In This Review

Kawari: How Japan's Economic and Cultural Transformation Will Alter the Balance of Power Among Nations
Kawari: How Japan's Economic and Cultural Transformation Will Alter the Balance of Power Among Nations
By Milton Ezrati
Perseus Books, 1999, 294 pp
The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions, and the Limits of Change
The Logic of Japanese Politics: Leaders, Institutions, and the Limits of Change
By Gerald L. Curtis
Columbia University Press, 1999, 281 pp

The Japanese economy that was once the envy of the world has been in deep trouble for a decade, but no Japanese consensus on necessary reforms has yet emerged. Ezrati argues that Japan's rapidly aging population will undermine the industrial exporting economy that has served it so well since World War II. As a result, it faces a transformation as massive as the Meiji Restoration and the American-led postwar occupation. This time, the author believes, Japan will have to move its industrial investments to the rest of Asia and become a "headquarters nation." The imperatives of supporting such a new structure will force Japan to become an aggressive leader of Asia, with greatly expanded military capability.

Curtis also sees changes ahead -- but mainly those that retain the status quo. Building on his intimate knowledge of Japanese politics, Curtis stresses with empathy the context and opportunities that shape and restrict Japanese political behavior. For him, new developments in Japan include a realignment of interest groups, a decline in bureaucrats' status, and a more demanding electorate -- all of which make consensus more difficult. And unlike Ezrati, Curtis finds Japanese politicians too constrained by their immediate realities to redesign a totally new system.

In essence, Ezrati describes the forest without depicting the trees, whereas Curtis focuses on the trees -- indeed the leaves -- so his forest is a bit vague. Curtis is closer to reality, but Ezrati is bolder and more speculative, expecting that the logic of necessity will be enough to change the basic character of the Japanese people.