ABOUT-FACE by Clayton Naff


How I Stumbled onto Japan's Social Revolution
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 A decidedly schizophrenic examination of changing attitudes towards work, family, and the status of women in modern Japan. Naff, an American journalist (formerly with NPR and UPI) married to a Japanese woman, offers two separate explorations of Japanese society under one cover. The first is a lighthearted, personal, at times whimsical memoir of his experiences as a copy editor for a Japanese newspaper and as a husband struggling with the many complications of living in a foreign culture. Here Naff reveals his most penetrating observation of modern Japanese society--the younger generation has learned to have fun. A capacity crowd at Tokyo Disney on the eve of the traditional Japanese New Year serves as a strange symbol of a newly emerging trend in which duty is replaced by leisure. The second component of the book, interwoven with the first, is a crisp, almost forensic critique of the Japanese ``salaryman'' culture. Naff dismisses the notion that it is some simplistic cultural quality such as yarikata (the notion that there is one correct way of doing each task) that has produced a society in which men literally work themselves to death. His analysis focuses on the power imbalance between managers and unions that arose as a response to the Cold War, when the American occupation rubbed against a fierce nationalistic pride. The average Japanese man works such long hours because he is forced to--not because he is some strange economic drone. In the younger generation, Naff sees hope for change: Young women are waiting longer to marry and are choosing their own partners; young employees are switching companies in droves; men are spending more time with their families; and women are beginning to sue successfully over sexual harassment in the workplace. Despite abrupt, sometimes jarring, transitions between formats, Naff delivers a credible, readable account of the ``social revolution'' sweeping Japan.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56836-041-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1994