The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan

In This Review

The Taming of the Samurai: Honorific Individualism and the Making of Modern Japan

By Eiko Ikegami
Harvard University Press, 1995
428 pp. $45.00

An ambitious effort by a sociologist at Yale University, this book has already been widely praised by prominent American political scientists and historians for answering how the Japanese achieved modernity without traveling the route taken by Western countries. It is at once a remarkable historical study of the samurai warrior class from its ancient origins to its transformation under the Tokugawa regime and a comparative study that makes Japan available for analysis alongside other great instances of state formation. The book thus ranks favorably with related efforts by distinguished historical sociologists such as Barrington Moore.

The author begins with an enigma: How can a nation be so successful at industrialization and business management while encouraging its population to overvalue collectivist thinking and the status quo and devalue individualism and bold innovation? The key, she argues, lies in the cultural development of the samurai class and its "honor culture" and an appreciation of the tensions between individualism and collectivism in modern Japan. The book is beautifully written and will undoubtedly become standard reading in universities around the world.

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