Music and the Making of Modern Japan: Joining the Global Concert. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2024. doi:

Japan was the first non-Western nation to compete with the Western powers at their own game. The country’s rise to a major player on the stage of Western music has been equally spectacular. The connection between these two developments, however, has never been explored.

How did making music make Japan modern? How did Japan make music that originated in Europe its own? And what happened to Japan’s traditional music in the process? Music and the Making of Modern Japan answers these questions. Discussing musical modernization in the context of globalization and nation-building, Margaret Mehl argues that, far from being a side-show, music was part of the action on centre stage. Making music became an important vehicle for empowering the people of Japan to join in the shaping of the modern world.

In only fifty years, from the 1870s to the early 1920s, Japanese people laid the foundations for the country’s post-war rise as a musical as well as an economic power. Meanwhile, new types of popular song, fuelled by the growing global record industry, successfully blended inspiration from the West with musical characteristics perceived as Japanese.

Music and the Making of Modern Japan represents a fresh contribution to historical research on making music as a major cultural, social, and political force.


  • Japan in the 1870s-early 1920s
  • Western powers
  • Music
  • Modernization
  • Globalization
  • Traditional Japanese music



And the good news: Music and the Making of Modern Japan is Open Access, so you can browse, download, and read it for free:

In addition, I have published books in English and German on  the history of modern Japan. My two most recent books are:

1. Not by Love Alone: The Violin in Japan, 1850-2010  (Copenhagen: The Sound Book Press, 2014).

Suzuki Shin’ichi, the Tokyo String Quartet, Midori – How did Japanese violinists manage to revolutionize violin teaching, win international competitions, conquer Western concert stages, study at world-famous conservatoires and take up positions in leading orchestras and prestigious music faculties? What enabled the Japanese to master Western classical music within a few decades? What are the true origins of the Suzuki Method? How did Mozart and Beethoven come to be more widely heard in Japan today than Japan’s own traditional music?

Not by Love Alone presents Japan’s biggest success story: the complete assimilation of an alien musical tradition within a few decades and Japan’s rise to a musical superpower in the latter half of the twentieth century. The violin played a key role in this story and is still one of the most popular instruments. Mass-produced by Suzuki Masakichi already in 1900, it became the vehicle for Suzuki Shin’ichi’s pioneering teaching method fifty years later.

Not by Love Alone traces the history of the violin in Japan from its beginnings to the present day. It presents the most important pioneers of Western music and the violin, both Japanese and foreign, the first students, violin makers and composers for the violin, early child prodigies, pioneering teachers, and today’s leading violinists, including those who have crossed stylistic boundaries. In addition Not by Love Alone discusses the relationship between the violin and the traditional music of Japan as well as the violin’s part in expressing Japan’s modern identity.

Keywords: Violin, Japan, modern history, music, education, Suzuki Method, violinists


Not By Love Alone is available from Amazon and other major retailers; e-book from Kobo and Kindle, 日本のAMAZONからもご注文できます。キンドルもどうぞ


2. History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan: The World, the Nation and the Search for a Modern Past. Second Edition with New Preface (Copenhagen: The Sound Book Press, 2017).

The nineteenth century saw the emergence both of history as an independent scientific discipline and of national history as a means to legitimize the nation state. In History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan Margaret Mehl examines how the new imperial government, which replaced the rule of the shoguns in 1868, made the compilation of an off national history part of its nation-building project.

An imperial rescript decreed that a government office of historiography be established in order to resume the ancient tradition of compiling dynastic history. Shaping the modern nation, however, involved re-shaping ways of representing the past. ­ The office moved to Japan’s first modern University in 1888, where it was transformed into a research institute, known today as the Historiographical Institute at the University of Tokyo. The former government officials led the way in establishing history as an independent academic discipline.

History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan shows how the government’s efforts to legitimate the emperor-centred nation state, indigenous traditions of scholarship and impulses from the West combined to shape the modern discipline of history in Japan. The relationship between history and political ideology, German influence and the importance of history for national identity receive particular attention. Modern historical scholarship in Japan did not merely follow Western examples. Rather, it emerged almost at the same time as in Germany and other Western nations as they all faced similar global challenges.

In a new preface the author reflects on the way the writing of History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan was influenced by the circumstances under which she worked and on the perils of privileging national history in an increasingly globalized world.

History and the State in Nineteenth-Century Japan is available from Amazon and other major retailers; e-book from Kindle.

History and the State has been translated into Japanese:

『歴史と国家  - 19世紀日本のナショナル・アイデンティティと学問』

マーガレット メール 著千葉 功 訳者代表松沢 裕作 訳者代表。東京大学出版会 2017年。

– available from Tokyo University Press and Amazon Japan.


Currently, my main book project is another book on music in Japan. My ideas about what the main focus will be have changed several times.

For more information about this and my other writing projects, please see here.


Contact Margaret Mehl.