Kerr (Lost Japan, not reviewed), one of the West’s most astute observers of the Japanese scene, unveils a cultural crisis of mega-proportions that currently grips the island nation like a vise.
That Japan’s economy is in a shambles is now decade-old news, but the devastating effect that economic and political policies have had on the cities and countryside and social life of the country have been given less air time. The author, who quite obviously loves Japan, feels that to continue to avoid these problems would be to “condone and even become complicit in the disaster.” So he serves up here a bitter critique of a Japan that has despoiled its rivers and coastlines, leveled traditional neighborhoods, loosed one construction boondoggle after another, cemented over wetlands, allowed frightful toxic waste accumulation, and ignored planning for environmental catastrophes. Rather than solve basic structural problems affecting everything from the schools to the economy to industry (and certainly the political system), the government has been throwing money at expensive showpieces in an attempt to demonstrate that things are fine. This is typical, the author claims, of a country that not only sacrifices all for economic growth, but has a systemic addiction to construction that essentially props up the economy. It also characterizes “the quality of sheer fantasy” that governs the country’s information industry. Most damaging of all for Kerr: “Japan’s cleverly crafted machine of governance lacks one critically important part: brakes. Once it has been set on a particular path, Japan tends to continue on that path until it reaches excesses that would be unthinkable in most other nations.”
A sharp and fascinating account.