BY RICHARD H. MINEAR
NEW YORK: THE APEX PRESS, 2008
334 PAGES, ISBN: 0-938960-53-9, PAPERBACK
Reviewed by Robert Fish
The new edition of Through Japanese Eyes offers source readings that present Japan through the eyes of a diverse set of Japanese people. Editor Richard Minear examines specific themes through (mostly) aptly selected short, and often contradictory, source readings, along with brief and pedagogically valuable introductions. The book successfully achieves the stated “dual goal” of “offering great readings about Japan that also stimulate thinking about the United States. (2) While the specific readings selected are always open to subjective debate, Minear chose a thought-provoking and varied selection that forces consideration of the nature and plurality of identities of Japanese people and are usable for students with a variety of reading levels.
Minear divides the readings into ten chapters. Five explore selected topics in Japanese history (primarily of the twentieth century) chronologically. Four explore Japan (primarily in the postwar and contemporary era) topically—focusing on “textbooks and the teaching of history,” “nature and pollution,” “gender,” and “aspects of life today.” One section is about Japanese-Americans. Although some groupings of readings, such as “aspects of Japan today,” are forced, most articulate well with the topics covered in American schools. With the exception of the chapter on Japanese-Americans, all address important issues in Japanese history and culture. While the inclusion of an outdated chapter about Japanese-Americans has a logic in the context of “stimulating thinking about the United States,” this reviewer would have preferred that the space devoted to American history instead address issues in Japanese society useful to English-speaking teachers, ranging from the Japanese position in international politics to a more nuanced treatment of the position of minorities in Japan.
Minear displays a rare sensitivity for the pedagogical needs of teachers through his selection of readings—original yet provocative brief essays on topics ranging from a statistical comparison of the US and Japan, to textbook interpretations of Japanese history, to his deftly written introductions to each reading. The editor’s introductions are sophisticated and, given the excellent questions raised about how to use documents and literature, useful even for teachers who have no intention of using the reading selections. For example, in introducing selections to three novels, Minear asks the reader: “If you were a psychologist or an anthropologist and had only these words as evidence, what picture could you paint of the authors, their values, and their society? And this: What other evidence would you like to have before painting your picture?” (25)
While some might quibble with his selection of three pieces that focus on consumer culture (this reviewer thinks they would work well in a high school classroom), his introduction helps students focus on a critical reading of the documents. Throughout the book, questions of evidence and context teach students how to read source documents critically, and also to ask what additional evidence is needed to form more solid conclusions about Japan, and, by extension, what kind of readings and topics did Minear choose to exclude?
The analytical and critical thinking skills taught in this reader make it a valuable resource, even for teachers not teaching about Japan. Given the emphasis on critical reading, there were some puzzling stylistic decisions that hopefully will be corrected in future printings. First, despite teaching the importance of contextualizing a source document in order to interpret it, readers must turn to a list of sources in the back of the book to find when (and often who) created it. Second, many teachers will benefit from doing further reading related to the topics covered in this book. An annotated bibliography, bibliographic essay, or even a list of suggested further readings would be extremely useful. Third and finally, certain sections of editors’ introductions have not been updated, and documents of certain sections, particularly “nature and pollution,” have not been updated much since the 1974 edition. Given important developments since that time, this section should have been revised.
These suggestions aside, I highly recommend this anthology. Paired with a good textbook about Japan, students and teachers will finish this book not just more knowledgeable about Japan, but better equipped to learn about “foreign” cultures in the future.