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Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan Paperback – 30 May 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Export edition edition (30 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141010002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141010007
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Keen insight into the unique causes and disastrous results of the once heralded 'Japan Model' of development . . . a must read." --Michael Judge, "The Wall Street Journal" "Should be required reading for anyone who writes about or studies the Japanese economy . . . " --Eric Johnston, "The Japan Times"

About the Author

ALEX KERR was educated at Yale, Oxford and Keio universities. He is the author of LOST JAPAN (Lonely Planet Books) which won the Shincho Gakugei nonfiction prize. He lives in Kyoto and Bangkok.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
This is an intriguing look at the problems infecting Japan, and particularly its government / bureaucracy. The author obviously knows his stuff and it makes an informative if somewhat depressing read.

However, I feel that a lot of his criticisms of Japanese society as a whole were either over the top, irrelevant to most people, or (most often) merely signs of more global trends. For example, he is highly critical of the amount of manga and anime in Japan, sneering at salarymen who read comics on their commuter trains. And yet what are the best sellers in the west? Harry Potter, Dan Brown, 50 Shades of Grey... Just because they're novels doesn't make them in any way intellectually superior to manga, which often features dark quasi-philosophical themes and which comes in just as much variety, catering to just as many tastes and stages of maturity as regular books.

He's also supremely critical of Japanese obsessions with 'kawaii' (cuteness), suggesting it reflects a dumbing down of culture and infantilisation of the population. Well, not only is Japanese 'kawaii' culture now popular across large swathes of the world, but I hardly think that western popular culture - the Kardashians? - is something to hold up in answer.

As another reviewer noted, I wasn't keen on how he kept holding up other countries' (specifically America's) achievements in specific fields to show the errors of Japan's ways. If you do that, you absolutely must do the opposite, since specific gains in one field are almost always at the expense of gains in another. Kerr never does this. He is relentless in his criticism. Also, as soon as you hod up China as an example to anyone about anything, I'm afraid you're drifting into fantasy.
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Format: Paperback
Japan is a country with SERIOUS problems. Most people may be aware that Japan has been in recession for a decade now. What is often missing from commentary in newspapers is that Japan's real problem is not one of economics---rather it is one stemming from core societal values. I myself have long wanted to write a book along the lines of Alex Kerr's "Dogs and Demons", but I think he does it better than I could have. What Kerr highlights most successfully is that Japan is a fundamentally undemocratic society. It is still rigid, authoritarian, bureaucratic, closed, and generally fearful of any change that might disrupt "wa", or social harmony. He lists example after example, mostly annecdotal, but also based on local news reports and the like to support his claims. He starts off decrying the country's politics and the durability of the construction state, which has led to severe environmental destruction, with more and more roads, railways, and bridges to nowhere, merely to boost construction company profits and politicians' electability. Closely linked is the sheer corruption involved, and the inherently secretive and reactionary bureaucracy.
But the best part of the book is the second half, where he talks about Japan's rigid educational system which stifles individual creativity and new ideas, in the name of social harmony. No country on earth may be more prone to totalitarianism, he warns us; an exaggeration, perhaps, but it is clear to me that Japan's leaders are reluctant to undertake the changes the country so badly needs because it is fearful of disrupting harmony. For example, they need to do away with the latent sexism, groupism, and fear of foreign people, if not foreign ideas (my opinion, not Kerr's).
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Format: Paperback
Like the author I've also lived for a fair length of time (not as long as him, but enough to be able to judge what he says about the place) in Japan.
I actually agree with many of his criticisms of Japan and its officials. (Some I don't agree with, and some things also I think he has portrayed in a ridiculously overly negative light to pad out his book.) Readers with no or little experience of Japan need to bear in mind that this book is basically just one long angry rant of ONLY gripes and nothing else; certainly some of them are justified, in my opinion, but virtually no attempt was made to show the other side of his criticisms. There is no balance in the argument here, nor perhaps was there intended to be.
As I said, I did actually agree with a lot of what he wrote, but would have appreciated the book much more had he refrained from constantly judging Japan against what he seemed to see as the "Gold Standard" of the US. A tediously large number of paragraphs are punctuated with words along the lines of "but this doesn't happen in the US, so there!...." This is a real shame because it's unnecessary. Many of the aspects of Japan he complained about could be perfectly well illustrated without these references to other countries he implies are better. And he really shoots himself in the foot by doing this, as many good points though he does have to make, he sadly sets himself up to be very easily dismissed as just another bitter westerner in Japan who couldn't handle the fact that Japan is sometimes not what he wants it to be.
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