Politicians and analysts in the 1980s recited the line, "The Cold War is over, and Japan won," but now that seems ridiculous. "The Cold War is over, and Japan vanished," seems more accurate today. Japanese companies are no longer feared, and Japanese management inspires not envy but ridicule. Books and movies like Rising Sun relied on an audience's perceptions of Japan as ominous and exotic. It is nice that the West no longer feels threatened, but unfortunate that an unthreatening Japan comes across as such a bore. America's future could be stamped, in large part, "Made in Asia." Most thoughtful people are aware of the huge stakes riding on China's evolution, but Japan's direction is also important for the future of the West.
Think of the uncertainties about Japan in the coming decades: Is Japan abandoning its postwar peacenik role and returning to a more muscular military policy? Will Japan deploy nuclear weapons? Is its economy, the world's second-largest, beginning a recovery that will pull the country out of its quagmire and again inspire awe around the world? My answers to those questions (yes, no, and yes) are just guesses. One can make a cogent argument for the opposite conclusion in each case, and America's own prospects will depend partly on the answers.
Publishing is one of the few sectors that is still devoting attention to Japan, and the result has been a series of good books over the last year or so. Frankly, I suspect that this is because of the time lag in publishing; these books were probably planned in days when Japan seemed sexier. Recent entrants include Sheldon Garon's Molding Japanese Minds, Kent Calder's Pacific Defense, and Michael Armacost's Friends or Rivals? The two books reviewed here can be added to the list. Both are engaging and worthy works of history, and that history is a starting point for looking at Japan's future.
Altered States, a meticulously documented diplomatic history of postwar Japan by Michael Schaller, a professor
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