Japan: A Reinterpretation

Japan: A Reinterpretation

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by Patrick Smith
     
 

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The Japanese are in the process of re-creating themselves--an endeavor they have undertaken at intervals throughout history, always prompted by a combination of domestic and global forces. In this landmark book, Patrick Smith asserts that a variety of forces--the achievement of material affluence, the Cold War's end, and the death of Emperor Hirohito--are now spurring… See more details below

Overview

The Japanese are in the process of re-creating themselves--an endeavor they have undertaken at intervals throughout history, always prompted by a combination of domestic and global forces. In this landmark book, Patrick Smith asserts that a variety of forces--the achievement of material affluence, the Cold War's end, and the death of Emperor Hirohito--are now spurring Japan once again toward a fundamental redefinition of itself.  

As Smith argues, this requires of the West an equally thorough reevaluation of the picture we have held of Japan over the past half-century. He reveals how economic overdevelopment conceals profound political, social, and psychological under-development. And by refocusing on "internal history"  and the Japanese character, Smith offers a new framework for understanding Japan and the Japanese as they really are. The Japanese, he says, are now seeking to alter the very thing we believe distinguishes them: the relationship between the individual and society.

Timely, measured, and authoritative, this book illuminates a new Japan, a nation preparing to drop the mask it holds up to the West and to steer a course of its own in the world.

Jacket image: The Great Wave of Kanagawa, from 36 Views of Mount Fuji (detail) by Katsushika Hokusai. Private collection.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

International Herald Tribune
Excellent . . . a penetrating examination.
Frank Gibney
A stimulating, provocative book . . . fresh and valuable. — The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Alone among primitive societies, Japan is `advanced'; alone among advanced societies, Japan has remained primitive." This is the burden explored in this wonderfully engrossing book by an Asian correspondent for the New York Times, the Financial Times of London and the International Herald Tribune. Smith maintains that what we call the Japanese character "is the result of a primitive habit of confinement and exclusion, fixed for centuries" and not yet completely disassembled. The imposition after WWII of the U.S.-designed constitution, based on Western democratic ideals, was followed immediately by our restoration of the power of the old ruling class. This created not a democracy, Smith explains, but an extension of the old system and a confusion about identity, the current search for which is complicated by the increasing stresses felt by a feudal country thrust into the modern world. Smith examines these stresses in detail, playing them against the fantasies and myths of Westerners. He describes Japan's growing dissatisfaction with its educational system, which is the envy of many Americans but which is now, ironically, under pressure to liberalize to produce creative thinkers rather than obedient workers. Smith also gives evidence of both past and present-day rebellion against the severe denial of individuality for the sake of the state's strength and prosperity, and he examines the loveless marriages, the growing assertiveness of women and the slavery of the sararimen (salary men). In his sweeping analysis of the country's history, economy, politics and culture, Smith has produced a new, startlingly clear-sighted vision of the often misunderstood Japanese.
Library Journal
Smith, a journalist (New York Times, International Herald Tribune), attacks the view of Japan held by most Americans. Articulated best by Edwin O. Reischauer (The Japanese, 1977; updated as The Japanese Today), it sees the Japanese as "our hard-working, uncomplicated, compliant friends." This view, argues Smith, glosses over many unattractive things about Japan, including the subservient position of women, violence in the educational system, poverty in rural areas, and undue stress in the workplace. Smith believes that by acting as apologists for Japan, Reischauer and others in what has become known as the Chrysanthemum Club have failed to allow the Japanese their own past. After examining Japanese history, society, and culture, Smith sees the Japanese "re-creating themselves, making themselves anew." -- William L. Wuerch, Micronesian Area Research Ctr., Univ. of Guam
Time Magazine
An invigorating blast of fresh air . . . An important book.
Kirkus Reviews
A radically against-the-grain appraisal of Japan and the Japanese from a journalist who spent many years on the Asia beat. Drawing largely on his own experience and research, Smith (The Nippon Challenge) offers a thoughtful refutation of the stereotypes that tend to inform Western perceptions of Japan and its people. To begin with, he takes strong exception to the fiction that the island nation is an independent democracy populated by obedient, industrious souls glad to work themselves to death on behalf of the state's ambitious commercial/trade goals. As a practical matter, the author argues, Japan remains a ward of the US, which in aid of Cold War objectives during the post WW II occupation restored to power a ruling class that still runs the country in semi-feudal fashion. Smith also asserts that portrayals of Japan as a hotbed of consensus, group identity, and loyalty err, since such attributes have more to do with the coercive requirements of a mass-production society than indigenous custom. In this context, he documents the ways in which government elites rely on educational institutions to school a population willing and able to serve the national interest, not to cultivate knowledge, rational inquiry, or other liberal values. Smith goes on to reckon the cost to Japan's citizens of the gap between their image and reality, and what their aspirations might augur for the country's place in the world. Covered as well are the myth of the sarariman (salaried middle manager) as a samurai warrior, the undeveloped state of Japan's interior, and the diminishing justification for America's continued presence.

An astute, accessible, and absorbingly original appreciation of a nation whose true colors have been exaggerated or misrepresented by Japan-bashers and others with special-interest agendas.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307789723
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/30/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
849,326
File size:
3 MB

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