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Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964

, 280 pages

9 halftones

February 2014



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Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964

Naval, aeronautic, and mechanical engineers played a powerful part in the military buildup of Japan in the early and mid-twentieth century. They belonged to a militaristic regime and embraced the importance of their role in it. Takashi Nishiyama examines the impact of war and peace on technological transformation during the twentieth century. He is the first to study the paradoxical and transformative power of Japan’s defeat in World War II through the lens of engineering.

Nishiyama asks: How did authorities select and prepare young men to be engineers? How did Japan develop curricula adequate to the task (and from whom did the country borrow)? Under what conditions? What did the engineers think of the planes they built to support Kamikaze suicide missions? But his study ultimately concerns the remarkable transition these trained engineers made after total defeat in 1945. How could the engineers of war machines so quickly turn to peaceful construction projects such as designing the equipment necessary to manufacture consumer products? Most important, they developed new high-speed rail services, including the Shinkansen Bullet Train. What does this change tell us not only about Japan at war and then in peacetime but also about the malleability of engineering cultures?

Nishiyama aims to counterbalance prevalent Eurocentric/Americentric views in the history of technology. Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964 sets the historical experience of one country’s technological transformation in a larger international framework by studying sources in six different languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. The result is a fascinating read for those interested in technology, East Asia, and international studies. Nishiyama's work offers lessons to policymakers interested in how a country can recover successfully after defeat.

Takashi Nishiyama is an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York, Brockport.

"Legend has it that wartime aeronautical engineering converted to the success of a bullet train in postwar Japan. Takashi Nishiyama's approach includes those who contributed at all levels of technology, from engineers on down. His conclusions are solid and convincing."

"Takashi Nishiyama addresses his path-breaking subject with meticulous care and admirable breadth of vision. His fascinating study offers penetrating insight into the wartime baseline of postwar Japan's impressive economic development—and, at the same time, helps place Japan firmly in the great debates about war, peace, and technology in our modern times."

"An extremely well-researched study that is of great value to historians of twentieth-century Japan and historians of aviation."

"Nishiyama is to be praised for the variety of sources he uses to study the role of engineers in the creation of modern Japan, both in times of war and peace. In particular, his work has benefited from personal interviews and correspondence with 18 former military engineers and their relatives, many connected with the Shinkansen project. This, along with reference to biographies and autobiographies, allows the author to construct a more human account of these technical problem solvers and their ability to adapt to the new demands of peacetime."

"Nishiyama's work provides us with an important foundation that challenges historians of technology of modern Japan and beyond to combine top-down and bottom-up methodologies in new and innovative ways."

"How Japan came to develop such a train [the Romance Car SE3000] and its successor, the famous Shinkansen "bullet train," is the subject of [this] fascinating book by Takashi Nishiyama."

"... Nishiyama's study represents a substantial contribution to the history of modern Japan."

" ... Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan should be read by anyone interested in a complex aspect of the Pacific War and its consequences."

"... This is a useful study and should be read by those interested in engineering cultures, postwar demilitarization, and the politics of technological innovation."

"... This is a useful study and should be ready by those interested engineering cultures, postwar demilitarization, and the politics of technological innovation."

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