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The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation Paperback – June 10, 1990


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 524 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 10, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679728023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679728023
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #124,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Few Americans have examined carefully the nation whose economy and industry is bound up with their own, whose future will inescapably shape theirs--Japan, that is. Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen does the job, and very well indeed, depicting a Japan alternately awed and disgusted by the world beyond its shores, governed by a puppet emperor in the service of the zaikaijin, a gerontocracy of businessmen who control the national economy, just as they have done for generations. Their hierarchy is reinforced by the fear that, as in 1945, hostile powers will not only overpower the Japanese economy but denature the Japanese people, introducing foreign concepts of democracy and even the specter of an "impure race." Although Van Wolferen balances his account by highlighting what he regards as positive Japanese traits, including thrift, respect for elders, industriousness, and self-control, The Enigma of Japanese Power remains a controversial text in the nation it assays to describe with discomforting accuracy.

From Publishers Weekly

"Here at last is a first-rate book by a Westerner on the obfuscations and realities of Japanese politics," praised PW , complimenting van Wolferen's "almost stupefying thoroughness."
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

In places the book is dense.
R. Brown
I suppose they have no effective counters to the arguments put forth by van Wolferen and hope that the book will just go way.
Daniel E. Albert
Read the book and check it out for yourself.
T. Hooper

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 10, 1998
Format: Paperback
It is amazing that somebody who were not raised in our culture could see in such a considerable depth how Japanese culture and its system are operating. Mr. van Wolferen does have such a gift to have done this. A lot of people in my country see him as being highly critical of our culture, however, being as a Japanese myself, I believe that we could learn from him how we are, when measured by different value system. More importantly, we at least should know how much our innocently, or almost unconsciously, making divisions between "US" and "GAIJIN" could cause funny feelings outside of Japan. Cultures have an effect of brainwashing. When you are completely sunk in there since you were born, you tend not to see how much of your personality and behavior have been shaped by your culture. It is only when you encounter other cultures to compare that you could see this and doubt a little about your assumptions, bliefs, and judgements. I do agree with Mr. Wolferen that our country have the heritage from our previous period in large part; Feudalism. It is in every aspects of our society, much more than we think. I am not opposed to our current system though, I do appreciate my country for providing me with a safe place to grow up, and for giving me an equal opportunity to be educated enough to think and write like I am doing right now. However, what makes me sad is that today our country seems to be lost, not knowing where we should go. I believe what makes our society confusing in these days is the fact that the majority of Japanese, especially older people, are not aware of how much our thinking and conducts are influenced by feudalistic traditions, and are requiring our country to be democratic at the same time. Our goals and our conducts do not mix well. Mr.Read more ›
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By o0mingmak on June 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have lived in Japan for 10 years, and yes, much of the book is quite accurate in its explanation of "the system" in Japan (it is likely the best attempt so far). Yes, this book is a must read for anyone who wishes to gain further insight into how Japan really works.
But as with any text that attempts to be all encompassing in scope, it does have its flaws. My biggest problem with the book is how Van Wolferen sometimes uses isolated, rare or extreme incidents to explain his theories. Sure, most of the events listed are well documented (his footnotes alone take up about 57 pages!), but do they represent a complete scenario? A person reading this book with little direct knowledge of Japan beforehand may come away believing a more extreme scenario.
I will give you one example: the documentation showing how Dentsu (Japan's largest advertising agency) is an all powerful entity which determines the quality of Japan's daily entertainment, and intimidates large firms and the media by producing corporate scandals and hushing them up again. He provides us with a couple of fascinating examples of how Dentsu was able to apply pressure for the media not to report damaging information about their clients, but is it really safe to assume that this takes place on a daily or even yearly basis? Looking closely at Van Wolferen's sources, the most recent event or incident that he lists with regard to Dentsu is from 1971! If we are to believe that this is an ongoing practice, I would like to see more recent and consistent documentation.
I am not saying that there is no corruption going on at Dentsu, or that they do not wield enormous power, but he leverages old isolated incidents to prove his point and make things sound as though they are more severe than they really are. I can go on with other examples, but I just wanted to let everyone know that as with anything, please read this excellent book with a grain of salt.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Albert on October 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Enigma deserves all the praise you may read in this forum. Karl van Wolferen brings his extensive experience and keen insight to blow way the perfumed-scented, silk-screen interpretations offered up by the Reischauers, the Jansens and the Vogels. I have lived in Japan for seven years, have studied her language, her people, her history and culture and truly no explanation of Japan even approaches this work.
It is interesting that while Japanese propagandists and apologists have always attacked revisionist works on Japan (and their authors), they have largely ignored Enigma. Witness the controversy surrounding Changfs Rape of Nanking and, earlier, the total ruination visited upon Berkowitz. I suppose they have no effective counters to the arguments put forth by van Wolferen and hope that the book will just go way.
For anyone who is interested in learning about how Japan really works this book is an excellent place to start. For those who dont know the people of Japan, it could lend itself to a misinterpretation: most Japanese that I know are acutely aware of the failings in their society and are none too happy with them. However, they see little opportunity for change. As Patrick Smith has observed, theirs is a life of desire with out hope. It is the system that is the problem.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have given this book five stars because I can not give it six. Karel Van Wolferen's "The Enigma of Japanese Power" is a brilliant, if often infuriating and depressing, analysis of the way power is wielded in Japanese society. Having lived in Japan for six years now and having heard every conceivable interpretation of this culture by both westerners and Japanese, I have found nothing that even remotely approximates the accuracy of Van Wolferen's insights. I have seen the "the System" he describes at work, as it crushes the spirits of the good men and women of this country, demoralizing them until they meekly accept their "proper place." Van Wolferen's cool, clinical dissection of the central myths of Japanese society was so uncomfortably close to the mark that "the System" could not afford to let it go unchallenged. In fact, shortly after its publication a Japanese diplomat approached Clyde Prestowitz, an American expert on Japan, and through the use of an oblique threat, tried to enlist him in an effort to discredit Van Wolferen. For anyone who is interested in learning about how Japan really works this book is an excellent place to start.
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