Politics and Culture in Japan and Asia New Historical Studies and Encyclopedias Explore the Many Dimensions of the Region

By Richard Ryan. Richard Ryan, a. New York-based business consultant and journalist, frequently reviews books on international policy. | The Christian Science Monitor, October 1, 1993 | Go to article overview

Politics and Culture in Japan and Asia New Historical Studies and Encyclopedias Explore the Many Dimensions of the Region


Richard Ryan. Richard Ryan, a. New York-based business consultant and journalist, frequently reviews books on international policy., The Christian Science Monitor


JAPAN'S PSEUDO-DEMOCRACY By Peter J. Herzog. New York University Press 279 pp., $40.

MAKING COMMON SENSE OF JAPAN By Steven R. Reed. University of Pittsburgh Press, 188 pp., $49.95 cloth $15.95 paper.

CONTROLLING THE WAVES: DEAN ACHESON AND US FOREIGN POLICY IN ASIA By Ronald L. McGlothlen. W.W. Norton & Co., 320 pp., $27.95.

DISPATCHES FROM THE PACIFIC CENTURY By Frank Viviano. Addison-Wesley, 252 pp., $21.95.

THE recent and unprecedented electoral shift in Japan and the planned Pacific summit on which the Clinton administration has placed so much emphasis offer the United States new strategic opportunities in Asia.

Nevertheless, as long as Washington's relations with the region's dominant power, Japan, remain bedeviled by distrust, America's influence in this vast, rapidly evolving arena will be restricted. Is Tokyo ultimately a rival or an ally? A partner in the quest for global and democratic markets or a bastion of economic and political chauvinism the US must strive to contain?

Those who believe that the current Japanese order is fundamentally irreconcilable with basic Western political standards will find a large store of ammunition in "Japan's Pseudo-Democracy," by Peter Herzog. Herzog writes from an unusually close vantage point; three decades ago this former Roman Catholic priest obtained Japanese citizenship and went on to become a researcher for Fuji Bank. Now he regards Japanese society with a Jesuit's sense of order and a businessman's insistence that the figures add up.

Herzog bases his critique on the assumption that the Japanese Constitution of 1946, a democratic framework imposed by the victorious Americans, has never been truly assimilated into the Japanese political consciousness. The Japanese government, Herzog argues, has continually subverted its own explicit constitutional order by tolerating cultural reactionaries and institutional corruption.

Herzog analyzes Tokyo's record on various constitutional subjects, including the judiciary, civil rights, and separation of church and state. He applies, in effect, the standards of the American Civil Liberties Union to Japanese society. Along the way, he discusses everything from the systematic suppression of the Ainu (the indigenous people that once populated the Japanese islands) to the heavy censorship imposed on textbooks. One particularly valuable chapter recounts with precision the major scandals that have disgraced a succession of Japan's prime ministers.

Out of numerous examples and citations Herzog has crafted a powerful indictment; he makes a compelling case that graft, influence peddling, and contempt for civil liberties have tainted the Japanese postwar legacy.

Unfortunately, Herzog has little to say about the other significant forces within Japanese society - including journalists, political opposition parties, and the Westernized intelligentsia - that have constantly fought the policies of the Japanese power elite. In fact, the once-dominant Liberal-Democratic Party seems to have methodically squandered the allegiance of ordinary Japanese, who increasingly insist that their leaders obey Western standards of political behavior.

As an antidote to Herzog's analysis, readers may turn to Steven R. Reed's "Making Common Sense of Japan." Attacking what he derides as the "mystical concepts of culture"- the notion that culture is irrational and untouched by political and economic change - Reed argues that the Japanese respond to the same basic forces that shape all societies. He emphasizes that while Japanese culture is different - even radically different - from American culture, the Japanese react in commonsensical ways to their environment and history.

Reed rejects the theory of human behavior that says people are at the mercy of deep, often subliminal, cultural forces. Most mainstream Western attacks on Japan (Michael Crichton's "Rising Sun," for example) depict Japan as a "strange and wondrous country" where people are driven by cultural imperatives that Westerners cannot understand. …

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