Kirkus Reviews QR Code
INVENTING JAPAN by William Chapman


The Making of a Postwar Civilization

by William Chapman

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-13-942921-2
Publisher: Prentice Hall

A journalist's provocative case for the contrarian proposition that Japan's economic clout is attributable mainly to decisions made and actions taken during the post-WW II Occupation rather than to samurai traditions, an unusually homogeneous population, or other plausible fancies. Combining shrewd analysis with firsthand reportage, Chapman (Inside the Philippine Revolution, 1987; Tokyo bureau chief for The Washington Post from 1977-89) offers a revisionist overview that sheds new light on Japan's recent history. He argues, for example, that virtually all of vanquished Japan's commercial triumphs can be traced to events that took place in the years after V-J Day. Key cases in point include the development of cooperative labor/management relations and a stable (albeit debased) political system that not only keeps elected officials at a considerable distance from the public they supposedly serve but also leaves them vulnerable to corruption. Nevertheless, the author points out, the commitment of all postwar governments and, more importantly, their mandarin bureaucrats to business success has been unwavering. Chapman also puts paid to any notion that the Japanese are self- sacrificing sheep unaware that their country's riches have failed to yield its ordinary citizens a standard of living equal to that of Western nations. Indeed, he observes, as a new generation that has no memory of war and its horrific aftermath comes of age, resistance to the status quo grows apace. In the meantime, the author notes, the country's leaders—whose penchant for protecting domestic enterprise frequently puts them out of step or in conflict with putative allies (e.g., on South Africa and the Persian Gulf)- -are adrift on a sea of uncertainties, unsure of Japan's place in a world no longer divided by a cold war into clear-cut camps. An informed and informative contribution to res Nipponica.