the significance of certain aspects of Japanese history and culture.

It is very readable, bu...more
Arianp
Herbert P. Bix’s purpose in writing Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is to inform the readers about one of the greatest leaders of all time. He presents a thorough description and understanding of the man himself and how his actions changed the course of mankind. All the characteristics and traits of the man known as Hirohito are presented in a way that shows how his personality reflected on him. This book delves into the upbringing and character of Hirohito. Herbert P. Bix’s Hirohito an...more
Brian
Very detailed and informative read (overly detailed and dry at times), this book would probably be more beneficial for academic readers with at least a rudimentary understanding of the era and key players (not me). There is enough here factually probably to call this a five star book, but for reading enjoyability, perhaps only a 3.5 star book.

Somewhat revisionist look at Emperor Hirohito, arguing that contrary to historical remembrances, he was not a figurehead at the mercy of the military befor...more
Maureen
I would have enjoyed this more if it were a little less dense. The level of detail in the book is higher than I'd think most laypeople need or are interested in reading. This is especially true for the first third of the book, which focuses mainly on Hirohito's upbringing and early years on the throne.

In the second third, the author uses the boatload of facts and names to pretty convincingly shoot down the official story of a powerless emperor forced into war by Tojo's cabinet. He gives extensi...more
James Williams
It's horribly embarrassing for me to say it, but the only thing that I can think of to say about this book is that it is very, very, very dense.

I don't use that word as a pejorative (though, of course, I also don't mean it for a compliment). I'm not a high school student terrified of a thick book. Similarly, I'm also not an intellectual who can devour rich works of non-fiction in an afternoon. Instead, I use the word in a purely descriptive sense. This book is dense: it's filled with meticulous...more
David
I spent a little over three years in Japan in the US Air Force 1969-1972. While I was there I read many books about Japanese history as well as some of their popular fiction (translated into English) and found them to be quite fascinating. This book by Herbert P. Bix has been on my list for a while because of the topic as well as the author's credentials and I finally read it. All I can say is it was very thoroughly researched, well written, and I learned a lot about the Emperor's part in the ev...more
フィル
For both researchers of Japanese history and the average person alike, Herbert Bix's text will prove simply indispensable for the bookshelf. By no means a simple text, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan never the less puts Emperor Showa (Hirohito), the Imperial government, and the nation of Japan and its role on the world stage - a generation prior to, during, and immediately following The Second World War - into sharp focus. At times controversial and critical, yet unabashedly honest, this...more
Hatuxka
The message is damning and relentless. Hirohito is the one person most responsible for WWII in the Pacific, and the destruction of China and Japan with all the loss of life and atrocities and disaster. The case for Hirohito basically matching Hitler in the level of evil but more banal, cold and slightly removed is tightly woven and requires careful, attentive reading to even get half of the arguments. The names come and go as the march toward worlds war begins in the late 20s. What was surprisin...more
Anna
May 05, 2009 Anna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Anna by: Mrs. Wakita
Shelves: 2009
It's hard to answer the ethical questions surrounding Emperor Hirohito: Was he a latent mastermind or a puppet of the army? Should he bear most or some of the responsibility for massacres in China and elsewhere in southeast Asia? Bix's biography, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, starts by describing Japanese feudal society and the emperor state in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He gives a detailed portrait of what Hirohito's life was like as a child, how he was treated as a g...more
Dean MacKinnon-Thomson
4/5

A thoroughly well researched biography into the life and influences (and thoughts) of one of the more hard to grasp figures in 20th century global politics. The author delves into his very upbringing, using it to perhaps explain and unravel the 'whys' and 'hows' surrounding the Showa Emperor apparent character contradictions.

If you like biographies which hold no bars, reserve judgement, and instead focus on explaining and investigating this is your thing. The moralising which is so often a ri...more
James Calbraith
This is not so much a biography, as a trial. In lieu of the war crimes tribunal, Herbert Bix decides to be the judge, jury and executioner all at once.

The problem is, if it was a real trial, his prosecution would fail on all counts. Yes, if you read between the lines of the official missives and secret reports presented by Bix, you can sort of see how Hirohito pulled the strings of the war cabinet - but reading between the lines is no proof, and no justification for the strong negative bias of t...more
Shawn Buckle
Bix through indefatigable and scrupulous research paints Hirohito as the undeniable person in which the Pacific War was waged for. While he doesn't come out and say SCAP should have tried him along with Tojo, I think under it all, his goal is to put an end to the conversation that Hirohito was indeed responsible - sometimes through action but always in name - irregardless of SCAP actions. There hasn't been a better book written on the Showa Emperor. Meiji's importance comes in rectifying Emperor...more
Felicia`
The first half of the book was a bit of a slog. The reason I'm giving four stars, however, is that this book presents a thesis to which much of the world is still seemingly ignorant. Until reading this book, I was also under the impression that Hirohito had no real hand in Japan's rising militarism and instigation of the Pacific War. Bix makes a pretty strong argument that the emperor was directly responsible for Japan's militaristic rise and imperial expansion. I'm glad I made it through this b...more
Elisa
A well-researched biography that levels the myth that emperor Hirohito was just a symbolic dupe during the war.

Bix is relentless when it comes to unmasking the truth. He writes, again and again, that the Japanese never really owned up to their guilt and responsibility for the war because their emperor always evaded the question.

The most revealing fact is how Japan considered itself, by divine right, the rightful ruler of all of Asia, so that whatever atrocities it committed before, during, and...more
Jason Chodyniecki
In "Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan", Bix sheds light on some of the most controversial parts of modern Japanese history. He reveals information that had often been misconstrued by post-war media/government about The Showa Emperor's life and his role in the government of Japan. Bix includes details all the way from the late Meiji era to the beginning of Heisei and uses these details to paint a picture of the entire government of Japan, the Japanese people, and the evolution of both. The...more
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