A radically against-the-grain appraisal of Japan and the Japanese from a journalist who spent many years on the Asia beat. Drawing largely on his own experience and research, Smith (The Nippon Challenge, 1992) offers a thoughtful refutation of the stereotypes that tend to inform Western perceptions of Japan and its people. To begin with, he takes strong exception to the fiction that the island nation is an independent democracy populated by obedient, industrious souls glad to work themselves to death on behalf of the state's ambitious commercial/trade goals. As a practical matter, the author argues, Japan remains a ward of the US, which in aid of Cold War objectives during the post-WW II occupation restored to power a ruling class that still runs the country in semifeudal fashion. Smith also asserts that portrayals of Japan as a hotbed of consensus, group identity, and loyalty err, since such attributes have more to do with the coercive requirements of a mass-production society than indigenous custom. In this context, he documents the ways in which government elites rely on educational institutions to school a population willing and able to serve the national interest, not to cultivate knowledge, rational inquiry, or other liberal values. Smith goes on to reckon the cost to Japan's citizens of the gap between their image and reality, and what their aspirations might augur for the country's place in the world. Covered as well are the myth of the sarariman (salaried middle manager) as a samurai warrior, the undeveloped state of Japan's interior, and the diminishing justification for America's continued presence. An astute, accessible, and absorbingly original appreciation of a nation whose true colors have been exaggerated or misrepresented by Japan-bashers and others with special-interest agendas.