About-Face: How I Stumbled onto Japan's Social Revolution

About-Face: How I Stumbled onto Japan's Social Revolution

by Clayton Naff

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this myth-breaking assessment of life in Japan today, Naff presents a disturbing but ultimately positive depiction. He maintains that the country is still hugely misunderstood and he is well situated to describe its realities, as an American working for a Japanese employer-the Tokyo-based Japan Times-and as the husband of a Japanese (his wife is an architect). Naff intersperses an insightful history of the country with an account of his own life as husband, father and son-in-law of a Japanese family. We learn that Japanese women are so dissatisfied with the constrictions of marriage that they are divorcing at a high rate, or refusing to marry at all; that the once admired educational and managerial systems are crumbling; that the country is unprepared for the problems of its large aging population. But Naff also suggests that the still fundamental feudal structure of Japanese society is giving way and will eventually move closer to real democracy. (Oct.)
Library Journal
These two books have much in common; both are written by young Americans with firsthand living experience in Japan. Naff, a journalist living in Tokyo and married to a Japanese, clearly offers the fuller analysis. To achieve this, he intersperses sections detailing personal experiences with others offering a broader perspective on social and historical change. In this latter connection, Naff includes a discussion of the recent political "revolution" in Japan, as well as the country's changing economy and place in world affairs. Wardell's book, on the other hand, is wholly personal in approach. Now a Harvard student and journalist, Wardell spent a summer in the late 1980s living as an exchange student with a host family in Oita, a city on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu. His work consists almost entirely of journal notes kept during that period. Wardell, who was 17 years old at the time, writes with a combination of youthful exuberance and a real knack for cultural understanding. The opportunity to live in a place far removed from modern, cosmopolitan Tokyo (albeit with a host family whose "modern" attitudes may not be entirely representative of all contemporary Japanese families) allowed him a unique and interesting perspective. Together, these complementary books provide valuable firsthand accounts of the modernization both authors see occurring in contemporary Japanese society. Highly recommended for general readers.-Scott Wright, Univ. of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.
Angus Trimnell
Has Japan's postwar economic miracle had its proverbial dog's day? Reports to this effect serve as a starting point in American journalist Naff's attempt to extract from the myth of expressionless Japan the reality of the Japanese people. Naff, whose wife is a native Japanese, worked in Japan for years as a foreign correspondent and as a reporter for the "Japan Times". This book combines people-centered historical passages with Naff's recollections of his own experiences in coming to Japan and learning the ways of its people and, consequently, understanding their hardships and desires. His vignettes are frequently amusing and engaging. Although his history does not offer a particularly coherent or objective picture, he does a rather nice job of connecting the history with his experiences. All in all, this is a thoughtful and dynamic read for anyone with an interest in the situation behind the myth.

Product Details

Kodansha International
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.93(w) x 8.56(h) x 1.20(d)

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