The best books on Japanese history from the outside looking in

Who am I?

Living in Britain for the past 20 years, I've been able to look at Japan with new eyes and to understand historical events from a global perspective. 'Cherry' Ingram's story isn't just about a man and his love for cherry blossoms. It's also about the cherry ideology and how it was perverted for militaristic purposes before and during World War II. While researching the book, I was amazed how many compelling anecdotes came to light that offered new insights into both British and Japanese society in the early 20th century.


I wrote...

'Cherry' Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan's Blossoms

By Naoko Abe,

Book cover of 'Cherry' Ingram: The Englishman Who Saved Japan's Blossoms

What is my book about?

Collingwood Ingram, born in 1880, became known as 'Cherry' for his defining obsession. As a young man, he travelled to Japan and learned of the astonishing displays of cherry blossoms, or sakura. On a return visit in 1926, Ingram witnessed frightening changes to the country's cherry population. A cloned variety was sweeping the landscape and being used as a symbol for Japan's expansionist ambitions. Determined to protect the diversity of the trees, Ingram began sending the rare varieties from his own garden in England back to Japan with the help of a network of 'cherry guardians'.

This is an eloquent portrait of an extraordinary man whose legacy we enjoy every spring, and his unsung place in botanic history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Japan Story: In Search of a Nation, 1850 to the Present

Naoko Abe Why did I love this book?

This is a thoughtful and well-written account of Japan's history since the Meiji restoration. The book is enlivened by multiple narrative themes, from feminism to socialism, most of which run counter to the official government version of the nation's history.

By Christopher Harding,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japan Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a fresh and surprising account of Japan's culture from the 'opening up' of the country in the mid-nineteenth century to the present.

'How much I admired it, what a lot I learned from it and, above all, how very much I enjoyed it ... Masterly.' Neil MacGregor

It is told through the eyes of people who greeted this change not with the confidence and grasping ambition of Japan's modernizers and nationalists, but with resistance, conflict, distress.

We encounter writers of dramas, ghost stories and crime novels where modernity itself is the tragedy, the ghoul and the bad guy;…


Book cover of An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin's Master Agent

Naoko Abe Why did I love this book?

Sorge's biography has been written many times. Matthews' lively account draws on information from declassified Soviet archives. These offer new insight into how Sorge was able to infiltrate the highest levels of Japanese, Chinese, and German society so successfully before and during World War II.

By Owen Matthews,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An Impeccable Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE PUSHKIN HOUSE PRIZE 'The most formidable spy in history' Ian Fleming 'A superb biography ... More than a hundred books have been written about him and this is undoubtedly the best' Ben Macintyre Richard Sorge was a man with two homelands. Born of a German father and a Russian mother in Baku in 1895, he moved in a world of shifting alliances and infinite possibility. A member of the angry and deluded generation who found new, radical faiths after their experiences on the battlefields of the First World War, Sorge became a fanatical communist - and the…


Book cover of Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan

Naoko Abe Why did I love this book?

Buruma compares how the Japanese and Germans view their World War II behaviour and actions, with particular attention given to memories of Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Nanking. While Germany was preoccupied after the war with atoning for its past sins, Japan swept them under the carpet. Buruma explains how, why and what this means for today's younger generation.

By Ian Buruma,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wages of Guilt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this highly original and now classic text, Ian Buruma explores and compares how Germany and Japan have attempted to come to terms with their violent pasts, and investigates the painful realities of living with guilt, and with its denial.

As Buruma travels through both countries, he encounters people whose honesty in confronting their past is strikingly brave, and others who astonish by the ingenuity of their evasions of responsibility. In Auschwitz, Berlin, Hiroshima and Tokyo he explores the contradictory attitudes of scholars, politicians and survivors towards World War II and visits the contrasting monuments that commemorate the atrocities of…


Book cover of The Forgotten Highlander: An Incredible WWII Story of Survival in the Pacific

Naoko Abe Why did I love this book?

Many British, Australians, Canadians, Dutch, and Americans have written about their appalling treatment by the Japanese as POWs during World War II. Urquhart's account is one of the more compelling, all the more so because he waited for more than 60 years to tell this harrowing, anecdote-rich story.

By Alistair Urquhart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Forgotten Highlander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Alistair Urquhart was a soldier in the Gordon Highlanders captured by the Japanese in Singapore. He not only survived working on the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai , but he was subsequently taken on one of the Japanese 'hellships' which was torpedoed. Nearly everyone else on board died and Urquhart spent 5 days alone on a raft in the South China Sea before being rescued by a whaling ship. He was taken to Japan and then forced to work in a mine near Nagasaki. Two months later a nuclear bomb dropped just ten miles away ...This is the extraordinary…


Book cover of Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan's Lost Decades

Naoko Abe Why did I love this book?

Willie Pesek has had a bird's eye view of life in Japan for 20 years, most of which time it was suffering from a deep economic malaise. Japanization, subtitled 'What the world can learn from Japan's lost decades,' examines Japan's economic stagnation and offers some solutions that policymakers and others will find useful in the post-pandemic world, no matter where they live.

By William Pesek,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanization as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An in-depth look at Japan's economic malaise and the steps it must take to compete globally In Japanization, Bloomberg columnist William Pesek based in Tokyo presents a detailed look at Japan's continuing twenty-year economic slow-down, the political and economic reasons behind it, and the policies it could and should undertake to return to growth and influence. Despite new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's promise of economic revitalization, investor optimism about the future, and plenty of potential, Japanization reveals why things are unlikely to change any time soon. Pesek argues that "Abenomics," as the new policies are popularly referred to, is nothing…


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Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

Book cover of Dinner with Churchill

Robin Hawdon Author Of Number Ten

New book alert!

Who am I?

My writing is eclectic and covers many topics. However, all my books tend to have a thriller element to them. Perhaps it's my career as an actor and playwright which has instilled the need to create suspense in all my writings. I sometimes feel that distinguished authors can get so carried away with their literary descriptions and philosophical insights that they forget to keep the story going! It is the need to know what happens next that keeps the reader turning the pages. Perhaps in achieving that some subtlety has to be sacrificed, but, hey, you don't read a political thriller to study the philosophical problems of governing nations!

Robin's book list on lone heroes and threats to national security

What is my book about?

This is a new novel by one of the UK's most prolific writers. It is based around an extraordinary true incident at the start of World War II when fierce political opponents Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain encountered each other at a famous dinner party. Seen from the perspective of Lucy Armitage, a young girl suddenly conscripted by a strange stroke of fate into Churchill's overworked but adoring team of secretaries.

As Churchill prepares to take over the leadership of the nation, Lucy finds herself increasingly involved in her famous employer's phenomenal work output and eccentric habits. When romance and the world of espionage impinge on her life, she becomes a vital part of the eternal struggle between good and evil regimes that still exists today.

Dinner with Churchill

By Robin Hawdon,

What is this book about?

It is on historical record that, on the evening of October 13th 1939, six weeks after war had been declared on Hitler's Germany, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, fierce and implacable opponents for years over the appeasement issue, met together with their two wives, Clementine and Anne, for a private dinner at Admiralty House, and event which caused ripples throughout Westminster.

Chamberlain was still Prime Minister, but had seen all his efforts to negotiate peace with Hitler shattered. Churchill had been recalled to the cabinet after ten years 'in the wilderness', his dire warnings of the Nazi threat vindicated.

Lucy…


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