From History

Japan in World History – a Solid Book for Your Collection

Japan in World History Book

Japan in World History, written by James L. Huffman, is one book in a series of Oxford University histories that focus on cultural and social history.

PJ Review Score: 5

James Huffman engages his audience by giving the ‘common’ people a voice. He manages a balance between political, military and social history. Through this balance the reader gains a wider perspective on the progression of history in Japan and the complexity of its society. While the book is rather slim and skimps on some details, the book is a valuable resource.

Huffman breaks down Japanese History into several periods, usually by capital name or by ruler.  The Nara period, Heian period, Kamakura period, Tokugawa period, and the Meiji era.


In the Kofun era, (645-794), we see the emergence of a semi-centralized government, and legal codes called ‘ritsuryo,’ whose purpose was to regulate both political and social elements of life. This period saw a more stabilized capital, Nara, and also Japan’s desire to exert itself over-seas.

The Heian period, (794-1100), is best known for its peace and the arts. During this period literature and art flourished and a unique system of writing, which blended Chinese characters, called kana emerged. The creation of the writing system, probably due to Japan’s isolation from the continent during this period, further helped create an independent, Japanese identity.

The Kamakura period, (1160-1330), was a time of political unrest and military violence, with the “devolution of the ritsuryo system.” During this time, the terms shogun and bakufu were used as a way to both undermine traditional governance and create a source of legitimacy.

The major problem in the Tokugawa period, (1600-1868), was the policy that the government employed in reaction to western nations. In the eyes of many, the Tokugawa policy was weak and it spread discontent throughout the country, which destabilized the government.

The Meiji Era, (1868-1912) was proactive in its response to the western threat. While, there was still discontent, the Meiji era was largely successful in coping with the threat.

Huffman focuses on a few notable events in each period. The reader is able to see the events as if they are there in the Meiji era, when a decree was sent out that ordered all samurai to give up their swords in an attempt to dissolve the warrior class in 1876.

I can easily picture Yamagata Aritomo, after squashing the samurai rebellion, saying, “Now I am at peace.” Or in the summer of 1281, when the fierce Mongol empire was defeated with the help of the kamikaze. Huffman’s history of Japan is thus engaging and enlightening.

Scholarly Response

John Sagers, a professor of history at Linfield College – the book is concise, and offers a wider perspective of Japanese history will multi-faceted view points and arguments. It also offers a solid foundation for studying Japanese history.

Michael S. Laver, in his review from the Middle Ground Journal – it does not outline the complexities in Japanese history. It also has no details about the history of the ainu or the history of the Okinawa kingdom.  

Huffman does mention the Emishi and other indigenous groups but very briefly and the reader is left uncertain about the impact that these groups have had on Japanese society.

Robert Eskildsen, a history professor at International Christian University in Japan – was quite critical of Huffman for his brevity on the subject of Japanese history. He argues that it is meant for readers who have some sort of foundation in Japanese history due to his lack of detail concerning events. He goes on to argue that it lacks content to deepen understanding, and that it is a “typical college survey.”

In addition to those things, it also has a limited impact because of the lack of explanation of events. Overall though, he claims that the book offers a “concise and illuminating explanation of the major themes of incidents in post-war Japanese History.”

Further Reading

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An Interview With Charles Coles

Charles Coles was an old man by the time he was interviewed at his home by an out-of-work writer employed by the Federal government. Mr. Rogers, the writer, was a slim fellow with a receding hairline. His clothes weren’t the finest old Mr. Coles had seen, but Mr. Rogers didn’t seem to notice. He stood there on his door step with the kind of twisted pride that came from three hundred years of being told people like him were better than most.

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The More You Know: Queen Nzinga

Queen Nzinga was born sometime between 1580 and 1583. She was one of several children of Ngola (king) Kia Samba, who ruled over the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms. 

Her father, Ngola Kiluanji Kia Samba, reigned during a time of constant conflict with the Portuguese, who’d arrived in Angola in the late 14th century. Her brother, Mbandi, inherited the throne after their father, but proved himself unable to handle the growing threat from the Portuguese and other African kingdoms. 

The Portuguese established a treaty with one of the strongest kingdoms in Angola – the Kongo. The Kongo king, his son and their advisers converted to Christianity to establish trade between the two kingdoms. The Kingdom of Kongo wanted alcohol and cloth, while the Portuguese wanted people for slave labor. By the 1560’s, due to increased Portuguese demands, around 7,000 people were sold into slavery every year. Most of these people were taken to Brazil. By 1576, the Portuguese established an administrative division for slave trading at Luanda Bay. 

Between the 1620’s and 1650’s, Queen Nzinga led a steady opposition against the encroaching Portuguese and African slave traders. Other than the three decade opposition she led against the Portuguese, she is best known for her clever mind, and tactful strategies.

One of the most well-known stories about her is during a meeting with a Portuguese official. According to most renditions, the only seat in the room belonged to the Portuguese official. Queen Nzinga’s servant immediately rushed to serve as a seat, so that Queen Nzinga and the Portuguese official could speak as equals. 

Today, Nzinga is remembered for being a proto-nationalist and an anti-colonialist.

Queen Nzinga Mbandi of the Ndongo & Matamba Kingdoms
Credit: Erik Kristensen

The More You Know: Aspasia of Miletus

The Golden Age of Greece is a time period most well known for the flourishing of arts and sciences. The magnificent Parthenon was erected as both a pious symbol to the gods, and as a symbol of the wealth and superiority of Athenian culture. You may know of the general Pericles, who ushered democracy into Athens and of Thucydides and Herodotus – historians who recorded the greatness as it happened.  I could go on and list other names: Socrates, Hippocrates, Aristophanes – but you get the point. The Golden Age of Greece got its name from all of the great minds that existed during that time, despite the fact that Athens, and other surrounding Greek city-states were experiencing political unrest. However, political unrest didn’t disrupt the flourishing of the arts and sciences, until the Greek world was plunged into the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC.

Aspasia of Miletus is a name you should know if you’ve familiarized yourself with Classical Athenian history.  If you quickly search for her on Google, you may find a heap of resources designating her as “Aspasia, Pericles’s Lover,” or “Aspacia, The Concubine.” These titles do well with tying her to Pericles, because she was, in fact, his mistress. But that’s not all she was.

Aspasia of Miletus was a foreigner to Athens. She lived in the Ionian colony of Miletus, a village on the Western coast of Anatolia prior to emigrating to Athens. It’s not extremely clear how she met Pericles, but the two were an almost inseparable pair, according to their contemporaries. Because Aspasia wasn’t considered an Athenian woman, she enjoyed more freedom than her peers. She was often credited, mostly by critics, as influencing Athenian politics and poisoning Pericles’s mind with her feminine wiles.

It’s highly likely that Aspasia came from wealth, as she is known to have been extremely educated and influential. She was such a significant presence in classical Athens that her contemporary critics even criticized her for instigating wars between Athens and other Greek city-states.

Playwrights, and socratic writers had a lot to say about Aspasia, the lover of Pericles. Although most of what was said was misogynistic and negative, it’s clear that Aspasia was a central figure in Athens, socially and politically. She’s said to have given marital advice to the likes of Xenophon, called upon by Socrates himself, and to have even advised these men on rhetoric.

Even though Aspasia lived and interacted with many great men from the Golden Age of Greece, her name is one that rarely pops up. This isn’t a surprise, given Greek (especially you, Athens) attitudes toward women, and the historical biases of 19th century European men. Next time you get into a conversation about Classical Greece, don’t forget to mention Aspasia of Miletus!

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5 Influential African Writers You Never Learned About in School

In celebration of recent African literary history, here’s a list of the top five most influential African writers you need to know.

Africa has no shortage of influential writers though, so the five chosen here are in now way an exhaustive list. Feel free to add your favorite African writer in the comments!

Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon was born on July 20, 1925 in present day Martinique – a Caribbean French territory. He served in the Free French Army and later became the head of an Algerian hospital, tending to both Algerian and French soldiers. During this time, he observed the psychological effects that colonial violence had on his patients.

Fanon established himself as a leading intellectual in the Negritude movement, as well as an outspoken academic on the effects of colonialism on racial consciousness. His most famous works are The Wretched of the Earth, and Black Skin, White Masks. 

Buchi Emecheta 

Buchi Emecheta was born on July 21, 1944 in Lagos, Nigeria. Although born in Nigeria to an Igbo family, she spent most of her time in London. She wrote extensively about the maltreatment of women in immigrant and African societies. Her most influential works are: The Rape of Shavi, Second Class Citizen, Adah’s Story and The Bride Price. 

Yvonne Vera

Yvonne Vera was born September 19, 1964 in Bulawayo,  Zimbabwe. Her mother and father were supportive of her skill, enabling her to jump start her writing career in Canada. Her works deal with the oppression of colonialism, the realities of the maltreatment of women during times of social upheaval. Her most influential works are: Without a Name, Butterfly Burning and Under the Tongue.

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga was born on February 4, 1959 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She spent some time in England, receiving education at an English high school and then studying medicine at Cambridge University. However, due to racism and isolation, she returned to Zimbabwe. Her most famous work is Nervous Conditions, which received the Commonwealth Writer’s prize and is regarded by many as one of  twelve best African novels.

 Alex La Guma

Alex La Guma was born on February 20, 1925 in Cape Town, South Africa. He lived through the oppression of apartheid. He grew up in a family that was active in the liberation movement, finding himself in prison several times for his activism. His works emphasized the harrowing effects of apartheid on his characters. Because of the controversial nature of his works, the South African government banned his works. Try reading A Walk in the Night, and Time of the Butcherbird.

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Interpreting Biblical Rape

A Brief Summation of a Facebook Debate on the Duality of the Christian God 

by Bernice

Yesterday was just like any other day. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, liking memes, and laughing at nonsensical videos. I stopped scrolling at the sight of this meme:


It intrigued me. It made me stop, and think. I shared the post, knowing that any one of my devout Christian friends would jump onto my post and try to explain away the obvious issues with the biblical passage. My caption was:

Something to think about for sure. These scriptures in the bible are right around the sections that Christians often use for evidence against homosexuality. Well, if homosexuality is an “abomination.” Then, raping and marrying a woman is ok.

But no self-respecting Christian would argue that rape is ok. But in denying the legitimacy of the rape passage, they’ll also have to deny the legitimacy of the homosexuality passage.

First of all, this caption isn’t all that clear. On Facebook, and other social media, I tend to shorten my thoughts. But the message is clear: there are many inconsistencies in the bible. And these disparities are often overlooked and/or rationalized away by Christians.

A Christian friend eventually commented, posting a link to a website that supposedly explains common misinterpreted scriptures. The website is The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

It started out by explaining this scripture: Deuteronomy 22:23-24

“If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor’s wife.

The ERLC argues that this law is describing a consensual encounter, signified by the lack of violent descriptive words. I.e, the lack of the words ‘forced,’ ‘attacked’, etc. They further argue that the setting is important. Because the alleged assault took place in a city, there would have been witnesses to a violent rape. Therefore, this is consensual and they both should be punished.

Raise your hand if you know that rape isn’t always violent and bloody. Raise your hand if you know that screaming isn’t always an option. Raise your hand if you think this is pure speculation. Me too.

This is Deuteronomy 22:25-27 

But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.

This passage is clearer than the first. It condemns the rape of a woman, but this one isn’t free of issues. I’ll get to the issues in all of these passages at the end.

Here’s the passage that started this debate: Deuteronomy 22:28-29

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Wow. You read that right, but don’t be so surprised. This is an ancient book! So the ERLC doesn’t deny that she must have been ‘overwhelmed.’ Nor do they deny that the man is guilty. But what’s problematic is that they don’t condemn this scripture. Their translation leads them to believe that it wasn’t a ‘violent rape,’ which is apparently ‘not so bad.’ The ERLC argues that there is some sort of mutual responsibility here, because the man didn’t violently rape her. Apparently, the only rape that counts is the violent kind, where you’re constantly screaming for your life.

My Christian friend brought up a good point though. The Christian god is supposed to be a just god, who hates all sexual sins and provides these laws in order to protect the weak.

He also said, The rapist deserves death. The adulterer deserves death. I deserve death, and so do you, but the good news is that Jesus died in the sinner’s place to bring about forgiveness, healing, and restoration.

I’m not a Christian, but I respect that. However, what he says and what I’ve read are at odds with each other.

The first law condemns both the man and woman. Even though it’s obvious that the man did the action of ‘finding’ and ‘lying,’ the woman is put to death. She’s put to death for not screaming, and drawing witnesses. But there could be a number of reasons why she didn’t. The man, it says, is put to death because he damaged another man’s property. Yes, property. Women were commodities that were bought and sold by their fathers and husbands. Where is the protection of the weak in this scenario?

The second law is also problematic because it’s also on the basis of the woman crying out. However, it’s still leagues better than the first and third laws.

The third law condemns only the woman. In this scenario, the woman is not engaged. After being raped by the man in this scenario, she is essentially damaged goods. Her family becomes unable to marry her off, and protect their investments. The solution to this problem is to marry her off to the man who violated her to begin with. Where is the protection of the weak in this scenario? How was this man punished?

In the first and second scenarios, there’s another problematic issue that may go over some heads. Both of the men in these scenarios are put to death. How come the man isn’t put to death in the third scenario? If rape is punished, then all three men should be put to death. Unless, rape isn’t the real issue these laws are tackling.


I’ll repeat my closing argument here:

 If god is truly a just god, and he hates all sexual sin, then laws like marrying a rapist would be against what this god stands for. If all rapists deserve death according to this god, then this god would not sanction a rapist marrying his victim. If the laws were truly created by an impartial god to protect the vulnerable, then a victim would not be forced to marry her attacker. How is the victim in this instance protected? She is forced to endure being raped by her attacker legally, every night until she dies. That doesn’t sound just or good to me. So there are only two conclusions here: the christian god is evil, or he did not make those laws. Man did.

What do you think?

Why Do We Keep Calling Native Americans ‘Indians’?

In the same way, Natives were robbed of their ancestral lands, slapped with a label, and pushed to the margins of American history. But American history IS their history. The United States of America is an infant aberration of THEIR history.

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