In This Review

The Enigma Of Japanese Power
The Enigma Of Japanese Power
By Karel van Wolferen
Knopf, 1989, 476 pp

This is a harsh and irreverent portrait of the Japanese political system, culture and society by a Dutch journalist who has lived in Japan for more than 20 years. It has chapters with such titles as "The Japan Problem," "The Elusive State," "The System as Religion," "In the World But Not Of It." Contrary to the usual indictments the author does not claim that Japan is systematically setting out to establish economic hegemony over the rest of the world. Rather, his main argument is that for all their economic success, the Japanese have no responsible central government. No one is ultimately in charge; the political system is "rudderless" and out of control. How, then, does one account for Japan's undoubted successes over the past several decades? Do not the Liberal Democratic Party, the bureaucracy and the business community provide some degree of leadership? Moreover, the argument that Japan is rudderless seems to be inconsistent with another of the author's central arguments borrowed from Chalmers Johnson-namely that Japan is not a free market system but a special variety of system he calls "the capitalist development state." It is rather a pity he has gone to such an extreme to make his point, because he does have a number of important insights into the Japanese political system.