cover image Modern Japanese Diaries: The Japanese at Home and Abroad as Revealed Through Their Diaries

Modern Japanese Diaries: The Japanese at Home and Abroad as Revealed Through Their Diaries

Donald Keene, Author Henry Holt & Company $50 (534p) ISBN 978-0-8050-2055-7

Using excerpts from the diaries of diplomats, artists, writers, women and students, Keene, Shincho professor emeritus at Columbia University, discusses Japanese history and culture through Japanese reactions to the West from the mid-19th century, when the country was first opened up to the outside world, to 1920. Each diarist's account is accompanied by the author's commentary as well as notes and bibliography that provide a context for the individual's remarks. In 1859, Muragaki Norimasa, a high-ranking officer of the shogunate, went as an envoy to Washington, D.C., where he met President Buchanan and attended a session of Congress. He complained of the ``lack of distinction between high and low'' and noted that the president ``dressed exactly like a merchant."" Some of his compatriots enjoyed the informality and freedom of America; all seemed troubled by foreign dress, food and manners. In these journal entries the distinctions between Japan and the West become more vivid than in many formal accounts. Though a knowledge of Japan's history and literature would help readers, this is still a superb contribution to our understanding of the Japanese. (Mar.)