Books and more books…

A couple of weeks back, I impulsively checked out a couple of books from the local library on traditional Japanese architecture.  (I have to drive right past it on my way to the grocery store…  so I stop by quite often.)  A little digging in their bibliographies and some things found on the web, a visit to the all-too-tempting interlibrary loan section of my library’s website…  and this happened:


Happily digging into a variety of things related to Tokugawa era Japan…  Being a nerd in the 21st century is fun, a veritable water hose of knowledge available with little effort.

Tour of Duty I’m currently most of the way through…  Everyone knows about sankin-kōtai (“alternate attendance”), the process by which the Shogun kept tabs on and leash around the necks of the daimyo.  Tour dives deeply into the details of the process.  How it was organized, how it proceeded, and the cultural, social, and economic impacts.  It also talks about how the daimyo and the retainers lived in Edo, and what all those people did while they were there.  (The samurai served as guards, policemen, fireman around the city…  the retainers performed labor on various projects around the city.)  Fascinating stuff.

Everyday Things in Premodern Japan covers the physical culture of Tokugawa Japan – I.E. the “stuff” of daily life and how it was lived.

Voices of Early Modern Japan Translated documents, diaries, etc… the minutia of daily and official life.

Cartographic Japan Now this is the one I’m really looking forward to… over and above almost anything else, I’m a map nerd.  So a history of maps and map making in Japan is right in my wheelhouse.

Though I suppose I should have waited until I read them all to post so I could review them all…  Ah well, so it goes.  From the bibliography of Tour and searching the publisher’s catalogs, I’ve got quite a list of further books!  This won’t be the last such post…  :)

10 thoughts on “Books and more books…”

  1. Tour of Duty definitely sounds like a book that would interest me. I’ve always had some interest in the ways that governments organize and run themselves, and feudal Japan was one of the more interesting systems of government in world history with the way that it evolved, including the alternate attendance system (which I don’t actually know much about besides what I can still remember from my college classes).

    I still have all my books from the main Japanese history class I took in college, going on 20 years ago now. One I have that might interest you (if you can still find it) is called “Shikitei Sanba and the Comic Tradition in Edo Fiction.” It’s basically looking back at the formative years of popular fiction writing for the general Japanese public, back in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, especially light/comedic fiction. The author looks at the life and career of Sanba (best known for writing the Ukiyoburo, or “The Bathhouse of the Floating World” in English – several translated chapter from that novel are included in the book) as representative of the typical writer of popular fiction from that era. What kind of amuses me in hindsight is how it’s easy to spot a bunch of similarities between the nascent commercial writing profession of that era and the modern light novel boom, from the writers and publishers milking the latest fads and trends and often borrowing popular plot ideas from each other (even back then!), to the authors’ fondness for hiding their identities behind fancy pseudonyms (to the point where in some cases their real names have literally been lost to history).


    1. Sorry for the belated reply…

      Tour is definitely interesting. I knew the bare bones of the system, but had never really thought about how it worked in practice or the effects it had (socially, economically). So it’s fun to learn the details.

      When it comes to books, I’m much more interested in the nuts and bolts of the physical product than the contents. Growing up a printer’s son, it’s the physical product I dealt with. Plus books (as a physical object) are a useful proxy for so many other processes. (When steam power hits, things change fast.) I study food (as distinct from cooking) for the same reasons, it lies at the intersection of so many things…

      That being said, I wonder how the same period in the West compares? Cheap (mass market/pulp) fiction was rapidly dominated by genre pieces, which themselves were dominated by tropes. (Which still largely holds true today.) That’s one of the reasons I want to be rich! Most people want private islands or fast cars – I want a private academic/research institute. When a question like this occurs to me, I want to be able to pick up the phone and say “research this, write me a book on it, refuting, or supporting, or just informing” and have the book appear on my desk whenever it’s complete.


      1. The book itself actually digs a bit into that comparison to western mass-market writing. Quote from the introduction:

        “Evidence abounds that writer and publisher alike [in the early 1800s] were keenly attuned to shifts in public taste, that fads and market demands rather than individual inclinations tended to dictate what kind of books an author wrote. Much of Sanba’s non-comic writing, and that of his contemporaries, is characterized by techniques and devices familiar to anyone who knows something of mass-market fiction in the West. Formulaic plots…and stereotyped characters; exotic settings, violence, romantic love, and illicit liaisons; an almost scholarly attention to historical detail or to the fine points of the behavior and language of a contemporary subculture, whose effect is to lend a spurious authenticity to a fiction otherwise highly romantic and unrealistic.”

        Even setting aside Western genre fiction, doesn’t that last sentence basically describe about 95% of the modern Japanese light novels on the market today?

        BTW, Sanba was the son of a wood block carver, who prepared printing blocks for printers and illustrators, so he also grew up around the book trade.


  2. The one I’d probably most like to read is Everyday Things. That was my favourite approach to history while studying sociology at university. But they all sound very interesting.


    1. Sorry for the belated reply…

      I’d have started with Voices if Tour hadn’t come in first… my approach is more to the personal and individual experience. But thirty years of exposure to persona development in SCA probably informs that.

      One of these days I really need to get serious about mine. I know much more about Tokugawa Japan than I do about late 11th Century Anglo-Saxon England where my persona theoretically lives.


      1. Heh. I cast my net wide but rarely dig deep (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). I’d have neither the patience nor the motivation to keep up with a single persona, unless it’s something like shapeshifting sentient amoeba colony who’s been alive so long that it’s forgotten its origins (and probably hadn’t developed information retaining structures for its first few centuries).

        Voices would have been my second choice, btw.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Some people just pick a generic persona (my wife is “somewhere in France, sometime in the 15th century”) and leave it at that. They just want to play. Mine was chosen partially on a whim, partially to provide a backstory… But before I’d done any solid research. Turns out I’m not actually that interested in 11th Century Saxon England.

          I’ve been threatening to build an (alternate) Japanese persona for years, but intellectually I’m all too often “oooh! squirrel!” and off chasing some other shiny. The result is I’m also (generally) “wide but not deep”. (I do have a few deep topics…)


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