An Englishman's intermittently intriguing audit of Western attitudes toward Japan and the Japanese, from the first contacts in the 16th century to the present day. Drawing on his own experiences and on anecdotal evidence culled from the popular as well as fine arts, Littlewood (English/Sussex Univ., England) offers a well-ordered if deadly earnest survey that raises as many questions as it answers. Citing works by a pride of literary lions (Pearl Buck, James Clavell, Ian Fleming, Lafcadio Hearn, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Koestler, Pierre Loti, Eric Lustbader, James A. Michener, Robert Stone, et al.), he documents how the Western world's impressions of Japan have been by turns patronizing and ethnically prejudiced. From the Meiji Restoration through the turn of the 20th century, the author notes, European and North American writers depicted the island nation as a timeless aesthetic wonderland whose doll-like people had a revered emperor, decidedly quaint customs, and a shockingly permissive approach to sexual matters. When Japan bested Russia in a real war, Littlewood observes, the Occident's perceptions of the country's capabilities changed, albeit grudgingly. With the advent of WW II the views of the Allies declined to forthright racism, and today, the author says, Japan has come full circle, being viewed as an economic Yellow Peril. He concludes that there's no telling how long the current version of Japan—as a threatening, regimented nation of suited samurai—may endure in the West. Littlewood makes a good job of recording the cultural stereotypes that have probably precluded closer (or less adversarial) relations. What he fails to do, however, is to probe Japan's consensus- oriented, demonstrably homogeneous, and arguably xenophobic society to determine what residual validity the clichÇs might have. The result is a survey with no more depth or breadth than a reflecting pool.
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