THE SHOGUN’S PAINTED CULTURE: Fear and Creativity in the Japanese States — 1760-1829, by Timon Screech. London: Reaktion Books, 2000, 312 pp., with 33 color plates and 111 b/w photos, 19.95 British pounds.

The argument of this prodigiously detailed study is that Japan as we now know it did not exist until the late 18th century. It was then created, piece by piece, in response to a series of perceived threats. In answer to dissolution within and menace without, it was invented, formalized and identified as “Japan,” and canopied by a presence that was defined as “Japanese culture.”

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