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Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purposeby John Nathan
Synopses & Reviews
Not since World War II has Japan faced a crisis like the one before it now. A decade-long economic tumble has unraveled traditional social ties. Nationalist pride and bigotry are extolled by TV stars — and by the new governor of Tokyo prefecture. High culture languishes while comic book versions of the classics dominate bestseller lists. A panoply of bizarre role-playing clubs thrive on the new obsession with violating taboos. And this upheaval has significant ramifications for America. As the Japanese reject their traditions wholesale, they view their half-century-old connection to the United States with mounting antagonism.
Drawing on his fluent Japanese and unmatched intimacy with the culture, John Nathan explores a nascent Japan through a tapestry of portraits of individuals and institutions in crisis. Sea changes in business are augured by Carlos Ghosn, the Brazilian president of Nissan, once scorned as an outsider, now hailed for reviving a moribund giant. Nathan unveils the horrors of the Japanese school system and highlights the jingoistic extremes of its politics. He also takes the pulse of Japan's ordinary citizens, who are caught up in the country's profound societal shifts: the prevalence of comic books, feminism, the consumerism of teenage girls, and more.
"Up-to-date and written in a clear, conversational style, this fascinating and articulate look at contemporary Japan will intrigue readers of all persuasions." Publishers Weekly
"[Nathan's] extensive reportage, combined with an understanding of Japanese culture gained from his years as a student, gives an insightful study of a culture little understood in the United States." The New York Times
"An alarmist treatise, as American analysis of Japan tends to be. But worth considering, especially as the hold of the pro-US government weakens and Chinese power grows." Kirkus Reviews
Book News Annotation:
Nathan (Japanese cultural studies, U. of California-Santa Barbara) charts changes in Japanese life and culture since the end of World War II. Among them are bewildered children, the family crisis, the culture of arithmetic, the entrepreneurs, and the new institutionalism. He concludes that though the economy has stalled, the society is in motion.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
"The scary thing about this country," [Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, said] "is that our politicians don't have to say anything to succeed. When Noboru Takeshita was prime minister, his advice to me was 'lucid words, meaning unclear.' In this country, it's best to be mysterious; voters think that means there's something meaningful deeper down." Ishihara has never been mysterious. He is an outspoken nationalist who rails against the government. He claims that fifty years of subservience to the interests of the United States have deprived the Japanese of a national purpose and engendered a paralyzing identity crisis. And he reminds his countrymen that theirs is the only non-Caucasian society to have created a modern superpower. His enemies call him a demagogue and a racist, but his defiance resonates with the current mood of the country.
Not since World War II has Japan faced a crisis like the one before it now. An apparently endless recession has weakened the foundations of the traditional family and severed the bond between Japan's corporations and employees. Unruly children turn classrooms into battlefields. Ultranationalist pride and xenophobia are celebrated in best-selling comic books and championed by media superstars, including the governor of Tokyo. Upheavals across the society have significant ramifications for America. As the Japanese reject their traditions wholesale, they view their half-century-old connection to the United States with mounting skepticism.
Drawing on his fluent Japanese and unmatched intimacy with the culture, John Nathan reveals a nation newly unmoored from the traditions that have shored it up and sometimes stifled it. Dramatic changes in business are augured by Carlos Ghosn, the Brazilian president of Nissan, once scorned as an outsider, now hailed for reviving a moribund giant. The soft-spoken artist Yoshinori Kobayashi foments and reflects rabid nationalism among millions with his hugely popular comic books. Yasuo Tanaka, a puckish writer and bon vivant, wins the governorship of Nagano and revolutionizes Japanese politics with his radical populism.
Nathan delves beyond Japan's celebrities to map the epic shifts in daily life. He unveils the horrors of the Japanese school system. He goes inside a "career transition service" to witness the novel, nuanced rituals of job-hunting Japanese-style. He takes the pulse of ordinary citizens who are caught up in the country's many profound social shifts: agitprop pop culture, emerging feminism, environmentalism, teenage consumerism, entrepreneurship, and more.
With immediacy and élan, John Nathan dispels conventional wisdom about Japan and replaces it with a brilliant vision of a country roiling with pride, uncertainty, creativity, fear, and hope.
About the Author
John Nathan, the Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is the author of a definitive biography of the novelist Yukio Mishima and has translated the novels of both Mishima and the Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe into English. He is alsoan Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. John Nathanlives in Santa Barbara, California.
Table of Contents
Contents Introduction 1 1. Monsters in the House: Japans Bewildered Children 25 2. The Family Crisis 45 3. The Culture of Arithmetic 71 4. The Entrepreneurs 99 5. In Search of a Phantom 119 6. The New Nationalism II: Institutionalizing Tradition 139 7. Shintaro Ishihara: The Sun King 169 8. Yasuo Tanaka: The Trickster 203 Epilogue: Outgrowing Adolescence 231 Sources 255 Index 259 Acknowledgments 273
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