In This Review

Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan
Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan
By Alex Kerr
Hill & Wang, 2001, 448 pp

On the heels of a decade of economic woes, now comes a book that finds a lot more wrong with Japan than economics -- in fact, its problems go to the very soul of the country. Lamenting the tragic passing of the Japan he knew in his youth, Kerr finds disasters everywhere he looks. The precious balance between people and nature has been shattered by a "construction state" that has desecrated the once lush countryside by pouring concrete into unnecessary roads; paving over wetlands, beach fronts, and river beds; and building unnecessary bridges, tunnels, harbors, and airfields. Drab cities are filled with trashy, abominable architecture, soulless parks, treeless streets, and spiritless concert halls, while the arts, including cinema, are also in decline. All the while, politically privileged bureaucrats act as dictators, blindly forcing the Japanese state into mindless indebtedness. The picture is overdrawn and replete with undisciplined nostalgia, but Kerr does identify some truths about Japan's problems in the wake of its century and a half of compulsive modernization. One of his central themes, Japan's increasing irrelevance on the global stage, does command reflection: Japan was so successful in keeping the world out, he concludes, that the world has now passed it by.