Before what we know as manga, there was kamishibai. Literally translated as “paper play” (紙芝居) kamishibai was a popular form of entertainment in Japan that is virtually unknown in the West. Luckily, Eric Nash has compiled one of the most comprehensible English-language books about this unique form of Japanese storytelling in Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater.
Osprey Publishing has become synonymous (in my mind at least) for quality research into military history of all time periods, throughout the world. It should come as no surprise that I immediately picked up Osprey’s latest title Japanese Armies 1868 – 1877 by Gabriele Esposito and illustrated by Giuseppe Rave, which covers the Boshin War and Satsuma Rebellion.
October 1937. Surrounded by an enormous Japanese Army, Chinese soldiers hunker down for a siege. Their fortress is the Sihang Warehouse, tall and sturdy, standing on the banks of Soochow Creek. For seven days, they beat off numerous attempts to storm their position. Historian Stephen Robinson recreates and documents these events in Eight Hundred Heroes.
Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda is a shonen manga series that covers a wide range of genres – adventure, war, political intrigue, comedy, and thrillers. Set shortly after the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905) it follows Saichi Sugimoto, a veteran of the conflict, and his quest for a legendary stash of gold hidden in Hokkaido, the most northern of Japan’s main islands. While fighting at the vicious Battle of Port Arthur, he earned the nickname “Immortal Sugimoto,” given his almost legendary ability to avoid death, which he keeps throughout the remainder of this series.
The Russo-Japanese War is a fascinating conflict that, arguably, was one of the most important events in the 20th century. It contributed to the decline of the Russian Empire, paving the way for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and gave rise to the Japanese Empire, paving the way to Pearl Harbor. And yet, this war is often overlooked in the West, leading to a dearth of first-hand English language accounts. Thankfully, Human Bullets (1906) by Tadayoshi Sakurai survives to fill that void.
As I’ve stated many times, there’s long been a blind spot about the Asian Theater of World War II. You can stack the books written about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan side by side, the former would dwarf the latter. When books do appear about Japan during World War II, they are usually about the front in the Pacific, or, less often, in the Chinese and Burma theaters. A notable exception is Japan At War: An Oral History. However, Osprey Publishing has recently released The Japanese Home Front 1937 – 1945, which aims to help fill that gap.
It’s often said, “history is written by the victors,” and this only half true. While the narrative of World War II is definitely constructed from the Allied lens, this does not mean that the vanquished were unable to tell their stories. German officers and soldiers pumped out volumes of memoirs during the postwar years, many of which were consumed voraciously by readers in America and Britain. Japanese memoirs were more sparse, at least regarding translations that made it to the West. One notable exception was Masanobu Tsuji’s memoir Japan’s Greatest Victory, Britain’s Worst Defeat.
Japanese Destroyer Captain is the postwar memoir of Tameichi Hara, a Japanese Navy officer who earned the nickname the “Miracle Captain.” He is one of the only Japanese captains to have survived the entire Pacific War from its beginning in 1941 to its end in 1945. Of the 175 destroyers the Imperial Navy possessed during World War II, 129 were sunk.
The years of 1931-32 were a turning point in Japanese history, typified by military coups, invasions, and political assassinations. Although this era only gets a few sentences in English language history books, the specific details of three events – the October Incident, the Blood Brotherhood Incident, and the 5-15 Incident – are fascinating in their own right and read like a thriller novel. I’ve taken information from various sources to create a thoroughly researched and detailed account of these events that changed the course of Japan.
I am often asked if the musical references and songs that I include in the Reiko Watanabe/Inspector Aizawa series are real. Well, the answer is ‘yes’ and I have the reciepts to prove it. [Read more…] about Japanese Songs from the 1930s – Music of the Reiko/Aizawa Series