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Nihon no Rekishi wo Eigode Yomu [日本の歴史を英語で読む] (Reading Japanese History in English)

Nihon no Rekishi wo Eigode Yomu [日本の歴史を英語で読む] (Reading Japanese History in English)

Besutoshinsho, 2009, 192 pages, ISBN: 978-4-12225-9, 740 yen

Review by Sean Curtin

This handy bilingual work is definitely for anyone who wants to enhance or brush up their Japanese history vocab while improving their overview of Japanese history. In 86 compact chapters the authors take us from Palaeolithic [旧石器時代] Japan to the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty [サンフランシスコ講和条約] in 1951 and the subsequent Japan-US Security Treaty [日米安全保障条約].

On each page the English and Japanese sentences are number which makes it easy to match up the corresponding sections, while key words and phrases are underlined with the Japanese equivalent below. The work provides a concise overview of prewar Japanese history. It is packed full of useful historical vocabulary and sentence structures which are incorporated in an easy-to-follow historical framework. The reader seamlessly glides through the Jomon [縄文時代] and Yayoi [弥生時代] periods before cantering into the first recorded mentions of Japan in Chinese manuscripts. Almost everything can be found in this comprehensive work including all the historical milestones such as the Yamato Regime [大和政権], Prince Shotoku [聖徳太子], the Taiho Code [大宝律令], the Nara Period [奈良時代], the Kamakura Shogunate [鎌倉幕府] and Tokugawa Ieyasu’s [徳川 家康] establishment of the Edo Shogunate [江戸幕府]. Some periods and events will be familiar to readers others more obscure. The authors also briefly look at daily life and customs in some of the periods covered.

This is an extremely useful reference book for anyone who deals with Japan on a regular basis but is not a history expert. It is also a fine example of how far Japan-English reference books have come in the last 30 years. When I started studying Japanese at university in the eighties there were not many useful bilingual reference books or works on the market, now there are many excellent quality books on a diverse range of subjects. Today’s students of Japanese do not know how lucky they are, while yesterday’s students (and even the more mature amongst us) can greatly benefit from reference works such as this which can fill minor gaps in our knowledge.