THE BROTHERS by Lesley Downer


The Hidden World of Japan's Richest Family
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 British journalist Downer has bitten off appreciably more than she can chew in this interpretive history of the house of Tsutsumi, one of the wealthiest and least conventional families in conformist Japan. Drawing on interviews (though not with the principals) and on the public record, the author offers a generation-spanning narrative more notable for its gushy, graceless style than for any insights into an upstart dynasty or the closed society in which, against the odds, it has prospered. In 1907, 18-year-old Yasujiro Tsutsumi quit his rural village for Tokyo. Despite a tangled personal life complicated by womanizing, the enterprising young man amassed a great fortune, with business interests (conducted under the Seibu corporate banner) ranging from railways through golf courses, hotels, and retail outlets. Japan's defeat in WW II proved a blessing in disguise for the go-getting Yasujiro, who snapped up property at distress prices. When he died in 1964, he left a vast empire and considerable political clout to two favored sons. The elder, Seiji, assumed nominal control but focused on making a name for himself in the department-store trade. By the mid-1970s, Yoshiaki (a chip off the old block) was ready to take his place at the head of the Seibu table, and the two brothers went their separate ways. Both are reportedly multibillionaires, and Yoshiaki ranks among the world's wealthiest individuals. Nearing 70, the less active Seiji appears to have reconciled with his sibling rival. The guessing game as to who might inherit what they have built has been under way for some time. At best, Downer has a shaky grasp of commerce, and she's given to tedious stretches of speculative chat on the relationships among members of the extended Tsutsumi clan. The Tsutsumis await a savvier Boswell to bring them to life.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-42554-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1995