For more than fifty years, William Elliot Griffis (1843–1928) chronicled a rapidly changing Meiji Japan and its people. He was unequaled in the length of his writing career and the breadth of his work, which illuminated the entire sweep of Meiji history and reached a multiplicity of American audiences. A teacher in the provincial city of Fukui and later in Tokyo, he reported in magazine essays on the last days of feudalism in Japan and its aspirations to become a modern nation. After returning to the United States, he continued to write. In dozens of books and hundreds of articles, he covered topics including the samurai class, daily life, racial theory, empire, and war. Extending his reach even further, he was a tireless public speaker and delivered thousands of lectures on Japan. He described his self-appointed task as “interpreting Japan to America, with voice and pen.” This anthology brings together the best of his writing, offering a dynamic perspective on Meiji Japan through the eyes of a colorful and engaging writer.
Joseph M. Henning is associate professor of history at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Introduction: Griffis and Meiji Japan
Part One: In Japan
Chapter One: First Glimpses
Chapter Two: In the Heart of Japan
Chapter Three: Farewell to Feudalism
Part Two: Japan in the World
Chapter Four: Progress, Politics, and Industry
Chapter Five: Three Empires and Two Wars
Chapter Six: Second to None
Few people influenced American attitudes toward Japan in the late 1800s and early 1900s more than William Elliot Griffis. This astutely chosen collection of his liveliest, most provocative writings provides trenchant analyses of the country’s breakneck transition to modernity and its emergence as a world power, as well as unusual glimpses into provincial life in the early 1870s. Griffis’s writings reveal, often dramatically, the evolving tone of the broader American discourse about Japan, including his frequent use of racial and class stereotypes to buttress his admiration for Japan.
Interpreting the Mikado’s Empire is a notable contribution to our understanding of the making of modern Japan from an American observer’s point of view. The collection is especially valuable for its new focus on William Elliot Griffis’s twentieth century writings. Editor Joseph M. Henning’s introduction is an invaluable guide to Griffis’s life work, the rendering of Japan in full color to an American audience.
The Link-Kuehl committee also awards Honorable Mention to Joseph M. Henning as editor of Interpreting the Mikado's Empire: The Writings of William Elliot Griffis. An annotated and contextualized selection of twenty-five excerpts on Griffis’s voluminous published writings on East Asia, this volume provides a valuable insight into the perspectives of a person who influenced U.S. views of Japan. The volume reveals a great deal about the United States during the Gilded Age and Progressive eras and is relevant to international historians interested in subjects such as racial Darwinism and stereotypes about “the orient.”