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Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,997 ratings  ·  156 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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Bharat Iyengar I have read "The Rising Sun" and in it the Emperor is portrayed as a passive and powerless person who reluctantly participates in the war effort of…moreI have read "The Rising Sun" and in it the Emperor is portrayed as a passive and powerless person who reluctantly participates in the war effort of his generals/admirals and ministers.

This book, however, challenges that perspective and depicts Hirohito as a determined, shrewd and a somewhat despotic personality who actively directed the war effort. I am yet to finish the book but the author has clearly mentioned the above in the introduction.

So, I would say that there is no reading order.(less)

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3.82  · 
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William2
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20-ce, nonfiction
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
Louise
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan, biography, wwii
As the title suggests, this is a political and not a personal biography of Hirohito. Herbert Bix shows that by selecting the information you want to consume, you can see him as a pacifist or leader of the war effort; nevertheless, Bix builds a solid case for Hirohito’s ultimate responsibility in leading Japan to war.

The closest the book gets to personal is the description of Hirohito growing up in the shadow of his over-esteemed grandfather and his (perhaps mentally deficient) father. His over-s
...more
Dan
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Hirohito is an important and exhaustive history of Japan’s most famous emperor that won the Pulitzer for General Non Fiction in 2001. This is an objective biography that holds Hirohito at least partially responsible for the the WWI and WWII Japanese atrocities against Korea, Shanghai, Nanking and the Philippines.

The early portion of the book covers Hirohito’s childhood up to his assumption of the throne in his early 20’s. These chapters were a fascinating read. We see the extreme privileges tha
...more
AC
Nov 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
S. Miles Lotman
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The American novelist, William Faulkner, famously said, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” His subject matter was black-white race relations and the legacy of slavery in the American South, but his words serve the Japanese experiment in twentieth century imperialism, the scars of its militarism yet unhealed, and the descendants of the rulers and the oppressed nursing respective grievances. World War II ended nearly seventy years ago, the blood spilled long since washed away, but a new ...more
Tyler Anderson
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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
Clif
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It's difficult for an American, living under the philosophy that we are all equally human and have a right to elect those who govern, to understand a system where one person is considered divine and entitled to rule absolutely. Japan no longer has such a system but it did from 1868 (the Meiji Restoration) until the end of World War II.

This 700 page book covering the life of Emperor Hirohito gives the reader a detailed account of how the Japanese system worked, in the process providing a view of
...more
Colin McEvoy
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had been interested in reading Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan ever since I had seen an exhibit of American anti-Japanese propaganda advertisements from during World War II, which used extremely exaggerated Asian stereotypes in its portrayals of the emperor. In addition to being highly offended by the overt racism, it occurred to me that I really didn't know much about Hirohito himself, and my only real impression of him was that he was largely a figurehead who was forced into the war ...more
J.M. Hushour
Oct 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Reviewing works of history can be tough when you're approaching it from the perspective of a non-expert. I am no Asian Studies scholar and especially not a student of Japanese history. I have, however, some experience with reading and critiquing historical writing, so I feel fairly confident in asserting that for the lay reader, this book might be a bit much.
Bix's main thesis is that Hirohito was no pawn, no figurehead, and figured prominently in many of the bad decisions that lead to lots of of
...more
Aaron Million
Dec 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Bix writes about as good of a biography as possible about Hirohito - Japan's disappointing and selfish Emperor from 1926-1989. All but the last forty pages focuses on Hirohito's life up to the late 1940s when he was obsessed with making sure that he was absolved of any culpability in starting WWII and then delaying Japan's surrender. The bulk of the book is on the "China incident", in reality Japan's invasion and occupation of China in 1931, through the 1930s, the long build-up to attacking the ...more
Susan O
Very well-written and documented book. I enjoyed Bix's writing style and learned a lot about a subject I knew little about.
Peter
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a fantastic read. This book really delves into the aspects of the Japanese and its emperor that never are addressed in modern popular literature. Dr. Bix did an excellent job in describing Hirohito and the political movements that influenced the twentieth century from the perspective of the Japanese themselves.

I would highly recommend this book if you are looking to broadening your worldviews.
George
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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!
Sotiris Makrygiannis
When you have access to the daily logs of the Emperor you could write so much detail, for nothing. The bottom line was that if you are worshiped like a god, even if you lose a war still you can be innocent. You get some understanding of the culture and way of thinking but if full of details that are boring.
Chris
Jan 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, japan
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
prcardi
Composition: 3/5
Evidence: 3/5
Writing Style: 2/5
Balance: 2/5

Titles matter, particularly when setting expectations. One can be forgiven for assuming this to be a biography - the first word is Hirohito after all, and the work did win the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography/Autobiography. One coming to this, as I did, expecting an in-depth look at the life of WWII Japanese Emperor Hirohito is set for disappointment. The title, more observant readers might have noted, includes not simply
...more
Henry Smith
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well written, well researched with majority Japanese primary document sources. Argues that Emperor Hirohito had a larger role to play in the shaping of Japan during his reign than the standard narrative believes. Through the use of indirect power and subtle manipulation of those around him, Hirohito was able to ensure his wishes were never too deviant from the realized Japanese imperial policy. One issue I had is that I couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to the story than what was to ...more
Bharat Iyengar
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
A well referenced book that contradicts the popular belief of Hirohito being a passive, apolitical emperor. Despite the high amount of information, the book is easy to read.

The book has three parts. The first part describes how the young crown prince was intensely trained to become an emperor. The second part is about Hirohito's role in the war and the third part is about his post-war life and attempts to project his image as a peace loving emperor.

Although, I agree with the author that it is d
...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have read volumes about Japan, its history, the Pacific War, the American Occupation, and so on, therefore I was in no hurry to read this book as I didn't think I had much to gain from it. It has been on my radar for years, though, and once I picked it up I really couldn't stop reading. And the knowledge I gained is invaluable, with Bix's immaculate research destroying and rebuilding much of what I already knew. It's not a book I would recommend to those with little knowledge of the Showa era ...more
Ann Otto
Feb 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I love biographies. An upcoming trip to Japan and research on my father's WW2 service in Burma led me to a book about the making of modern Japan. The book explores the still ongoing disagreements surrounding Hirohito's part in WW2. Was he basically a pacifist led down a stormy road by the military; or, was he in control of the morass that became the goal of taking over Asia? The book has little of his life prior to the 1920s and after WW2. Numerous journals, his and many others, are used to try ...more
Maria
Hirohito was the Japanese emperor that lead his country to war in China and then attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor to gain access to the riches of the South Pacific. His active role in governing was covered up by the Japanese courtiers and by General MacArthur after the Japanese surrender. Hirohito spent the rest of his life trying to regain lost power and refusing to acknowledge his responsibility.

Why I started this book: Bix won the Pulitzer Prize for this biography, and he deserves it. Hiroh
...more
Eugene Woodbury
Oct 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
"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
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
Jonathan
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Tair Kuanyshev
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Very comprehensive book about controversial life of the Emperor Hirohito. The author believes that his role in the II World War was more than observervative and he had more responsibilities for Japan's involvement and hostilities during it. This book unveils how people around him greatly impacted to his decisions throughout his life. Overall this book gives a lot of thoughts about how people in Japan were ruled during most of XX century and how main decisions were made. Especially you can unders ...more
Adelle
Jun 19, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Jordan G.
Nov 22, 2015 rated it liked it
A bit disjointed and vague at times, no doubt because of the secrecy of imperial court matters as well as the widespread torching of records after WWII, and skimmed pretty quickly over the last 40 years of his reign, which was disappointing. Overall, certainly an enjoyable, fascinating read, but fell well short of my expectations for a Pulitzer winner.
Lis
May 17, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: i-quit
I really did want to learn about the emperor who most influenced modern Japanese society. But the writing style of this author, though it flows pretty smoothly often enough, is utterly confounding every 15 pages or so. Literally, incomprehensible sentences that take several minutes to sort out. I am not that committed.
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Herbert P. Bix (born 1938)is an American historian. He wrote Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, an acclaimed account of the Japanese Emperor and the events which shaped modern Japanese imperialism, which won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 2001.

Bix was born in Boston and attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst.He earned the Ph.D. in history and Far Eastern languages fr
...more