Tōson Shimazaki: 夜明け前 (Before the Dawn)


The latest addition to my website is Tōson Shimazaki‘s 夜明け前 (Before the Dawn). This a massive (750+ page) novel about the events before and after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the shogunate, which had essentially ruled Japan for 250 years, returned power to the Emperor, with the result that Japan moved from being a semi-feudal state to a more modern one. Shimazaki gives us considerable detail of the many events during this period, the second half of the nineteenth century, showing that the Meiji Restoration did not just happen overnight but was, in many respect, a gradual process. We follow the story of the Aoyama family, based on Shimazaki’s own family, who manage the post house on a key road between Kyoto (home of the Emperor) and Edo (modern-day Tokyo), home of the shogunate, a position with considerable responsibility. In particular, we follow the story of Hanzo, who is a boy at the start of the story and whose funeral ends the novel. He is very keen on restoration of the Emperor and belongs to a group whose aim that is. He faces many problems, in both his professional and personal life but also witnesses the many changes, some good and some not so good. Shimazaki gives us a very detailed account of the history of Japan of the period as well as the life of the ordinary people. This novel has been recognised as one of the the finest works covering that period and is well worth reading for its account of late nineteenth century Japan.

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