Sakaue Toshié was born on August 14, 1925, into a family of tenant farmers and day laborers in the hamlet of Kosugi. The world she entered was one of hard labor, poverty, dirt, disease, and frequent early death. By the 1970s, that rural world had changed almost beyond recognition. Toshié is the story of that extraordinary transformation as witnessed and experienced by Toshié herself. A sweeping social history of the Japanese countryside in its twentieth-century transition from "peasant" to "consumer" society, the book is also a richly textured account of the life of one village woman and her community caught up in the inexorable march of historical events.
Through the lens of Toshié's life, Simon Partner shows us the realities of rural Japanese life during the 1930s depression; daily existence under the wartime regime of "spiritual mobilization"; the land reform and its consequences during occupation; and the rapid emergence of a consumer culture against the background of agricultural mechanization during the 1950s and 1960s. In some ways representative and in other ways unique, Toshié's narrative raises questions about conventional frameworks of twentieth-century Japanese history, and about the place of individual agency and choice in an era often seen as dominated by the impersonal forces of modernity: technology, state power, and capitalism.
List of Illustrations
1. On the Banks of the Agano
2. The Making of a Japanese Citizen
3. The Village Goes to War
4. Rural Life Under the Occupation
5. Red Carpets and Whisky
Simon Partner is Associate Professor of Japanese History at Duke University. He is the author of Assembled in Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer (California, 1999).
“Partner has written a wonderful, at times lyrical book. . . [the book] deserves a wide audience.”—R. B. Lyman Jr. Choice
“Put[s] a personal face to the story of Japan’s postwar economic growth.”—Sally Ann Hastings American Historical Review
“An entertaining piece of scholarship...An engaging introduction to the profound transformation of the Japanese countryside in the 20th century that will inform and entertain readers.”—Kenneth Ruoff Intl Herald Tribune/The Asahi Shimbun
"Within the lively and often gripping story of Sakaue Toshié and her world, Partner gives us a sweeping and thought-provoking history of social change in rural Japan and sheds new light on key developments such as war mobilization and US occupation reforms. Fresh, personal, and engaging."—Steven Ericson, author of The Sound of the Whistle: Railroads and the State in Meiji Japan
"Partner beautifully tells the story of the life and times of a farm woman from the 1920s to the present. He traverses seamlessly between the often moving details of her life and the large transformations which it exemplifies."—Andrew Gordon, Harvard University