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Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 18, 2004

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, February 18, 2004
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (February 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618138943
  • ASIN: B005OLAWL2
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,737,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In September 1990, the Tokyo Stock Exchange dropped 48% in four days: a pop that signaled the end of the bubble of Japanese prosperity. Now the country is mired in its longest recession since World War II and, according to this brilliant treatise by UC Santa Barbara professor Nathan, the nation's financial woes are bringing to the surface Japan's centuries-old struggle to define its national identity. Drawing upon his extensive scholarship and first-hand knowledge of the country, Nathan begins his analysis of Japan's "existential uneasiness" by delving into the country's history of traditionalism, which he argues has crumbled significantly since the stock market crash. Nuclear families are breaking up and forsaking their belief in collective living, he says, while middle managers who once expected promotions and job security are now staring down pink slips, and hard-working students who are no longer guaranteed admittance to top colleges are demonstrating violent tendencies or simply refusing to leave their homes to attend class. Feeding into this growing discontent are the right wing extremists, Nathan writes, who promulgate messages of fanatic nationalism and attempt to whitewash history texts in order to glorify the nation's past. Nathan's chronicle relies primarily on in-person interviews and the author treats his subjects with sensitivity, but is not afraid of asking pointed questions. Nowhere is this clearer than in the book's two concluding chapters on the uber-Nationalist governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, and his liberal antithesis Yasuo Tanaka, the governor of rural Nagano. Up-to-date and written in a clear, conversational style, this fascinating and articulate look at contemporary Japan will intrigue readers of all persuasions. 8-page b&w photos insert not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"A fascinating book..." --The Economist

Customer Reviews

Japan Unbound is a must read for anyone trying to understand Japanese culture today.
William Beecher
Personally, I think the author was a bit negative about the future prospects of Japan, emphasazing the problems of families and education.
Marco C. Soligo
Moreover, he does a good job of bringing to life the characters that he covers, and he selects them well.
Edward Tsai

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Shashank Tripathi on February 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While Alex Kerr's "Dogs and Demons" harped on about the travails of the Japanese construction industry, John Nathan picks on a social axe to grind. Which makes for an indulging read indeed, although the supporting evidence is occasionally lacking and the inferences about the future are to the tune of "It's unpredictable, time will tell."
You've probably read other authors crunch economic data or political misgivings of the sushi nation, but Nathan turns his gaze to schools, novels, manga comic books, and the minds of young entrepreneurs and maverick local politicians. Is Japan's notoriously conformist society finally giving in to the longstanding recession? How is this affecting national identity?
We first take up the issue of social corrosion. No surprise there, Japan is in a crisis. An incisive lens is directed at the schooling system, which is now a hotpot of truancy, felonies, alienation, angst amongst increasingly wayward kids. Sadly, parents are woefully underprepared to handle these issues, as are school authorities.
Next we take the jingoistic extremism and of course, as people close to Japan may expect, the whacky governor of Tokyo Ishihara comes up, contrasted to the softer Tanaka of Nagano. A third person in the fray, the popular cartoonist Kobayashi, contends that Japan should in fact drop its US-linked past and become more self-assured. All of this makes for a very pithy discussion, but there may be little here that's new to people who follow Japanese news. To others, these essays alone alone are reason to grab the book.
Now for the minor gripes. The section that highlights the growing capitalism cites the same pseudo-successful entrepreneurs to claim that Japan is becoming more entrepreneurial: Masayoshi and Oki Matsumoto (sigh, Monex!).
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Edward Tsai on August 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The central question that "Japan Unbound" explores is why the Japanese collectively are obsessed with their identity. Nathan makes an interesting point that one could argue that at the center of the individual and collective psyche is a void. He profers up some examples of different perspectives of people that he interviews -- troubled youths, tormented educators, happy families, dysfunctional families, etc. He devotes a chapter to each of the governor of Tokyo prefecture and the mayor of Nagano, both very interesting and inspiring characters in their own light, whose profiles (and the public reactions they illicit) shed a very intimate light on different and distinctive aspects of the Japanese character.

That being said, the question of from where the void emerged and what might fill it is never satisfactorily explored on its own. We wanders in a rather unfocused manner from one Japanese obsession to another: American-worship, materialism and consumerism, ultra-nationalism. Answers are only hinted at through examples that Nathan uncovers through journalistic interviews. I admittedly have my own thesis which colors my review, however, which is that the void is the result of the destruction of Japan's religion at the end of WWII -- a state religion based on Emperor worship as the devine entity of the unique Japanese people. This reality should not be underestimated. The void at the center, I would argue, is a spiritual, and the spiritual hunger that longs for fulfillment has found collective expression in Japan through various attempts at "Americanization", excessive consumerism, extreme fad-ism, and nostalgic ultranationalism. Nathan somewhat blithely assumes the confidence that Americans have is a result of our culture of individuality.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jomo K on December 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of Prof. Nathan's biography of Yukio Mishima, especially Nathan's lucid prose and "insider's" knowledge. However, I am of two minds with his latest venture Japan Unbound.

On one hand, I revel at Prof. Nathan's clarity, keen observations, and passion for his subject. (If nothing else, it is fast paced and interesting: I, a slow reader at best, read it in two sittings.)

On the proverbial other hand, I have two (perhaps petty) axes to grind. First, his use of "case studies," such as the "typical" family in Osaka, seems more geared to proving his own thesis about changing societal values than shedding any light on contemporary realities.

Second, and this may indeed be a small gripe, I was both shocked and dismayed at Nathan's depiction of the bully Shintaro Ishihara (Gov. of Tokyo) as a macho, caring guy full of sensitivity for the general public (a real "sun king") while lambasting the hugely popular Yasuo Tanaka, a down-to-earth grassroots reformer, as effiminate and foppish and describing how (for what reason, I dunno) the tips of Tanaka's fingers shake like Tiny Tim's during times of stress. I suppose Prof. Nathan is just trying to realign the scales a bit, that is, to go against the norm (i.e., the typical American academic and media representation of Ishihara as a "facist" and Tanaka as a "freedom fighter") which is fair enough, but it struck me as yet another "case study" to prove a (seemingly) nonexistence point.

Though it is a page-turner in its own right, I kept wondering throughout the book what exactly were Prof. Nathan's motivations for writing it: what is his point after all is said and done? Is this book meant purely as personal asides and self-promotion?
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