Inventing Japan: 1853-1964 by Ian Buruma - review by Martin Booth

Martin Booth

Decline and Rise

Inventing Japan: 1853-1964


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 190pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

In 1945, when Japan surrendered after the two atomic bombs were dropped, Emperor Hirohito broadcast to the nation on Japanese radio. It was the first time anyone outside the close confines of the royal court had ever heard his voice. The opening words of his speech accepting the terms of the Potsdam Declaration were: 'After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.' The extraordinary measure was unconditional surrender, something Japan had never known, nor contemplated since becoming a modern nation, and which was to herald and motivate its next great move forwards.

We tend to think that, until 1945, Japan was a nation of isolationists with a burning desire to rule over eastern Asia. As Ian Buruma writes, the truth is that, whilst it was expansionist in outlook and had an unbending imperialist regional agenda, it was already a modern country, having

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