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Japan: A Reinterpretation
     

Japan: A Reinterpretation

4.1 26
by Patrick Smith
 

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Current Affairs/Asian Studies

Winner of the Overseas Press Club Award for the best book on Foreign Affairs
A New York Times Notable Book of the year

"A stimulating, provocative book . . . fresh and valuable."  
—The New York Times Book Review

In 1868, Japan abruptly transformed itself from a feudal society into a modern

Overview

Current Affairs/Asian Studies

Winner of the Overseas Press Club Award for the best book on Foreign Affairs
A New York Times Notable Book of the year

"A stimulating, provocative book . . . fresh and valuable."  
—The New York Times Book Review

In 1868, Japan abruptly transformed itself from a feudal society into a modern industrial state. In 1945, the Japanese switched just as swiftly from imperialism and emperor-worship to a democracy. Today, argues Patrick Smith, Japan is in the midst of equally sudden and important change.

In this award-winning book, Smith offers a groundbreaking framework for understanding the Japan of the next millennium. This time, Smith asserts, Japan's transformation is one of consciousness—a reconception by the Japanese of their country and themselves.  Drawing on the voices of Japanese artists, educators, leaders, and ordinary citizens, Smith reveals a "hidden history" that challenges the West's focus on Japan as a successfully modernized country. And it is through this unacknowledged history that he shows why the Japanese live in a dysfunctional system that marginalizes women, dissidents, and indigenous peoples; why the "corporate warrior" is a myth; and why the presence of 47,000 American troops persists as a holdover from a previous era.  The future of Japan, Smit suggests, lies in its citizens' ability to create new identities and possibilities for themselves—so creating a nation where individual rights matter as much as collective economic success. Authoritative, rich in detail, Japan: A Re interpretation is our first post-Cold War account of the Japanese and a timely guide to a society whose transformation will have a profound impact on the rest of the world in the coming years.

"Excellent . . . a penetrating examination."
—International Herald Tribune

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679745112
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1998
Edition description:
1 VINTAGE
Pages:
378
Sales rank:
950,285
Product dimensions:
5.14(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.84(d)

Meet the Author

Patrick Smith has worked as an editor and correspondent for more than twenty years (fourteen of them in Asia) with, among other publications, the New York Times, the Financial Times of London, the International Herald Tribune, and The New Yorker. He is the author of The Nippon Challenge: Japan's Pursuit of the Americas Cup. He lives in Norfolk, Connecticut.

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Japan: A Reinterpretation 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
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