I have finally given up reading 「朝鮮開国と日清戦争」by Soki WATANABE because the more I read, the more difficult the book becomes. I was unlucky in my choice when I picked a History book, I should have bought a popular book written for a large public. Watanabe’s book was maybe too specialised for me.
As I don’t renounce reading History books in Japanese, I picked another one: 「それでも、日本人は戦争を選んだ」by 加藤陽子 (かとう・ようこ).
Yoko KATO is a professor at Tokyo University. Her field is the period spanning from the Russo-Japanese War to the Pacific War, but her speciality is centred on Japan’s diplomatic relations and military actions of the 30’s.
Her book is divided into 5 chapters:
- Prologue: Let’s reflect upon Japan Modern History
- Chapter 1: First Sino-Japanese War
- Chapter 2: Russo-Japanese War
- Chapter 3: World War I
- Chapter 4: The Mukden Incident and the Second Sino-Japanese War
- Chapter 5: Pacific war
The point of this book is to reflect upon Japan Modern History through the wars of this period.
Why this book is easy to read?
This book seems much easier to read than Watanabe’s book. I am still in the prologue and haven’t got into the heart of the discussion yet, but the beginning is so easy that I cannot imagine the level will change dramatically after.
First of all, this book is not a book written by Yoko KATO. It is the transcription of a class she gave for 5 days to around 20 middle and high-school students. Yoko KATO teaches at the university, but she gave this special lecture to younger students in 2007. The 5 chapters correspond to the 5 days of the lecture (each chapter begins with Kato greeting the students).
This has two consequences:
- First, the book is originally not a written work, and the style is, consequently, much easier. I must add that this lecture sometimes takes the form of the workshop, with Kato asking for the students’ participation by asking them questions. This kind of interaction makes the book easier to read for me.
- Kato’s public is heterogeneous, spanning from the first year of middle school to the second year of high-school. As a result, Kato does not expect all the students to share the same knowledge or have studied the same things.
You can feel that Kato is a professor and not just a historian. She has a very pedagogic approach, and I think that her addressing younger students than usual makes her careful to stay clear and explain everything in a simple way.
I will give three examples characteristic of Kato’s pedagogic approach:
- When citing what a commandant of the time said, Kato explains it afterwards with simple words. I find citations to be very hard to understand for they often use a very formal or even outdated style. Kato first cites what the army was saying about the second Sino-Japanese War: “今次事変は戦争に非ずして報償なり。” and explains it just after saying “今、日本が行っていることは戦争ではなくて、報償なのだ。” which is much easier to understand.
- The word “報償・ほうしょう” means “compensation”, “remuneration”, but I was guessing that in our context, it meant something like “punitive action” or “punitive expedition”. Just when I was formulating these thoughts, a student asked Kato what 報償 means! She explains it in very simple terms: “相手国が条約に違反したなど、悪いことをした場合、その不法行為をやめさせるため、今度は自らの側が実力行使していいですよ、との考え方です。”.
- When the student asked what 報償 means, he said that he never heard of it before. Kato replies: “無理もないです。今生きている人間でこの言葉を聞いたことのある人はほとんどいないはず”. Similarly, she later talks of “討匪戦・とうひせん” and asks the students if they can guess the kanji. She then adds that the people who can are people who lived before the war: “討匪戦という字はすぐに浮かびますか。これもすぐに浮かぶ人は、戦前に生きていた人間だけでしょうね。” It makes one comfortable with not knowing certain things.
I hope, I really hope, that the book will be accessible to me and will not become difficult all of a sudden. I enjoy it very much for now. It covers the part of Japan History that interests me the most, and I like the author’s style.
While I was claiming victory every time I finished a paragraph (or even sometimes, a sentence!) of Soki WATANABE’s book, I have read the first pages of 「それでも、日本人は戦争を選んだ」without problem. I hope I can finish it, even if it will certainly take me some time to read the 484 pages of the book!