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The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation Paperback – June 10, 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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 Changfs 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.
One of Van Wolferen's central topics in this book is that not everything is as it appears in Japan - certainly not a new idea to the field. However, the political viewpoint he takes is refreshing. For example, he claims that there are two "Confusing Factors" (5) about Japan that cause problems when dealing with other countries. The first fiction is that Japan has a responsible central government. Note the word "responsible," since Japan clearly has a central government. Instead of a transparent government in which people are responsible for their decisions, Van Wolferen tells us that there is no one individual or group that has complete control over the country. Rather, power is divided among many ministries, politicians, and bureaucrats. At the start of the second chapter he tells us that, of course Japan has laws and regulations, several political parties, and unions workers can join. However, he then also explains that just because these institutions exist with our Western names attached to them does not mean they function in the same manner.
For example, Van Wolferen describes politics in Japan as a "rigged one party system" (28), even though there are quite a few opposition parties.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First and foremost, this book is an expose of Japan Inc..
As a 27 year veteran of living in Japan, I can categorically say that if you live in Japan or plan to, then you... Read more
Despite the comments of a few readers who take Van Wolferen to task, I must say that as a 9 year-resident of Japan this book rings very true. Read morePublished on June 11, 2010 by ukguyjp
This is the most insightful book I have ever read on Japan, may be together with Murphy's The Weight of the Yen. Read morePublished on March 15, 2010 by From Japan
This book came out in 1989 when Japan bashing was a favorite past-time of Westerners. At the time Japan's economy and influence were growing at such a rate that even Americans were... Read morePublished on January 2, 2010 by Torihama
Some of you may remember that old television program "The Outer Limits", where an announcer said at the beginning of the show, "We now have control of your television set", and... Read morePublished on January 23, 2008 by wahzoh
Van Wolferen does an excellent job of exploring the basis of power in Japanese society. As you read the book, you'll learn that Japanese power is a very collective and amorphous... Read morePublished on October 9, 2006 by T. Hooper
Journalist Karel van Wolferen makes a compelling case for the argument that there is virtually no one in control of the Japanese state: it's ruling elite consists of administrators... Read morePublished on October 22, 2005 by David Bonesteel
Published just as the infamous Japanese 'bubble' economy was set to burst - and from which, more than ten years down the road, Japan has yet to recover - van Wolferen's work... Read morePublished on April 10, 2005 by R. Brown