In This Review

Shadow Shoguns: The Rise and Fall of Japan's Postwar Political Machine
Shadow Shoguns: The Rise and Fall of Japan's Postwar Political Machine
By Jacob M. Schlesinger
Simon & Schuster, 1997, 320 pp.

A fascinating and penetrating tale about the Tanaka machine that dominated Japan's politics for several decades and whose demise in the early 1990s has created a political vacuum that accounts for many of Japan's current problems. Schlesinger's account shows that the Japanese system was never as mysterious as it once appeared but rather was a smoothly run political machine, much like New York's Tammany Hall. It managed economic policy with remarkable consensus and efficiency for several decades, but the costs of holding the system together were huge -- blatant favoritism, monumental amounts of pork, and gold-plated corruption. In many ways, as Schlesinger vividly demonstrates, Japan, Inc., was a gaudy, inefficient mess ruled by domineering politicians -- "shadow shoguns" -- who skillfully rigged the system for their own gain. The big question now facing Japan is whether, as a result of the current process of political adjustment, it can develop a more competitive political system that can meet its new challenges.