|Gabriele Esposito, illustrated by Giuseppe Rava|
48 pages, 7¼ x 9¼
The years covered by this book were a time of political and social upheaval in Japan. It was the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and the rise of Emperor Meiji. While the emperor had been the head of Japan for centuries, he was basically a figurehead and kept is opulent semi-captivity in his castle in Kyoto. The real political head of Japan was the shogun. To be sure, Japan was not truly united up until this time as there were many fiefdoms, each with their head.
Indeed, Japan was isolated from most of the world for much of its history. While the Dutch had made a very small inroad, it was the arrival of Perrys fleet in 1853 that made the shogun realize that he had to modernize to be able to fight the sort of military might that was portrayed during that 1853 visit.
So it began. The ascension of the young emperor Meiji brought into being what we now call the Meiji Restoration. It was his wish that Japan accept foreigners and modernize. Initially the shogun wanted the same, but with him in charge of the country. The emperor saw things differently and in 1868 through 1877 there were a series of internal wars and battles for control of the nation. Eventually the emperor won out, defeating the shogun and his various warlords, putting an end to the feudal system that had been in place for centuries. This also ended the usefulness of samurais as they were replaced by a standing army.
The book starts out with providing us a very well done historical background. I found this particularly valuable as few of us are aware of Japanese history of this time except in the most general sense. He then goes into the various battles that were fought during the period and the results of those events as they fit into the big picture. Then we are provided coverage of the specific armies that were involved, and there are a lot more than you'd think.
Above all, this is as uniforms and weapons series, and with the Japanese at this time, there is an incredible mix of the old and the new. We are also provided a number of super period photos and illustrations as well as the superb plates offered by the book's illustrator. It does much to give us an idea of the turmoil of the times and the changes made in Japan. An excellent book and one that I highly recommend.
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