Courtesy Reuters

The Past In Japan's Future: Will The Japanese Change?

In This Review

Japan in Peace and War

By John W. Dower
New Press, 1994
288 pp. $25.00
Purchase

Looking at the Sun: The Rise of the New East Asian Economic and Political System

By James Fallows
Pantheon, 1994
544 pp. $25.00
Purchase

"Rich Nation, Strong Army": National Security and the Technological Transformation of Japan

By Richard J. Samuels
Cornell University Press, 1994
552 pp. $35.00
Purchase

In a world fraught with geopolitical un-certainty, Japan is clumsily searching for a new political order. At the same time, it is trying to extract itself from a deep structural recession. Will these challenges produce a new political economy that gives greater weight to consumer interests, or will they merely reinforce Japan’s old mercantilism? Will Japan become a "normal" country and develop a military commensurate with its economic power, or will it continue to assert itself primarily through nonmilitary means? Will Japanese foreign policy continue deferring to the United States, or will Tokyo finally assert its leadership in East Asia?

These three books help readers better understand and anticipate the playing out of this saga. James Fallows spices a well-written synthesis of academic writings with perceptive personal observations and anecdotes based on his extensive travels in East Asia. Richard Samuels provides a masterful study of the Japanese arms and aircraft industries, analyzing the inter-relationship between military and civilian technology since the mid-nineteenth century. Finally, John Dower’s volume offers trenchant essays on the legacies of the Pacific War and the American occupation. In addition to traditional diplomatic and political history, it contains fascinating studies of wartime cinema, "atomic-bomb art," and racial stereotypes.

The strength of all three books is a framework built on three important historical themes, the Meiji Restoration, the Pacific War, and the U.S. occupation of Japan. These are the historical moments that have shaped much of modern Japan, and they are critical to any serious thinking about Japan’s ability to confront the challenges spread before it today.

KEEPING UP WITH THE WEST

The Meiji era laid the foundations of modern Japan, and so provides the first common thread for all three authors. After Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to open after 1853, a new oligarchy emerged to mobilize its people in an exploitative effort to "catch up" with the West and avoid external subjugation. The Meiji system provided an "organizing ethic," as Fallows calls it, in

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