cover image American Shogun: A Tale of Two Cultures

American Shogun: A Tale of Two Cultures

Robert Harvey, . . Overlook, $35 (480pp) ISBN 978-1-58567-682-8

September 27, 1945, was a remarkable day. A vanquished emperor—one said to be directly descended from the sun goddess and possessing a blood line 2,000 years old—paid humble fealty to a middle-class, pipe-smoking American who hadn't bothered wearing a jacket or tie for the occasion. According to former British MP Harvey (Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence ), when a nervous Hirohito met the "American shogun," Gen. Douglas MacArthur—Japan's liberator and first foreign ruler and dictator—it was clear that Japanese-American relations would not be conducted between equals. MacArthur's task, as he saw it, was to forge Japan into a democracy without upsetting its ultratraditional society and institutions. He accomplished many, but not all, of his aims: Japan arose to become the world's second-greatest economy and a technological superpower, but remains a bastion of stiff social hierarchies and consensus-building that refuses to submit to a painful postwar self-examination. Harvey dissects the long, complicated, fascinating relationship between Japan and America through a dual biography of the shogun and the emperor—and the rival systems they represented. Harvey is well aware of the book's timeliness. MacArthur's efforts to export democracy to an alien culture, he says, contain "immense lessons for the American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan." 16 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)