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Shapers of Japanese History

Look back on the lives of the people who have influenced Japan and its culture over the years.

The Life of Japan’s “Last Samurai” Saigō Takamori

Known for his failed rebellion against the Meiji government he helped bring to power, Saigō Takamori is seen as a tragic figure in Japan. From obscure origins in southwestern Japan, he rose to the center of the Japanese establishment before turning against it.
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Andō Momofuku: An Inventor Who Used His Noodle to Change Global Food Culture

Instant ramen: just add hot water and you have a meal in a few minutes, anytime, anywhere. The product had its beginnings with Chicken Ramen by Nissin Foods, invented by Andō Momofuku in a backyard workshop. National broadcaster NHK’s morning serial Manpuku, slated for broadcast beginning in autumn 2018, recounts the ups and downs of Andō’s life and his indomitable originality.
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Shibusawa Eiichi: Japan’s Moral Capitalist

Meiji-era entrepreneur and business leader Shibusawa Eiichi established and helped run over 500 banks and commercial enterprises during his lifetime, earning the reputation as the “father of Japanese capitalism.” But he also believed that morality and economic activity were inseparable and that public interest should come before profits. Using this doctrine, he was involved with some 600 social welfare organizations. The Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Museum in Tokyo tells the story of the influential industrialist and philanthropist.
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Sakamoto Ryōma: The Samurai Who Dreamed of a Modern Japan

Sakamoto Ryōma is one of Japan’s favorite historical figures and was a central mover in efforts to overthrow the shogunate 150 years ago. He was killed at the age of 31, however, and so did not live to see his efforts to modernize the country bear fruit. In this article we look at the life and enduring popular appeal of a low-ranking samurai who became influential at the highest level.
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Natsume Sōseki: Japan’s Foremost Modern Novelist

A portrait of Natsume Sōseki, Japan’s most highly regarded modern author, 150 years after his birth. Skilled in both the traditional learning of classical Chinese and the newly fashionable English, Sōseki transformed Japanese literature in the early twentieth century. In classic works like Kokoro, his characters grapple with the pains of egoism and isolation.
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