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Review: Sources of Japanese Tradition

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Reviewing the sources of other people's civilizations seems rather arrogant -- so I'll dodge that bullet by simply assessing this modest collection of sources. One of a series on "Introduction to Oriental Civilizations", Sources of Japanese Tradition is a compilation of English translations of major documents for the study of Japanese culture and history from earliest records to the Tokugawa period (ending this volume with the 1790 "Kansei Edict" prohibiting unorthodox studies).

The text is divided into 21 chapters, organized by topic in historical progression. Every chapter and selection is introduced with background and context for both the general issue and particular selection. Notes from both translators and compilers are included for citations and for explanation of terms or idioms, or of facts necessary for comprehension. Both a chronological table and an index are included, helpfully.

Having studied with or acquired a small variety of sourcebooks in the course of my studies, I can say that this is a good example of a sourcebook from a more noble era. At just over 500 pages, in a nice rather old-school paperback printing, there is a whole lot of culture packed into this volume. Although like all sourcebooks, it has the drawbacks of offering selections, and thus being somewhat fragmentary, Sources of Japanese Tradition covers major periods and issues from enough angles and, in my opinion, at sufficient length, to overcome those drawbacks and be a very useful tool to the student of Japanese cultural history. A warning, however, attaches to the background notes and introduction: 1958 was a very very long time ago in historiography; use with caution. The translations, however, are still valuable, and give the reader guided access to the relevant sources -- the whole point of a sourcebook. Definitely recommended, especially as it can still be found in good condition at many used booksellers' for very reasonable prices.

Sources of Japanese Tradition. Volume I. Compiled by Ryusaku Tsunoda, Wm. Theodore De Bary, and Donald Keene. Columbia UP, 1958.

ISBN 0-231-08604-0

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