Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose
John Nathan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $25 (271pp) ISBN 978-0-618-13894-4
In September 1990, the Tokyo Stock Exchange dropped 48% in four days: a pop that signaled the end of the bubble of Japanese prosperity. Now the country is mired in its longest recession since World War II and, according to this brilliant treatise by UC Santa Barbara professor Nathan, the nation's financial woes are bringing to the surface Japan's centuries-old struggle to define its national identity. Drawing upon his extensive scholarship and first-hand knowledge of the country, Nathan begins his analysis of Japan's""existential uneasiness"" by delving into the country's history of traditionalism, which he argues has crumbled significantly since the stock market crash. Nuclear families are breaking up and forsaking their belief in collective living, he says, while middle managers who once expected promotions and job security are now staring down pink slips, and hard-working students who are no longer guaranteed admittance to top colleges are demonstrating violent tendencies or simply refusing to leave their homes to attend class. Feeding into this growing discontent are the right wing extremists, Nathan writes, who promulgate messages of fanatic nationalism and attempt to whitewash history texts in order to glorify the nation's past. Nathan's chronicle relies primarily on in-person interviews and the author treats his subjects with sensitivity, but is not afraid of asking pointed questions. Nowhere is this clearer than in the book's two concluding chapters on the uber-Nationalist governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, and his liberal antithesis Yasuo Tanaka, the governor of rural Nagano. Up-to-date and written in a clear, conversational style, this fascinating and articulate look at contemporary Japan will intrigue readers of all persuasions. 8-page b&w photos insert not seen by PW.
Reviewed on: 02/16/2004