cover image The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu

The Last Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Yoshinobu

Ryotaro Shiba. Kodansha America, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-1-56836-217-5

As the late Shiba admits, the story of Tokugawa Yoshinobu (1837-1913) the 15th and last shogun of Japan, is not one that ""lends itself easily to retelling"" even for those very familiar with the history of the shogunate--the military, as opposed to the civil, government that ruled Japan. Yoshinobu seems to have anticipated that the political system that would make him shogun was an unwieldy relic--a prediction that was validated by his tenure of only two years. His reluctance seemed straightforward enough, yet numerous political assignations and assassinations, the threat and allure of the West as embodied in U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's ship anchored in Edo Bay, and the warring factions of the crumbling shogunate prompted several abrupt about-faces, which surprised even his closest advisers. This is the first complete work of the historical novelist and newspaper reporter Shiba (1923-1996) to be translated into English. Immensely prodigious and popular in Japan, Shiba writes with an easy if occasionally lugubrious style--""Keiki was as uncomfortable as if he had caught a whiff of his father's viscera."" His confident omniscience, complete with reconstructed dialogue, may not travel well, but his curiosity about and keen observation of the human condition will. He manages to make his subject's convoluted twists and turns quite palatable to Meiji-era neophytes. (May)