In theory I love the whole idea of the A Very Short Introduction series, so it was time I finally read one. Since my husband is pretty interested in all things Japanese and has gotten me into some manga and anime, and everything else I know about Japan I learned from watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, I thought this would be a good book to pick up.
The book covers Japanese history from the arrival of Admiral Perry in 1853 to the current day, but also goes back to outline the Tokugawa Period which began in the 17th-century. Even when learning about parts of Japanese history I thought I knew somewhat well (WWII), I was surprised at how much I learned. I'm always asking my husband why the Japanese do X seemingly weird thing and his response is usually something along the lines of explaining that their cultural background is completely different from ours. Here I started to understand some of those differences. One of the main lessons Goto-Jones tries to get across in this book is that modern is not synonomous with Western and that while Japan is a thoroughly modern (or post-modern) culture, they are thoroughly Eastern, which can be further extrapolated to explain a lot about why Japan's modernity looks very different from Western modernity.
I liked it, but this is definitely not a stand-alone book. This seems like a really good supplemental book, perhaps for someone studying recent Japanese history or someone studying the Japanese language who wanted a clearer overview of Japanese history. With the supplemental nature of this book, I felt it would have been helpful to include a glossary in the back. Because everything was run through so quickly I often had trouble remembering important terms that popped up briefly in one chapter and then were brought up again a few chapters later with the assumption that the reader still remembered the term. I kept reading interesting sections and then being disappointed that there weren't more details to flesh out the rest of the story, so I may be spending some time with titles on the suggested reading list in the back. Definitely good for whetting my appetite.