cover image Japan: A Reinterpretation

Japan: A Reinterpretation

Patrick Smith. Pantheon Books, $27.5 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42231-0

""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. Author tour. (Apr.)