Nationalisms of Japan: Managing and Mystifying Identity; Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose; The State of Civil Society in Japan; Japanese Foreign Policy at the Crossroads: Challenges and Options for the Twenty-First Century

In This Review

Nationalisms of Japan: Managing and Mystifying Identity

By Brian J. Mcveigh
Rowman & Littlefield, 2003
352 pp. $75.00
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Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose

By John Nathan
Houghton Mifflin, 2004
288 pp. $25.00
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The State of Civil Society in Japan

Edited by Frank J. Schwartz and Susan J. Pharr
Cambridge University Press, 2003
412 pp. $25.00
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Japanese Foreign Policy at the Crossroads: Challenges and Options for the Twenty-First Century

By Yutaka Kawashima
Brookings Institution Press, 2003
162 pp. $32.95
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For several generations, scholars in the West have tried to explain Japan's uniqueness; now, as these four books demonstrate, the task has become to analyze Japan as a normal country, to which all the standard concepts apply.

McVeigh, an anthropologist, most explicitly debunks the myths of Japanese uniqueness advanced both by romantics and by those who want to demonize Japan. Treating nationalism as the management and mystification of identity, he shows that the various strains of Japanese nationalism all fall within the bounds of what most countries believe about themselves. In short, the Japanese may feel unique, but so does everyone else.

Nathan, a literary scholar and leading translator of Japanese novels, is not prepared to abandon entirely a belief in Japan's distinctiveness, but his reflective essay on the Japanese mood since the end of the bubble shows in detail how the Japanese are coping with problems common to many other modern countries. He starts with the breakdown of the family and the shocking rise in juvenile delinquency: 532 killings in the first 6 months of 2000 and 920,000 criminal incidents in the first 11 months of 2001. He then goes on to address the Japanese reaction to the stalled economy, the controversy over how textbooks should treat the behavior of the Japanese military in World War II, and the efforts of three reform-minded politicians who bring to life the contradictory forces at work in Japanese politics. Nathan is an elegant writer who lived in Japan when it was still an exceptionally cohesive society; now that it is fracturing, he sees the future as uncertain.

The 15 authors included in The State of Civil Society in Japan examine Japanese civil society from a variety of perspectives and based on an impressive body of data. In sum, they demonstrate that the situation in Japan is very similar to that of other advanced industrialized societies: the role of voluntary associations and interest groups is close to what general theories of civil society suggest it should be. Indeed, in the concluding chapter Pharr moves smoothly between general theorizing and the specifics of the Japanese case -- demonstrating that the standard picture of Japan as a dutifully conformist society has to be modified.

Kawashima, a former ambassador and vice-minister of foreign affairs, has written a polished, thoughtful book on the policy changes Japan should make to confront the post-Cold War world and the new configuration of forces in East Asia. He paradoxically sees a looser U.S.-Japan alliance as being a stronger one and is disturbed that the rise of nationalism in both China and Japan has created tension despite deepening economic ties between them. The wisdom with which Kawashima analyzes past decisions lends credibility to his future policy recommendations: a more proactive Japanese foreign policy more in line with the standard policies of other major powers.