Some rarely intelligent discourse on the Japanese way of life--for readers of William Ouchi or Edwin Reischauer or Fosco Maraini alike. Christopher, a longtime Newsweek correspondent and editor, sets his book up to convey more than at first appears. He opens with a recollection of the ""sea of rubble"" that was Tokyo in 1945--and the wonderment, among Occupation forces, that the Japanese could have thought of taking on the US. He contends that we have no understanding, even now, of how Japanese think or feel; that they differ from us, in logic and values, more than ""Saudis or Nigerians"" or any other people; that we affront them--and they, being ""highly emotional"" (behind their patient, polite exteriors), might explode. . . costing us, at the least, our most valuable ally. Christopher pretty much lets that bold argument rest, however, while he serves up custom-mixes of history, observation, and analysis. First he posits seven forms of Japanese ""differentness""--beginning with the world's most difficult language, especially as written, and why the Japanese are inclined to keep it that way (straight talk troubles them). Another, well-recognized difference is homogeneity, whereby the Japanese have been able to Westernize and still maintain their identity. Then, in three major sections--""Growing Up Japanese,"" ""The Social Animal,"" ""Work and Power""--he examines the changing and unchanging components of that identity. ""The cramped quality of today's Japanese homes"" causes family members to rely on outside facilities and thus, untraditionally, ""to go their own ways."" But other institutions, from education to business, preserve the group-centered ethic. The Japanese--with no Rockefellers or Grosse Pointes--are more equal, economically and socially, than we are. Richer and poorer do part company, however, in recreation. Boisterous hostess bars are an accepted psychic outlet, and public drunkenness carries no stigma. Other infractions, though, are deterred by fear of disapproval. (And lest the social fabric be rent, policemen settle traffic disputes on the spot.) Hardest to face up to: almost no one except Americans can tolerate the Japanese, while the Japanese have very limited tolerance for foreigners. Along more conventional, economic lines, Christopher reports for one thing that the notoriously unproductive traditional sector of the economy (small-scale manufacturing, distribution) is catching up--with rental robots. Individualistic Americans, who appreciate differentness, will find more to think about here--and somewhat less euphoria--than in Ezra Vogel's Japan as Number One.