The Shortest History of Japan

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A definitive new history of Japan, where ancient meets cutting-edge in unique and startling ways

Zen, haiku, martial arts, sushi, anime, manga, film, video games ... Japanese culture has long enriched our western way of life. Yet from a western perspective, Japan remains a remote island country that has long had a complicated relationship with the outside world.

Even at the nearest point, Japan - an archipelago strung like a necklace around the Asian mainland - is considerably farther from Asia than Britain is from Europe. The sea provides an effective barrier against invasion and has enabled the culture to develop in unique and distinctive ways. During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shoguns successfully closed the country to the west. After Japan opened, it swung in the opposite direction, adopting western culture wholesale. Both these strategies enabled it to avoid colonisation, one of the very few non-western countries to do so, and to retain its traditions and way of life.

This delightfully readable history will be of interest to people who know nothing about Japan, but also full of insights for those who do, with an aha! moment on every page. With a novelist's eye for colour and character, Lesley Downer takes the reader through the great sweep of Japanese history, focusing on the dramatic stories of larger-than-life individuals - from emperors descended from the Sun Goddess to warlords, samurai, merchants, court ladies, women warriors, geisha and entrepreneurs who shaped this extraordinary modern society.