Review: Japan and the Shackles of the Past

Japan and the Shackles of the Past (What Everyone Needs to Know) - R. Taggart Murphy
TL;DR Version: Japan and the Shackles of the Past takes us on a journey through the past and present of Japan, concentrating on the political and economical impacts throughout history and how they made Japan what it is today. This is very interesting for those who enjoy the political and economic history of a country, but the overall book can come off dry and overly long.

Full Review:
When I first picked up Japan and the Shackles of the Past, I was expecting a book that would take us through the history of Japan and show how the past effects the present, and the future. While this book does that, it is not in the way that I expected. Concentrating on the political and economical impacts, the author takes us on a journey from the Heian period, through the days of the Shogunate, into WWII and the aftermath, and to the present day. We watch leaders rise and fall, the establishment and then destruction of the class system, and Japan's efforts to first segregate themselves from Western ideologies before later trying to establish themselves as a international business contender.

The main theme through the first eight chapters is Japan's economy and political structure.. but again, even the political structure feeds back into the economy - both influencing it and being influenced in turn. While the author does a really good job of explaining the power struggles in a way that someone unfamiliar with Japanese history would still understand, he seems to be under the assumption that the reader will be well-versed in some of the more obscure political and economical terms. This leads to a rather dry and sometimes confusing book.

Chapter Nine finally takes us on a slightly different path, showing us more of the current cultural impacts that Japan has on the world. From music, anime, and manga to street fashion and cuisine, Japanese culture has a wide impact globally. Unfortunately, this section is short and the author quickly takes us back into politics, with most of Chapter Ten referencing back to previous political parties and occurrences, often explaining something that was explained in a previous chapter. Chapter Eleven finishes out the book by illustrating Japan's current political place in our world.

As a lover of history, I was excited to see this book. Japan is a fascinating place with a very different culture, and I was hoping to learn a lot more about Japan itself. What I didn't expect was a book that edged on boring, concentrating most on the financial aspect of the country and less on the historical and cultural references. I understand that a country cannot survive without an economy of some sort, but that is not all that there is to a county. My overall impress was that the book skimped on the historical references at the beginning and the barely gave us the cultural impacts toward the end - compressing everything about popular culture and current gender roles into the smallest chapter of the book - giving this book the feel of a political/economic textbook rather than the "indispensable guide to understanding Japan in all its complexity" that it claims to be.

Three stars given for the depth of information given, but this book is better left to strictly economic and political scholars, especially those who have patience for a dry writing style and repetition. If you're looking for a book that emphasizes the history of Japan, the cultural influences of Japan, or even what it is to be Japanese, I recommend that you look elsewhere.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


EDIT: I removed my review from Amazon due to harassment, so the link to the amazon review has been removed as well. Thank you.