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Japan as Number One: Lessons for America Paperback – September 29, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (September 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583484108
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583484104
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,089,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ezra Vogel is Professor of Socialogy and Chariman of the Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE on July 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
I have just finished Ezra Vogel's Japan as Number One and I found it a surprisingly good book. I say surprisingly good because I had some preconceived notions about the book without having even read it. I thought that it was full of cliches, that it was too positive about Japan and that it ignored the bad aspects of Japanese economy and society, that it wasn't based on serious research and that one could only learn distorted lessons from it.

And in a way all these criticisms proved to be true: the cliches in the book are those generalizations that Japanese love to repeat about themselves, especially in the presence of foreigners; painting a rosy picture was all too natural for a country that had experienced more than two decades of unprecedented growth and overcome the first oil shock; most of the structural weaknesses of the Japanese economy were not already visible (although the book does pinpoint social weaknesses), Western scholars who had studied contemporary Japan were only a handful, and the knowledge base was very thin; and the book proved too pessimistic in its depiction of American ills that it thought could be cured by drawing lessons from the Japanese model.

So what makes it a good book? First, one has to consider the date when it was published: 1979. At that time, an academic pretending that Japan was a number one nation may only have invited incredulity and bewilderment. Americans knew very little about Japan or, if they did, were mostly attracted to the traditional aspects of its culture and national character.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
Ezra Vogel is a Harvard educated and based scholar on the Far East. He has published 10 or so books on the area, including ones on China, Korea, and "the four tigers." In 1979, when this work was published, it advanced the controversial thesis that America had already been eclipsed economically. Japan's success was primarily attributed to the flexibility and willingness of their governing institutions to do what worked, shorn of ideological considerations. And, they had an "industrial policy," with the government picking and supporting likely "winners," and closing down the "losers."

There is an old adage on Wall Street that when a company makes the cover of a popular news magazine, touted as a success, then it is time to sell it short. All the good news has been "fully discounted." Vogel's book was a bit too "cutting edge" to merit the same fate. Japan continued to flourish, as he indicated, for another entire decade, before its ludicrous real estate "house of cards" collapsed in 1989 (as one indicator, the land under the Imperial Palace in Tokyo was valued at more than all the land in California). Hum, real estate "games" does have a familiar ring.

Vogel is knowledgeable. He had been visiting Japan annually, for extended periods, for two decades prior to this work's publication. His first chapter is entitled the Japanese "miracle" and recounts how it quickly recovered from the utter devastation of World War II. In part, the "clean slate" allowed them to have a fresh look, and actually make changes in the way their society was organized, with very real poverty being a constant goad to pragmatism. He says that if there is a single factor that explains their success, it is a group-directed quest for knowledge.
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27 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Abiola Lapite on January 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This was the book that launched a thousand other efforts in the "Japan Hyping" that marked the Bubble Economy of the 1980s. The very same qualities that Vogel pointed out as key to Japan's success, and thoroughly worthy of emulation, are now attributed as being the cause of the country's post-bubble stagnation, and it is laughable to think that the Japanese edition of this book was an all-time bestseller on the country's non-fiction list. Who still advocates taking lessons from Japan on education, finance or corporate governance today?
Ezra Vogel deserves a place of honor alongside Paul Ehrlich and other would-be prophets of the future whose prophecies ended up being egregiously far off the mark. His book should
be read, if at all, as a caution against buying into journalistic hype, a problem those susceptible to today's China-boosting would do well to take heed of; the future is rarely a straightforward extrapolation of the past.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Takemoto on December 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
Written in 1979 before the world new just how big that little country on the edge of Asia was going to be, this book prefigured the realisation if not the reality of Japan's rise to economic power by a decade. In that decade many more 'Japan Hype' books came out, and a decade or two later the "Japanese miracle" is seen as a debacle. But Japanese economy remains the second largest in the world and there are still lessons to be learned from the Japanese in various areas such as education (still doing far better than the US despite the lack of inter-school competition), public safety (still way up at the top of the OECD tables), and manufacturing technology and management. Japan has its problems, and so does the US, but who would have thought, when this book was written, that the Japanese economy and Japanese way, would compare almost on a par with that of the USA some thirty years later? Which economy will turn out to be 'number one' is still open to debate, but as a book that started the debate, it deserves to be read for its insight.

Furthermore, despite the initial postwar success of the Japanese economy the Japanese have and continue to import Western economic, educational and management systems wholesale, with decreasing sucess. Who knows, perhaps if this book had been read *more* in Japan, and the Japanese had more confidence in their own convictions, the Japanese way might even still be flourishing. The Japanese themselves, increasingly nationalist and increasingly self-confident, are starting to think so.
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