THIS BOOK began with a description of Japanese society in the early nineteenth century. To end it with one of Japan today, therefore, will serve to summarize the enormous changes that have taken place in the intervening century and a half. Nevertheless, the task of describing the contemporary is by no means easy, partly because generalization, without the perspective given by time, can become misleading, partly because Japan seems now more complex, perhaps more disordered, than it was before. In one of its aspects, for instance, modern history has seen a Western challenge to the established Sino-Japanese tradition, contributing to the breakdown of what was formerly a coherent hierarchical society and the substitution for it of one in which the locus of power, the composition of the ruling class and the standards of behaviour to which it subscribes have all become difficult to determine. Similarly, while change has in most things been rapid, it has not maintained an equal pace in every segment of Japanese life. It is largely for these reasons that every author writing about modern Japan finds it necessary to emphasize the admixture of East and West, of old and new, that is to be found there.
In 1800 Japan had an emperor in seclusion, whose authority, in so far as feudal particularism allowed, was wielded by an hereditary, de facto monarch, the Shogun. A hundred years later the Shogun had vanished, the emperor had become quasidivine and there was a Westernized bureaucracy ruling in his name. Now, after sixty years more, power rests in the hands of an elected Diet. It is exercised on the Diet's behalf by a Prime Minister and a cabinet responsible primarily to the lower house, with the emperor a mere 'symbol of the State'. Moreover, the mechanisms of politics have also changed. Influence is no longer a matter of hereditary status and regional affiliation, backed by force. Nor does it depend primarily on possessing