I read part of A History of Japan, Revised Edition, by R.H.P. Mason and J.G. Caiger, quite some time ago when I was reading The Tale of Genji along with some friends. (I haven’t finished yet, unfortunately.) I read it in full while I was actually in Japan. Which was belated, yes, but at least I got to it eventually.
This is a compact book that is very good at outlining broad social trends and economic forces. Sometimes this makes it a little dry, but I think that’s the nature of the genre, and I was able to supplement it with cool stories in tourist brochures.
Written and updated by Australians, the book isn’t shy about talking about the effect of Western imperialism on modern Japan. However, it sketches the post-World War II period with only a very light and broad brush, which I found disappointing. I also felt that it could have paid more attention to women in Japanese society. For instance, women’s suffrage is described as a consequence of the Occupation, with no discussion of whether Japanese female suffragettes existed. And I believe the Ainu are mentioned perhaps twice. (We shipped this, along with some other non-fragile, non-urgent items, to ourselves to save luggage space, and haven’t received the box yet.)
With those caveats, however, I found this a useful way to get a quick grounding in Japanese history.