Men in Metal

A Topography of Public Bronze Statuary in Modern Japan

In his pioneering study, Men in Metal, Sven Saaler examines Japanese public statuary as a central site of historical memory from its beginnings in the Meiji period through the twenty-first century. Saaler shows how the elites of the modern Japanese nation-state went about constructing an iconography of national heroes to serve their agenda of instilling national (and nationalist) thinking into the masses. Based on a wide range of hitherto untapped primary sources, Saaler combines data-driven quantitative analysis and in-depth case studies to identify the categories and historical figures that dominated public space. Men in Metal also explores the agents behind this visualized form of the politics of memory and introduces historiographical controversies surrounding statue-building in modern Japan.

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Sven Saaler, PhD, Bonn University, is professor of Modern Japanese History at Sophia University in Tokyo. He has written intensively on the history of regionalism in East Asia, on history controversies in Japan and on Japanese-German relations.
In response to his latest book Men in metal: A Topography of Public Bronze Statuary in Modern Japan professor Sven Saaler (Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan) talks about recent controversies over public statues by describing the active role statues and monuments play in shaping popular understandings of history, communicating ideas about society to future generations, and even disrupting Japanese diplomatic relations in East Asia in the podcast "The Politics of Public Statues and Monuments in Japan on the Record with Dr. Sven Saaler (Sophia)". Listen to the podcast here

This book is an elegant example of using a small topic to tell a very big story. While Japan Studies has been enlivened by a large literature on remembrance and commemoration in the last quarter century, not least by Sven Saaler himself, the roughly 3,000 statues of historical personages have received surprisingly little attention until the arrival of this deeply researched, beautifully produced, and lavishly illustrated volume. Laura Hein online on H-Soz-Kult,, 1 February 2021.

Men in Metal offers a timely and important study of Japanese public statuary of historical figures. Through meticulous research based on wide ranging primary and secondary sources, Sven Saaler has produced the defining work on the topic, a book that all interested readers should consult. Men in Metal is an admirable work that assiduously reveals how public statues of historical personalities have been deeply embedded in the history and power relations of modern Japan. It makes an important contribution to the field of collective memory studies through its exposition of public statues as visual and material objects with a potent ability to represent history. The inclusion of the roles of print media, tourism, television dramas, and so forth as elements that interact with statues to disseminate and solidify Great Man images and narratives makes the book relevant to disciplines outside history as well. Rumi Sakamoto in: Monumenta Nipponica, Volume 76, Number 1, 2021, pp. 193-198.
All interested in the history of modern Japan, the politics of memory surrounding the modern nation-state, nationalism, and public statuary as a significant genre of "political art."
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