Rethinking Japanese History

Volume 74
Amino Yoshihiko
Translated and with an Introduction by Alan S. Christy
Preface and Afterword by Hitomi Tonomura
Calls on us to contemplate seriously the meaning of the deep past in our present day


In this fascinating journey across centuries, Amino Yoshihiko, the premier historian of medieval Japan, invites us to rethink everything we thought we knew about Japanese history. From reconsidering the roles of outcastes and outlaws, to the provenance of "Japan (Nihon)," to the very meaning of writing, Amino offers a powerful critique of the conventional wisdom about Japan's past. Instead of depicting Japan as an isolated island country full of immobile peasants dominated by swaggering warriors and an unbroken line of sacred emperors, he unveils a dynamic history of an archipelago driven by the competition to control trade and movement, in which warlords and aristocrats share the main stage with pirates, courtesans, beggars, and dancing monks.
Written for a nonspecialist audience and standing on a foundation of fifty years of research in a vast and eclectic range of primary sources, Rethinking Japanese History introduces the English reader to one of Japan's most original and provocative historians. Since the 1970s, Amino has inspired readers with his view of Japanese history "from the sea," in which the power politics of the samurai class were contrasted with the countervailing authorities of religious institutions, artisanal groups, and "lords of the sea" who enabled the movement of people and goods from the Asian continent to every harbor and village of Japan. In his portraits of an archaic and medieval past permeated with "places of freedom" and a grand struggle between ideologies of trade and agriculture, Amino challenged his contemporaries to reconsider not only their understanding of Japan's past, but also its present and future.
Rethinking Japanese History calls on us to contemplate seriously the meaning of the deep past in our present day. By challenging the reader to reexamine our presumptions of the past, Amino offers us a chance to reimagine the present.
"Amino Yoshihiko was one of the most brilliant, original, and influential Japanese historians of his generation. This elegant translation makes the wide scope of his work available to English-speaking readers for the first time. Amino's wonderful insights into centuries of human experience continue to transform the way in which we understand Japan's past and present, and to inspire new generations of historians of Japan."
—Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Australian National University
"In writing of underappreciated participants in Japanese history, Amino Yoshihiko ushers social groups, statuses, occupations, regions, and islands to the fore. He recovers the majority from the shadows of samurai and courtiers, emperors and poets, historians and translators. Equally significant, he returns Japan and Japanese to the sea by setting islanders in river, coastal, and foreign activities, especially trade. Mobility, of identity, of people, and of objects, emerges as a key theme, and places Japanese more deeply in the histories of the islands and the histories of areas beyond."
—Kenneth R. Robinson, Northeast Asian History Foundation
"It is a testimony to Yoshihiko Amino's influential legacy that his once iconoclastic views regarding Japanese history have now become mainstream. This bad boy of Japanese historiography from the 1970s until his death in 2004 questioned many prevailing views about Japan's history and in the process dispatched more than a few sacred cows. This is an engaging book, brimming with fascinating insights, that delves into the details to make broader arguments about early modern Japanese history. It stimulates readers to reexamine the nature of history and how it is represented."
—Jeff Kingston, The Japan Times
Alan S. Christy, the translator and author of the Translator's Introduction, is an Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was a member of Amino Yoshihiko's Tokikuni Family Research Project at the Institute for the Study of Japanese Folk Culture at Kanagawa University from 1991 to 1995. He has written on Japanese ethnography, Okinawa, and war memories and has translated Japanese scholarship on the same.
Hitomi Tonomura, author of the Preface and Afterword, is Professor of History and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. Her areas of study include war and violence, commerce and merchants, and gender and sexuality. Her next book will examine the gendered meanings associated with warfare and the war-prone society of medieval Japan. Her publications include Community and Commerce in Late Medieval Japan: Sô Villages of Tokuchin-ho, and Women and Class in Japanese History, as well as numerous articles.

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  • 360pp.

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  • 2012
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  • 2012
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