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Dogs and Demons: Tales From the Dark Side of Modern Japan [Kindle Edition]

Alex Kerr
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $18.95
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Sold by: Macmillan

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Book Description

The crises--and failures--of modernization in Japan, as seen up close by a resident expert

Japan is a nation in crisis, and the crisis goes far beyond its well-known economic plight. In Dogs and Demons, Alex Kerr chronicles the crisis on a broad scale, from the failure of Japan's banks and pension funds to the decline of its once magnificent modern cinema. The book takes up for the first time in the Western press subjects such as the nation's endangered environment--its seashores lined with concrete, its roads leading to nowhere in the mountains. It describes Japan's "monument frenzy," the destruction of old cities such as Kyoto and construction of drab new cities, and the attendant collapse of the tourist industry.

All these unhealthy developments are, Kerr argues, the devastating boomerang effect of an educational and bureaucratic system designed to produce manufactured goods--and little else. A mere upturn in economic growth will not quickly remedy these severe internal problems, which Kerr calls a "failure of modernism." He assails the foreign experts who, often dependent on Japanese government and business support, fail to address these issues. Meanwhile, what of the Japanese people themselves? Kerr, a resident of Japan for thirty-five years, writes of them with humor and passion, for "passion," he says, "is part of the story. Millions of Japanese feel as heartbroken at what is going on as I do. My Japanese friends tell me, 'Please write this--for us.'"

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kerr (Lost Japan), a 35-year resident of Japan and the first foreigner to win that country's Shincho literary prize, contends that the Japanese miracle has become a Japanese mess. Once admired, and perhaps feared, for its spectacular economic successes, Japan, Kerr claims, has become a land of "ravaged mountains and rivers, endemic pollution, tenement cities, and skyrocketing debts." What happened? He says that ideology and bureaucracy are to blame. Japan is in effect managed by an autonomous and corrupt government bureaucracy, driven by an ethos of economic growth at any cost and a mania for control. Everywhere Japan's natural beauty is being destroyed by useless construction projects, as nature must be controlled and construction companies rewarded. The great ancient cities too representative of old, underdeveloped Japan are being replaced by monuments and hotels that are concrete monstrosities. Japan's banking system has failed, yet no one really knows the extent of the damage, as the bureaucracy keeps accurate information hidden. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy continues to pour money into older industries, while Japan falls dangerously behind in the development of new information technologies. There is popular discontent, but protest is hard to come by, because the bureaucratically controlled educational system emphasizes obedience above all else. Japan is stuck, concludes Kerr, and he sees no easy way out. While perhaps alarmist in his message, Kerr fascinates with detailed descriptions of Japan's dilemma and offers a surprising, if controversial, vision of a land in trouble.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

In what may prove to be a highly controversial book, Kerr argues that Japan is in big trouble: a self-destructive country that is systematically destroying its landscape, its environment, its very culture by adherence to ideas and policies that are decades out of date. The author describes land-preservation schemes that end up destroying the land; a national health program that's near collapse; an education system that values conformity over originality; money-eating government programs that no one can seem to stop. In 1994, Japan produced 91.6 million tons of concrete (30 times as much as the U.S.), much of it used to build structures that serve no purpose. In 1998, Japan's government spent $136 billion on public works, more than what it cost to build the Panama Canal. It's hard to know if Kerr hits the mark here, but he makes a strong case. Expect him to start showing up on talk shows soon, and when he does, the requests for this inflammatory position paper will begin to build. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 590 KB
  • Print Length: 450 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0809039435
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (February 10, 2002)
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00699QX2K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,037 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Japanese point of view.... July 23, 2004
The trouble with being Japanaese is that your fellow Japanese won't understand what 'constructive criticism' means. Sadly, when someone points out what is wrong with today's Japan, it usually comes from non-Japanese writers, and this is yet another case in point. This book disappoints anyone who seeks root causes of Japan's ills today. Kerr is actually quite nice to the Japanese people by saying that it is Japan's inflated and constipated bureaucracy that is slow to adjust to modern society. People on the streets are largely spared of criticism. In fact, they are silently fuming over the stupidity of contructing worthless monuments and stadiums (Kerr should have waited for World Cup 2002, as Japan built dozens of useless football stadiums in the middle of nowhere). As Japanese myself, however, I would love to read something more about ordinary Japanese people, from whom the bureaucrats are recruited.

On the whole, however, this book elegantly sums up the reality of frustratingly inept public services in the coutry. I even wondered in the middle of reading this book whether Kerr is actually Japanese. His rather condescending American tone can easily be that of a typical Japanese rhetoric, pointing out how things are better in the (advanced) western countries (therefore we must change things in order to 'catch up' etc. etc.). However, Kerr is American obviously, and his criticism of modern Japanese architects shows his personal love for ancient Japan. It is this personal taste that is largely offended by 'Modern Japan' - he doesn't explore the possibility that Japan may be in transition from sharp focused modernisation/westenisation to creating something entirely new out of hitherto poorly executed east-west cultural mix. Doesn't any country pass an ugly cultural phase in its history?
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83 of 95 people found the following review helpful
Given the slew of publications trying to deconstruct the socio-economic malaise of this mysterious little island, it seems almost de rigueur to have something negative to say about Japan and cite an example or two. Kerr's Dogs and Demons will equip you with a lot of such satisfying trivia. But where this book out stands out is in its focus on the vacuity of Japan's post-modern culture instead of the tired discussions about Japan-US trade frictions or the incompetence of domestic government and indigenous manufacturers. With a discussion that veers largely around the idiosynchratic construction industry in Japan (a key favorite among Japan bashers and perhaps deservedly so) Kerr argues that "culture" is the underlying source of Japan's malaise some hundred years after sociologist Max Weber first tried to explain away China's backwardness in a similar fashion.
As the author explains, "Dogs and Demons" (from a Chinese metaphor) paints the simple things of everyday life that the West has taken for granted (Dogs) but are seemingly difficult for Japan -- e.g., sign control, the planting and tending of trees, zoning, burial of electric wires, protection of historic neighborhoods, comfortable and attractive residential design, environmentally friendly resorts. The difficult things (Demons) are ostentatious and expensive surface statements, symbolic gestures rather than substantive commitments -- e.g., museums without artwork, monuments without honor, roads without destinations.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insider's view of a closed society March 27, 2001
Kerr's book is a fascinating if slightly driven examination of the social and economic state of modern Japan. As a long standing resident of Japan, who nevertheless cannot help but remain an outsider in a very important sense, his take on modern Japan is deeply detailed and often engrossing. I was fascinated by the details of the construction state he describes, and by the apparent incongruities in the Western depiction of the Japanese economic miracle.
The book is, sadly, over long, and often repeats much the same point (often using the same words) many times. The dogs and demons metaphor gets irritating after its fifth or sixth rendering, and his decision to resort to personal anecdotes in making his claims often weakens the thrust of his other arguments.
Despite these minor problems, the book itself uncovers extraordinary details about the current state of Japan. How the much praised bureaucracy really works (or doesn't work, in his view) and how the web of corruption within the bureaucracy and government conspire to keep properties value high at the expense of the economy is fascinating. Even more finely wrought details are instructive, and I have found myself repeating these facts to others on several occasions. All this makes the book a very worthy read.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars from an ex-resident December 8, 2002
For people with experience of living in Japan and professing a love of the country, this book may confirm your worst fears, that despite efforts to convince yourself to the contrary, Japan is indeed a grim, ugly and disparaging environment in which to live.
It is a common phenomenon that, despite the reality around them, foreign residents of Japan believe they are living in the coffee-table-book vision of Japanese harmony and simplicity. Occasional glimpses of beauty in the form of a kimono, a beautifully wrapped present or a brightly coloured sushi bento box enable residents to reinforce this view and somehow shut-out the chaotic, claustrophobic, rabbit warren of neon-lit concrete and barrage of noise that surrounds them. Blinkering the obvious and magnifying the minute in order to deny their objectivity and justify their decisions to put off returning home for, just one more year.
These rare glimpses of the traditional Japan that people rightly admire and cherish are the last remnants of an aesthetic that is rapidly being buried beneath a shroud of concrete and Hello Kitty by Japan Inc. In "Dogs and Demons", Alex Kerr describes how this process has occurred and why. Those Japanophiles excited by the Japanese landscape as a symbol of an inevitable modernization, a futuristic prototype for all the world's cities will be disappointed to find that it isn't modernism that is responsible for the grim rubbish-tip quality of the Tokyo cityscape but a dated developing-world mentality and seemingly endless bureaucracy pocket lining.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars By Turns Fascinating and Frustrating
There is a certain image of Japan that persists in the popular imagination of the West: a country that cherishes its connection with the natural world, takes pride in its... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lothe
5.0 out of 5 stars Bracing look at contemporary Japan
This is a well-written and opinionated look at the state of modern Japan, which was a thought-provoking companion as I travelled across Japan with my family this summer. Read more
Published 2 months ago by James Reimann
4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty much explains why Japan is how it is.
I've been interested in Japan for a while and have been researching more and more into this fascinating country. Dogs and Demons actually made me a bit sad. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Milvey
5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing as ...
Everyone should read this - but not if you tend to get depressed. More about unions, yakuza, government revolving doors and the use of concrete to oppress nature than you want to... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mark Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars Still insightful over 10 years later
Sad to say but Kerr's comments and insights from this work are still relevant years later, showing that the fundamental problems have not really been addressed. Read more
Published 8 months ago by JK
5.0 out of 5 stars Alex Kerr continues his excellent, thoughtful writing about Japan
Alex Kerr is an excellent writer and Dogs and Demons is a thoughtful and engaging book. I have returned to this book several times over the years and recommend it to those seeking... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Vinyl Archeologist
5.0 out of 5 stars The construction state
This book is not an exaggeration of Japan's dark sides at all. Anyone who has lived in Japan for a couple of years and has kept an open mind will agree with Kerr's analysis. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Anne Friedrichs
5.0 out of 5 stars The subtitle tells it like it is--tales from the dark side of Japan.
For all those of us who love Japan so much, and want as much insight and background as we can find, this book does it--beautifully written, and from the heart.
Published 14 months ago by Ruth Gottstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Why?
Why do the Japanese not see that replacing their beautiful, soaring rooflines and spacious wooden frame residences with small, cold, concrete warrens is several steps backwards in... Read more
Published 16 months ago by VT
5.0 out of 5 stars A little out of date but still very insightful
This book perfectly explains what I have seen and experienced in the three years that I have lived in Japan. I love Japan and it is my second home but it is going downhill. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Myst
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