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Ian Buruma

Ian Buruma is an Anglo-Dutch writer and academic. Much of his work focuses on Asian culture, particularly that of 20th-century Japan. A former journalist who spent years working in Asia, he is best known for Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance and for his commentary on faith and moral relativism. He is a widely syndicated columnist and a popular lecturer.

Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 international Erasmus Prize for making “an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe.” The ceremony will be held on November 7, 2008 in Rotterdam. Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 Shorenstein Journalism Award, an annual award which “honors a journalist not only for a distinguished body of work, but also for the particular way that work has helped American readers to understand the complexities of Asia.”

Ian Buruma makes sense of the most fateful span of Japan’s history, the period that saw as dramatic a transformation as any country has ever known. In the course of little more than a hundred years from the day Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in his black ships, this insular, preindustrial realm mutated into an expansive military dictatorship that supplanted the British, French, Dutch, and American empires in Asia before plunging to utter ruin, eventually emerging under American tutelage as a pseudo-Western-style democracy and economic dynamo.Buruma argues the story is one of a newly united nation that felt it must play catch-up to the established Western powers, a process that involved, in addition to outward colonial expansion, internal cultural consolidation and the manufacturing of a shared heritage. But Japan has always been both particularly open to the importation of good ideas and particularly prickly about keeping their influence quarantined, a bipolar disorder that would have dramatic consequences and that continues to this day. If one book is to be read in order to understand why the Japanese seem so impossibly strange to many Americans, Inventing Japan is it.

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