CHRYSANTHEMUMS AND THORNS by Edwin Reingold

CHRYSANTHEMUMS AND THORNS

The Untold Story of Modern Japan
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The former Tokyo Bureau chief of Time magazine, now a senior correspondent, on ``one of the most complex tales of modern twentieth-century history'': the astonishing rise and contradictory nature of postwar Japan. Far from being ``untold,'' the Japanese story has been analyzed in thousands of books and articles. Yet, as Reingold asserts, the Japanese are indeed ``in many ways significantly different from everyone else,'' which makes any scrutiny by gaijin (foreigners) both a daunting task and a source of potential revelation. Reingold dances sprightly across familiar ground as he details the obsessive insularity of Japanese society--its racism; xenophobia; workaholism (workers pass their vacations feeling ashamed for neglecting their jobs; koroshi, or death from overwork, continues to spread); genius for innovation (``through adaption, buying, borrowing, even stealing''); whitewashing of WW II, and so on. The author also sheds welcome light on some of Japan's best- cloaked demimondes. His description of the crime scene upends the common view of Japan as compulsively law-abiding: Although women can still walk the streets alone at night in safety (unlike in any other country on earth), teenage crime is flourishing, and the yakuza (Japanese mafia) has great political clout. Sex, too, is different in Japan: Censors clip all pubic hair from magazines and films, but thousands of street-corner vending machines offer soft-core sex comics, and bare breasts are a TV staple. Reingold also looks at Japanese feminism, still in its infancy; at the plight of the underclass, the burakumin, ostracized in outcast villages; and at emperors--from the late Hirohito, marine scientist, war leader, and god, to current emperor Akihito, modern and relaxed, married to a commoner. As in Michael Crichton's Rising Sun, the raison d`àtre here is how the Japanese are different from us. But Reingold admires where Crichton bashes; as such, essential for all Japan-watchers. (Sixteen pages of photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1992
ISBN: 0-312-08160-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1992