Book Review: War and State Building in Medieval Japan


by John A. Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, editors

Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010. Pp. xi, 180. Tables, gloss., notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 978-0-8047-6371-4

Political scientists Ferejohn (A Republic of Statutes, etc.) and Rosenbluth ( Japan Transformed , etc.) have brought together seven essays by noted scholars of Japanese history and culture that give us a look at various aspects of the formation of the Japanese nation-state during medieval and early modern times (c. 1185-1600). 

The essays – “They Were Soldiers Once”, “Community Vitality”, “Instruments of Change”, etc.) address such varied issues as the not quite “feudal” relationship between lords and retainers, the role of the samurai (about as encrusted with an unrealistic romantic aura as European knights) in the culture, the nature of community, and more, even the rise of the ninja. Quite usefully, the authors and co-authors of the various essays (eight in all), draw frequent parallels to contemporary developments in European history, noting, for example, similarities and differences between resistance to unification offered by mountain folk in Europe (the Swiss) and in Japan. 

Although marred by a lack of maps, this is a useful read not only for those interested in Japan, but also for students of late medieval and early modern Europe.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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