Kathleen Krauth review of Voices of Early Modern Japan.


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Kathleen Krauth review of Voices of Early Modern Japan.
  70  E DUCATION A BOUT ASIA Volume 18, Number 3Winter 2013  Voices of Early Modern Japan Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life During the Age of the Shoguns  B Y C ONSTANTINE V APORIS W ESTPORT : G REENWOOD P UBLISHING G ROUP , 2012273 P AGES , ISBN: 978-0313392009, H ARDBACK Editor’s Note: This book is now also available in paperback through Westview Press, ISBN: 978-0813349008. Reviewed by Kathleen Krauth W e live in an age in which mostK-16 educators are requiredto do more, are held account-able for doing more, and are “rewarded”less and less. The increasing demands formore content (but what?), more skills(which ones?), and better display of “mas-tery” in ever-changing and higher stakesassessments distract us, at times, from thebasic goals of education. To return to those goals and balance the contentwith skills seem increasingly difficult. Constantine Nomikos Vaporis’s new book, Voices of Early Modern Japan: Contemporary Accounts of Daily LifeDuring the Age of the Shoguns , is a remarkable work in that it not only offers educators many topics and themes from the early modern era of Japan but also emphasizes how to read and understand a primary docu-ment. Because Vaporis’s text successfully presents content and skills, itserves as a model of how to meet the many demands of our jobs. High school and postsecondary teachers of Japan and Asia will find thisbook valuable for their teaching. The introductory essay in and of itself is anexcellent explanation of the complexities and developments of the 268-yearperiod of early modern Japanese history. Of course, the most importantcomponent of the book is the primary documents, and because of the intel-ligent selection of the sixty documents, Vaporis has made the Tokugawa pe-riod more accessible for students. The many and varied voices included inthese documents give humanity to a time and place that often seem distantand irrelevant to students, and because of their brevity, students can more ac-tively engage with the themes and developments of Edo Japan. For example,there are many different documents that address the theme of control. Onesuch document is the Prohibitions of 1615 , where “ shaving far too much of the hair off the top of the head, wearing one’s hair slicked back with oil orhaving the sideburns meet as a mustache” were restricted by the govern-ment. Instead of passively transcribing the idea of shogunate control intotheir notes from a reading or lecture, students can consider these specific at-tempts to control appearance, the reasons behind these attempts, and the ex-tent to which they may or may have not been followed. Combined with many other documents addressing this same theme, students will have a muchfuller understanding of Tokugawa society. In fact, in many ways, this book challenges simplistic thinking aboutthe past. One overly simplified and often-misunderstood part of this periodof Japanese history is the relationship between the emperor and the shogun.Vaporis includes documents that show even foreigners at the time con-fused the two leaders and their functions. To understand the role of theemperor as the legitimizing power but subordinate to the shogun is noteasy, and Vaporis addresses this relationship by including the document Regulations for the Imperial Palace and the Court Nobility  , which states,“The emperor is to be engaged in the arts, the first of which is scholarship.”The Regulations go on to detail what the emperor’s ceremonial robes shouldlook like. This document raises questions about the position and power of the emperor and changes in this position over time. Although the emperordid not wield any political power during this period, is that true for all pe-riods? How could the emperor be “restored” to power in the Meiji periodif he didn’t have power in the Tokugawa period? All of the primary docu-ments raise further questions and promote deeper thinking of the past tomore adequately prepare students for the world they are living in and willface in the future.Although the content is limited to one country in one era, Vaporis’s se-lection and framework for understanding these primary documents makesthe book helpful to teachers outside the area of Asia, especially World His-tory and AP World History teachers. Because of the many topics Vaporisincludes, the possibilities for comparisons across regions and time periodsare many: marriage, discrimination, recreation, religion, and politics, toname just a few. Comparing dowry practices across early modern societiesallows students to make connections not possible by studying a single R E S O U R C E S TEACHING RESOURCES ESSAYS Because of the many topics Vaporis includes, the possibilities for comparisons across regions and time periods are many: marriage, discrimination, recreation,religion, and politics, to name just a few.  71 country. In truth, I generally dislikecomparisons across time because stu-dents’ thinking tends toward the ahis-torical in too many ways, but themanner in which Vaporis has organ-ized and framed the documentsmakes the across-time comparisonsmeaningful and surprisingly relevant.For example, one of the questions Va-poris asks regarding the restrictionson samurai hairstyles in the Prohibi-tions of 1615 is to consider those in-stitutions in modern society thatregulate hairstyle and their reasons forthis regulation. Considering this issuein their own time and own society gives students new conceptual frame-works, connections, and understand-ings of the past and present.Unlike most other texts written by scholars, Vaporis never loses sight of the importance of translating the con-tent of these documents into effective and meaningful  learning for students.Vaporis constructs a set of seven questions to ask of every document, andthose seven questions are worth the entire cost of the book alone. They will definitely be on my wall during the upcoming year for my high schoolstudents from ninth to twelfth grade to consider every day. In addition tothese general questions, each of the sixty primary documents includes aninsightful introduction, related content points, vocabulary, probing and in-telligent questions to consider when reading the document, and furtherinformation for more complete understanding after having read the doc-ument. This framework is consistent throughout; the book actually em-phasizes critical thinking strategies that can be useful to any historical orcontemporary text. Voices of Early Modern Japan: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life Dur-ing the Age of the Shoguns is not appropriate for all K-16 educators—it isn’tmeant to be—but it is definitely workable from seventh grade through theearly years of college. Obviously for the seventh to ninth grades, the book can’t be used completely, but the documents and frameworks for readingthem lend themselves to many lessons and courses, even those not directly related to early modern Japan or Asia. Students in high school, community college, and introductory first and second-year courses can extend theircore content learning while attaining the skills of reading and under-standing primary documents and making connections across time andspace.And the objective—the most basic objective in all social studies class-rooms—must be to prepare students for their roles as citizens in an in-creasingly complex, constantly changing world. Constantine NomikosVaporis’s new book can help us teach students how to read and think morecritically; and that is one step, and not a small one, forward. 󰁮 KATHLEEN KRAUTH is a high school History Teacher at The American School in Japan(ASIJ), located in Tokyo, where she has taught since 2000. At ASIJ, she teaches a varietyof classes, including a senior honors seminar on Japanese history, which focuses on therelationship between the state and the individual in modern Japanese history throughunits on Okinawa, Yasukuni Shrine, Hiroshima, and now Fukushima. Kathleen is the winner of the 2013 Elgin Heinz Outstanding Teacher Award. R E S O U R C E S TEACHING RESOURCES ESSAYS Figure 4 on page 38 of Visions of Early Mod-ern Japan with the following caption: “SevenYears of Kaei (1854) daishoreki  [Samurai inArmor].” (By permission of the National DietLibrary.)
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