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Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun's Last Samurai [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Romulus Hillsborough

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4. April 2014
"When people wonder who they should have as an ally, they're on the wrong track. What you want is an enemy. You can't get anything done without an enemy." —Katsu Kaishu, "The Shogun's Last Samurai"

Japan's dramatic rise from a political backwater to a great power; an inside look at the men and their times that shaped a nation.
Samurai Revolution tells the fascinating story of Japan's transformation from a backward country of feudal lords and samurai under the control of the shogun into a modern industrialized nation under the unifying rule of the Emperor. Japan's modern revolution spanned the third-quarter of the nineteenth century; knowledge of this history is essential to understand how and why Japan evolved into the nation it is today.

Samurai Revolution is divided into two books in one complete volume. Book I chronicles the series of tumultuous and bloody events between 1853 and 1868, collectively called the Meiji Restoration, the "dawn of modern Japan," when the shogun's government was overthrown and the Emperor was restored to his ancient seat of power. Book 2 covers the first turbulent decade of the restored monarchy in which the new Imperial government worked desperately to consolidate its power and introduce innovations that would put Japan on equal footing with Western powers that threatened to dominate it. The government clashed with disgruntled samurai who felt left behind amid the whirlwind of changes toward modernization. Highlighted is the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, a failed samurai-led uprising that brought the end of the samurai way of life.

As the first comprehensive history and analysis in English examining all the key players in this epoch drama, Samurai Revolution is the result of over twenty-five years of research. Throughout the book the author quotes extensively from the journals, memoirs, histories, and letters of Katsu Kaishu, a prolific writer, founder of Japan's modern navy, and later supreme commander of the shogun's military, who earned the epithet "the shogun's last samurai." These original translations give an insider's view, which along with the grand historical narrative provide readers with an unparalleled insight into this most momentous period in Japanese history.


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"Hillsborough's prose is cinematic and intense."—The Wargamer

"This fine book is one of only a small number of books in the English language that gives a true and authentic account of Japanese history."—Tsutomu Ohshima, Chief Instructor, Shotokan Karate of America

"This is a fascinating study of a fascinating period, when an ancient culture was forced to come to terms with the modern world and almost uniquely managed to achieve a rapid transformation…" —

"Hillsborough deserves high praise for successfully combining high drama…with meticulous scholarship."—The Daily Yomiuri

"Hillsborough…has done a masterful job of bringing a chaotic period to life."—Booklist

"With his easily readable and entertaining style, Hillsborough does a great job of elucidating the complex customs that ruled Edo Period life and politics."—The Japan Times

"We found it to be not only an excellent biography of Katsu, but an exceedingly well-done, intricate, and clearly written overview of this vital period of Japanese history." —Samurai Archives

"…Samurai Revolution serves as a compelling and timely warning for America today. Hillsborough astutely captures the serious consequences of self-imposed isolation, xenophobia and failure to adapt to the changing world." —Major Christopher J. Heatherly, Armchair General

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Romulus Hillsborough lived in Tokyo for sixteen years, immersing himself in the study of Japanese language, history and culture. Hillsborough's books include Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai and Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps. He lives with his wife, Minako, and son, Matthew, in San Francisco.

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Definitely a very good book, but some important quibbles 20. Juli 2014
Von Rekishi no Tabi - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
In Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun's Last Samurai, Mr. Hillsborough does a very good job of presenting the twists and turns of the Bakumatsu period, making it easily digestible for readers with a basic knowledge of this turbulent period of Japanese history. Hillsborough's efforts make up for many of the deficiencies that plagued his earlier works and pleasantly surprised this reviewer. This book is certainly less hyperbolic and definitely more scholarly when compared to Ryoma: Life of a Renaissance Samurai, Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps and Samurai Tales. Hillsborough's efforts do deserve to be commended and I would say that this is probably the second best book in English that covers the complete Bakumatsu period. The best book on the topic, in my opinion, still continues to be M. Beasley's The Meiji Restoration. However, Mr. Hillsborough's Samurai Revolution is definitely worth a read for anyone with an interest in Japanese history and especially the downfall of the Tokugawa shogunate. This book is also valuable in that it gives good insight into how Katsu Kaishū, the shogun's "last samurai" referred to in the book's title, perceived events and the major players of the period. No translations of Kaishū's own writings or the transcriptions of the detailed interviews with him exist in English, so this is a rewarding treat, as the man is without a doubt, one of the more fascinating figures who shaped this period of Japanese history.

While I would rate this book a solid 4 out of 5, I do have some quibbles and I think they are important. Firstly, the title: Samurai Revolution-- is the Meiji 'Restoration' truly a revolution, restoration or a coup? The Meiji regime's leaders wanted their country's populace and the world to believe that it was a restoration of imperial rule, but it most certainly wasn't. Although the emperor's status was raised within social and political circles, others, it was not the emperor, but rather those from the Satsuma-Chōshū clique which held the true reins of power. While some revolutionary things did take place during the Meiji period, the change of power in 1867-68 was nothing but a coup that exchanged the existing authoritarian regime with a different one.

Secondly, for all the sources listed in the bibliography, it seems there was an over-reliance on just a small number of them, as evident in the footnotes (should be noted that overall, the footnotes were quite interesting and useful). Also, it seems that Mr. Hillsborough still struggles at times to keep a neutral and unbiased view of events. These biases come out in his choice of diction as well as how he paints certain people and incidents in the same sort of hue that the winners of the Meiji Coup wanted the Japanese public to "see". He also truly seems to have trouble suppressing admiration for numerous samurai, such as Saigō Takamori, who helped orchestrate the Meiji coup and establish the militaristic and imperialist oligopoly that took power upon the demise of the Tokugawa and then white washing certain views and decisions.

Lastly, Hillsborough, while he does take time to explore the very plausible and interesting theory that the Emperor Kōmei was assassinated to help pave the way for the Meiji Coup completely ignores other conjecture that has been popping up over the last few decades that Saigō may have had a hand in the assassination of Sakamoto Ryōma. As it is clear that Mr. Hillsborough does hold both of these men in high esteem, it was disappointing to see that this theory was not covered-- perhaps as it would have cast Saigō in a negative light?

If Mr. Hillsborough's biases could have been held in check better in order to give readers a better balanced view of this fascinating and violent era in Japanese history, I would have given Samurai Revolution five stars. It is my hope that we will see more deep dives into Japanese history and the Bakumatsu period from the new and improved Romulus Hillsborough in the future-- but with more neutrality.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen A View into the Drama and Upheaval Ending the Japanese Feudal System from an Iron Man of Truth & Integrity 6. Mai 2014
Von Jay B. Abrams - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Samurai Revolution is a sweeping, panorama of the events that led to and comprised the Meiji Restoration—events that forced Japan to open to the outside world and to modernize. Hillsborough pays meticulous attention to details that provide in-depth insight into the events and the major players in this segment of Japanese history. The result is the opposite of a dry recitation of endless boring facts. Hillsborough provides an historical “soup” with flavor. The characters feel alive and real.

In particular, the main character of this book, Katsu Kaishu, walks a very thin tightrope, sometimes straddling it with one leg on either side. As a Tokugawa samurai, he is tough on his own people, being brutally honest with the members of the Bakufu, telling them that they should disband for the good of the country and losing his job as a consequence. Nevertheless, he endangered his own life to do his utmost to save Shogun Yoshinobu’s life, liberty, and honor.

He was a man of uncommon truth and honor and unshakable integrity, who was willing to suffer dire consequences for being honest. Many times he lost his job. Several times he refused promotions and resigned his position, only to be elevated higher, eventually to be revered as a modern day sage.

He saw the Japanese feudal system as degenerate and obsolete, with samurai drifting from their heritage, having become weak and only concerned with living the good life with their positions inherited by birth. He knew of his own greatness and resented having to serve superiors for whom he lacked respect. He had uncanny vision of the truth and astute foresight. He saw Japan as it was—a backward country suffering from selfishness and provincialism, desperately in need of a modern political system and military.

It is interesting to speculate how he would have seen the U.S. in 2014. While he admired this country for its merit system when he visited in 1860, he might have been surprised and disappointed if he visited today only to see selfish politicians and interest groups behaving like the modern day Bakufu.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Samurai Revolution - Written by a literary Samurai Master - Romulus Hillsborough! 6. Mai 2014
Von John Dondey - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
For someone who has been unforgivably not familiar with Japanese history, and most notably, the Samurai Era in mid-19th Century Japan, Samurai Revolution has opened my eyes to what transpired during that era. Romulus Hillsborough's more than in-depth research, passion for Japanese history, and understanding of Japanese culture, has translated into much more than just an accounting of what transformed feudal and agrarian Japan into an Industrial and Imperial empire in the 20th Century. That would simply be a history book. This is a very entertaining and elaborate piece, written from the frame of reference of its main character, Samurai Katsu Kaishu, along with other important Characters. The Book intertwines highly researched events into a storyline, told mainly through the eyes and emotions of these Characters. This made reading the Book a pleasure. I was especially taken aback by how much of a self-protected society Japan was, and the transformational events that changed the Country forever. I was well motivated to re-read what I had to in order to fully understand all Characters and events. Well done Romulus Hillsborough!
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5.0 von 5 Sternen An excellent narrative of a turbulent and revolutionary period of Japanese history 12. April 2014
Von Paul Tabe - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The author not only presents meticulous research on a facinating subject of Japanese history, he shows nuances and feelings which can only come out from a person who has immersed himself in Japanese culture. It was obvious that the author had lived in Japan for some time and it was also evident that he has a real passion for its history and culture. Wonderfully presented in not only an academic sense but with real feelings of those turbulent times as seen through the eyes and experience of extraordinary people caught in a revolutionary period of Japanese history.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen a must read. 8. April 2014
Von Norman Welch - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book is well researched and well written, a must read for anyone interested in Meiji era history. Not much is available in English about Katsu Kaishu and his contribution to Japanese history but Hillsborough has done a fine job of remedying that with Samurai Revolution. Hillsborough's account of the events leading up to and following the Meiji Restoration are both interesting and informative. Another enjoyable read from Romulus Hillsborough.
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