The Enigma of Japanese Power

Karel Van Wolferen, Author, Karel Van Wolferen, Author Knopf Publishing Group $24.95 (496p) ISBN 978-0-394-57796-8
Here at last is a first-rate book by a Westerner on the obfuscations and realities of Japanese politics. Japan is not a constitutionalist state with a free market economy, stresses van Wolferen, for over 20 years a journalist in Tokyo. With almost stupefying thoroughness he shows that the Japanese are ruled by what he calls ``the System,'' an elite, tightly woven web of administrators ( daimyos in pin-striped suits, so to speak) who, despite being leaderless and therefore not in control of themselves, perpetuate their power by ``managing'' reality through intimidation, indoctrination and the subtle promotion of certain myths, particularly that of their own benevolence. The myths include these: that the Japanese are ``unique''; that foreigners don't ``understand'' them; that Western firms fail in Japan because they ``don't try hard enough''; and that the Japanese are victims of history, even of World War II. The country now seems on a collision course with the rest of the industrialized world, the Dutch author bleakly concludes, and since only something akin to revolution is likely to change the System, it's up to the West to devise ``wise policies'' in regard to it. To call the book controversial is to miss the depth of its insights. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1989
Release date: 04/01/1989
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