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Japan: A Reinterpretation Paperback – September 29, 1998

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (September 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745112
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,444,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For years westerners have viewed Japan as a nation of democratic, hard-working, unabashedly pro-Western people, a viewpoint promulgated mainly by a group of postwar scholars known as the Chrysanthemum Club. Journalist Patrick Smith takes a hard, fresh look at Japan and its relations with the West--particularly the United States--in Japan: A Reinterpretation. Smith asserts that the economic miracle we in the West have long admired was achieved at the expense of true political reform, creating a corporation instead of a democracy. Now that the miracle has collapsed, the Japanese are in a state of cultural, political, and social malaise.

Smith approaches Japan from many different directions: first by reinterpreting the country's postwar history as presented by the Chrysanthemum Club, then by delving into the lives of ordinary Japanese. From the overworked salarymen to the upper echelons of Japanese politicians, Patrick Smith paints a bold new picture of a nation suffering from overdevelopment. In addition, Japan: A Reinterpretation focuses on infrequently examined topics such as Japan's educators and writers. Though some of Smith's statements may seem a bit hyperbolic, his book is solidly researched and impeccably presented. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Smith, a journalist (New York Times, International Herald Tribune), attacks the view of Japan held by most Americans. Articulated best by Edwin O. Reischauer (The Japanese, 1977; updated as The Japanese Today, LJ 1/88), it sees the Japanese as "our hard-working, uncomplicated, compliant friends." This view, argues Smith, glosses over many unattractive things about Japan, including the subservient position of women, violence in the educational system, poverty in rural areas, and undue stress in the workplace. Smith believes that by acting as apologists for Japan, Reischauer and others in what has become known as the Chrysanthemum Club have failed to allow the Japanese their own past. After examining Japanese history, society, and culture, Smith sees the Japanese "re-creating themselves, making themselves anew." This will allow them to see themselves as they actually are. A thoughtful work; highly recommended.?William L. Wuerch, Micronesian Area Research Ctr., Univ. of Guam
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

It's a good place to start for anybody interested in Japan -- which is only starting to get interesting (as long as you like rollercoasters!)
Hywel Evans
In Japan people won't stare at you because they respect your privacy, in the US people won't stare because they don't want to attract a criminal or unwanted advance.
Edward Baiamonte
It seems that the author fails to understand that serious scholarship often does lead to divergent interpretations of the same historical events.
Shawn Harding

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on May 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
WHile Japan was viewed as The Economy to Emulate, a number of very bad books came out that exagerated and distorted what its corporations and government accomplished. In retrospect, these fawning books, such as Ezra Vogel's J as #1, appear ridiculous. Then, as fears of J's superiority mounted, there was a rash of "revisionist" books, which argued that Japan was competing unfairly rather than better.
Now that Japan has faded from the scene somewhat, more balanced perspectives are coming out. Smith's book is one of the better such ones. Not only does offer it praise of certain companies and their innovations, but it does not flinch when criticizing the grotesque underdevelopment of the political system as well as the stunted individuality - the neurotic underside - of the Japanese character. Smith demonstrates convincing that there is terrible sickness within, that the country suffers from a "culture of irresponsibility" and that the younger generation may be the one to make reforms - after the older one dies off.
It is deeply pessimistic, but for anyone who has lived in Japan, a welcome breath of fresh air: critical but not a polemic, empathic without scorn. Recommended.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 1999
Format: Paperback
The apparent inscrutability of Japan and the Japanese to foreigners has spawned a legion of books ever since the Meiji Restoration. Smith's contribution to this vast literature is a popular book, but while the writing itself is good, the organization and content of _Japan: A Reinterpretation_ are unfocused, as points are made early in the book but never built upon, chapters wander from topic to topic, and occasionally the book turns into a not-too-original criticism (some would say "bashing") of Japan and Japanse culture.

Early on Smith makes a valuable point, that during the Occupation the United States essentially put the deposed rulers back in power and developed Japan in its own image and for its own purposes. Smith seems to think a lot of this, and it is certainly not orthodox history as they teach it in high schools, but it is never followed up completely, and the middle chapters consist of a wandering, dull, anecdotal criticism of Japanese society with little or no consideration for where the various strands of culture emerged. Smith seems never to have taken an anthropology course in college, since his criticisms are unabashedly Western-oriented. The standards of U.S. culture are implicitly held up as the measuring block for all of Smith's analyses. Put another way, Smith seems a bit culturally myopic, and doesn't have a very good idea of just what his ramblings mean, as interesting as they are to some degree.

Further, while it may be true that the average Japanese has a rough time of it compared to Americans, the usual depiction of the Japanese as oppressed, neurotic, and depressed is not only overstated as usual, but Smith never tries to come to grips with the cultural and political structure that brings about this situation.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
I really appreciated this book. First - the approach is terrific. The telling of Japan through its artists, poets and everyday people is much more effective than the western style of politicians and military leaders. Second - Smith does a terrific job of connecting things in Japan that are not readily understood. I lived in Japan for 10 years and was looking to be critical and find flaws in his story. I found very few faults, learned alot and was never bored. Glad he wrote it.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
I lived in Japan for two years, can speak/read/write Japanese, and have read about a half-dozen books on Japan - and consider this book to be the most important of the lot. This is because it is the only one which conveys the unique experience - both good and bad - of living in Japan, and tells Japan's history with an eye towards explaining that experience.
The main reason I am writing this review is to dispell the accusation of racism in the other reviews. What these reviewers do not realize is that the foreigners living in Japan are victims of racism. Any book written by a victimized minority about the larger group will by necessity make generalizations. What makes this book so successful is that it never attacks, and gives copious historical data explaining how these attitudes developed.
The book is intelligent and scholarly but not academic. It also reads quickly. I read it towards the end of my stay in Japan and I can tell you that every page ressonates with the sting of racism that I felt on a daily basis.
Racism in America is a very touchy subject. And many Americans have difficulty understanding and believing the unique form that it takes in Japan. But I claim that that discomfort is good. Living in Japan is not like something you see on the travel chanel, and is a story which needs to be told.
My final note is that the foreigners living in Japan who never attained an advanced level of Japanese, and so limited their interactions to the minority of Japanese who could speak English well, probably never realized that this racism even existed. This is the unique brand of racism that exists in Japan towards foreigners.
For this reason I recommend this book to anyone who lived in Japan and realized that there were things going which they didn't realize. Anyone who has not those experiences will invariably get less out of it.
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