Japan's Critical Years: as Witnessed by an English Diplomat

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“Finally the treatment these true classics deserve: thoroughly re-edited and modernized texts, with glossary, index…and beautiful layout to boot.”

Ernest Mason Satow (1843–1929), a British scholar, diplomat and Japanologist, spent his young years as a translator and interpreter at the British Japan Consular Service between 1862 and 1883. Arriving in Yokohama in the wake of the Namamugi Incident, in which a British merchant was cut down from his horse along the Tôkaidô by samurai. Satow’s life in Japan becomes a long string of adventures in which he often finds himself at the center of events.

Sailing with the allied force sent out to enforce passage through the Shimonoseki Straits, he lands with British troops at Dannoura and, in the course of two heady days, sees action on several occasions. He also witnesses at close quarters the fighting between the shôgun’s army and the Satsuma-Chôshû alliance.

Due to his superb command of Japanese, he becomes privy to the intense negotiation between the foreign powers, the ancient Bakufu regime, and the small group of rising young statesmen from Japan’s most western provinces. In the course of these Satow’s gains a fascinating insight into the workings of a staid feudal society amidst the urgent need for modernization.

Satow’s memoir is a mesmerizing account of Japan’s initial struggles with belligerent foreign powers, the rise of the Satsuma-Chôshû alliance, the downfall of the Bakufu, and the eventual restoration of imperial authority and the establishment of a fledgling democracy, an event now known as the Meiji Restoration.

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