This monumental work greatly contributes to our understanding of Japan’s early modern, or Edo, Period (1603–1868), and to its legacy into the newly monarchical, imperial Japan of the Meiji Period (1868–1912). Atsuko Hirai addresses a host of issues relating to what she terms the “integration” of the Japanese archipelago. As all who have traveled there or looked at a map will know, Japan is a vast string of islands extending from Russia to Taiwan. These ruggedly mountainous lands, comprising a domain larger than most European countries, have been ever prone to fall asunder. The entire sixteenth century was a time of civil war, from which the Tokugawa shogunate, established in 1603, forced an “integration”: bloody times, but ones giving rise to what would later be termed the Great Peace.

As her title makes clear, Hirai frames the argument around the notion...

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