Think Edo Period, and you think ukiyo-e, bonsai, yakimono and kabuki. Few think of science, or of the technological skill and spirit, which would later hatch Sony, Toyota and a core part of the country's national identity.

For a long time, little attention was paid to scientific and technological developments during the Edo Period (1603-1867). The typical historical account of Japan's modernization went something like this: Scientific development stagnated under the rule of the Tokugawa due to the regime's isolationist policy, which prevented the introduction of scientific knowledge from the West. But after a ban on the imports of foreign books was lifted in 1720, rangaku ("Dutch learning") was spread across the country by young, ambitious scholars, so laying the groundwork for Japan's modernization after 1868's Meiji Restoration.

Put simply, the history of Japan's science and technology has typically been presented as a history of the introduction of Western science. Similarly, Japan's rapid technological development after the emperor was restored has usually been attributed to its citizens' ability to throw off old and "biased" traditional values and absorb "advanced" Western knowledge.