SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — Hailed as “history at its best,” “A Yankee in Meiji Japan,” written by James L. Huffman, H. Orth Hirt Professor of History at Wittenberg University, was just published this week by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.
Meticulously researched, this unique book examines the evolution of Meiji Japan (1868-1912) through the life of crusading journalist Edward H. House (1836-1901), who, through his voluminous writings and hundreds of letters between major figures in both America and Japan, became a pioneer interpreter of Japan for the English-speaking world.
“House is perhaps the most interesting journalist in Japan in the 19th century and even this century,” Huffman said. “He was controversial, outspoken and raised all kinds of important historical issues.”
In chapters that alternate between history and biography, Huffman shows how House bridged continents — shaping American attitudes, influencing Japan’s movement toward modernity and providing a contemporary critique of imperialism. Huffman also captures the human drama of House’s life: his early bohemianism, the mystical way Japan drew him, his painful battle with gout, the joy and torment of adopting a Japanese girl, his fight for women’s education, and the vicissitudes of friendship with Mark Twain.
“Huffman offers a fascinating and innovative account of the interaction between personality, press and politics,” said M. William Steele at International Christian University, who reviewed the book. The book “is at once an engrossing biography of a 19th century American journalist and an absorbing history of Japan in the initial stages of its modern transformation,” Steele continued, adding that the book is also “superbly crafted, painstakingly documented and brilliantly written.”
Huffman, who spent the last four to five years writing this book, first discovered House while researching a paper in his Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan. A former journalist, Huffman was intrigued by House and his rare critique against imperialism at a time when most westerners supported it. “Many of his fellow journalists didn’t like him,” Huffman said, “but he devoted his life to promoting equality for Japan in the imperialist world.”
The fact that House was wheelchair-bound the last 20 years of life, helped to make Mark Twain a household name and was one of the first individuals to introduce classical music to the Japanese people also fueled Huffman’s interest in the progressive journalist.
“Writing this book allowed me the opportunity to resurrect the life of someone who had long been forgotten, and then use his life to introduce students to this era in Japan,” Huffman explained. “It was a great joy to see it printed and a culmination of a project that has meant so much to me.”
One of the most respected East Asian scholars in the United States, Huffman has received numerous prestigious academic honors in his 26-year teaching career at Wittenberg, including three Fulbright-Hays grants to study in Japan and the Ohio Academy of History’s Distinguished Teaching Award. In 1991, Wittenberg recognized Huffman with its Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching. He has also published articles in the New York Times and Newsweek, and just this year was elected to the Springfield City School Board.
Author of “Creating a Public,” Huffman received his B.A. from Marion College (now Indiana Wesleyan), his M.S.J. from Northwestern University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He joined the Wittenberg faculty in 1977.
To order a copy of “A Yankee in Meiji Japan,” log on to the publisher’s Web site at http://www.rowmanlittlefield.com.
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