Japan: A Reinterpretation

by Patrick Smith


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

Reviews from (http://www.amazon.com)

For years westerners have viewed Japan as a nation of democratic, hard-working, unabashedly pro-Western people, a viewpoint promulgated mainly by a group of postwar scholars known as the Chrysanthemum Club. Journalist Patrick Smith takes a hard, fresh look at Japan and its relations with the West--particularly the United States--in Japan: A Reinterpretation. Smith asserts that the economic miracle we in the West have long admired was achieved at the expense of true political reform, creating a corporation instead of a democracy. Now that the miracle has collapsed, the Japanese are in a state of cultural, political, and social malaise.

Smith approaches Japan from many different directions: first by reinterpreting the country's postwar history as presented by the Chrysanthemum Club, then by delving into the lives of ordinary Japanese. From the overworked salarymen to the upper echelons of Japanese politicians, Patrick Smith paints a bold new picture of a nation suffering from overdevelopment. In addition, Japan: A Reinterpretation focuses on infrequently examined topics such as Japan's educators and writers. Though some of Smith's statements may seem a bit hyperbolic, his book is solidly researched and impeccably presented.

The New York Times Book Review, Frank Gibney
No bit of academic microhistory this. Patrick Smith paints with an extremely broad brush. From the spirited prologue to the very useful bibliography in the back, the author, who ran the International Herald Tribune's Tokyo bureau, has set out to show us the real Japan, as distinct from "the Orientalist 'Japan' Americans conceived after the war" and "still read about in our newspapers."

From Booklist , 04/01/97
Smith aims to shatter a long-held--if mythical--picture of orientalist Japan and the traits associated with that image, particularly as depicted in the writings of Edwin O. Reischauer, who is credited with shaping many illusionary notions about the Japanese. A long, lustrous journalistic career has sharpened Smith's gaze on recent Asian affairs. But before his new work proceeds to a sweeping overview of Japan dating from prehistoric times, followed by a concentrated honing-in on the years after World War II, Smith examines the U.S. role of occupier and ally. Many threads are seamlessly brought together here; through conversations and observations, Smith's fluid investigation alights on Japanese feminism, the educational system, samurai culture, and a range of other economic, political, and social issues. Satisfying and thought provoking, Smith's portrait of Japan today is certainly potent.
Alice Joyce Copyright© 1997, American Library Association. All rights reserved

From Kirkus Reviews , 03/01/97
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, 1992) 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 postWW II occupation restored to power a ruling class that still runs the country in semifeudal 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 spirations 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.
Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Book Description
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.

This landmark book reevaluates the picture we have held of Japan over the past half century--as a virtual American protectorate--by examining its culture, customs, history, and the probable shape of what is to come. Timely, measured, and authoritative, this book is a revelation of Japan's protean position in world
affairs--in the recent past and in the foreseeable future.

About 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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