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Maciamo
Oct 2, 2002, 22:10
I'd like to introduce this book to those who haven't heard about it yet. Dogs and Demons (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0141010002/ref=sr_aps_books_1_1/026-9777665-6214005) was written by Alex Kerr, the author of another very interesting book on Japan : Lost Japan (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0864423705/qid=1033564621/sr=2-3/ref=sr_2_1_3/026-9777665-6214005)

Alex Kerr is an American who firs came to Japan when he was 10. He later studied Japanese culture and language in the US, then went back to Japan where he has lived most of the time since (more than 30 years altogether).

He originally wrote Lost Japan in Japanese and was the first foreigner to be awarded a prestigious literary prize in Japan. He bought a traditional thatched-roof house in Shikoku that he restores himself (with some friends and villagers). Kerr is also an (Asian) art collector and a Kabuki conoisseur.

In Dogs and Demons, he makes a point in examining everything that has gone wrong with Japan, from corrupted bureaucracy to rigid education, to ecological destruction and sterilization of the Japanese culture.

I believe it's a must-read for any one interested in Japanese politics, economic problems, society and mentality in general. It's both enlightening and shocking.

I think there is no point trying to summarise it. You'll find a few good comments on
Amazon.co.uk (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0141010002/ref=sr_aps_books_1_1/026-9777665-6214005) and Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0809039435/qid=1033563797/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_1/103-2843916-0464650)

A Japanese version is also available (http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4062081016/ref=sr_aps_b_3/249-5113416-0237117)

Maciamo
Oct 2, 2002, 22:13
Note that the hard cover has a slightly different title (Dogs and Demons : Tales from the Dark side of Modern Japan) :

Maciamo
Oct 2, 2002, 22:14
The Japanese title is 犬と鬼―知られざる日本の肖像 :

moyashi
Oct 3, 2002, 01:43
Sounds interesting.


@ side note
I'd also suggest anything by Lafcadio Hearn. What he said about 100 years ago still applies to today it seems.

Maciamo
Oct 3, 2002, 10:23
I think Dogs and Demons is rather contemporary. Most of the problems listed are post-war ones. Lafcadio Hearn is probably a good read anyway.

thomas
Oct 3, 2002, 23:39
Kerr is truly an expert on Japan. Reading "Lost Japan" was eye-opening and moving.

Here's an exchange of views between Alex Kerr and James Fallows on the "True Japan"

=> http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/fallows/jf2001-06-21/kerr1.htm

arnadstephen
Feb 19, 2003, 21:38
Dogs and Demons
-------------------------
I saw the reference, but does the book over state the issue.

I mean, progress is going to come and change things.

The city of Kyoto is an old city, famous for its temples and such. Its not been bulldozed.

I live in Florida, the "old-Florida" is just being lost. I just whish more "natural" preserves would be created.


p.s: i have neve been to japan

_.

thomas
Feb 19, 2003, 22:18
I wish I could finally read that book! ordered it though Amazon, they said it's temporarily out of stock.

Maciamo reviewed the book in this thread (http://forum.japanreference.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=823&highlight=alex+kerr).

Captain Japan
Feb 20, 2003, 18:40
The book is well worth reading, but the tone bothered me.

Kerr extensively summarizes Japan's slow descent to its current condition - that of a construction state. He says that basically the fat profits of cheap exports floated a lot of inept industries since WWII (the fumes of which are today still more or less doing the same). This was done by spreading around the wealth with a lot of make-work projects (i.e. the oft-mentioned roads to nowhere, pointless bridges etc.). His analysis is generally well done, interesting, and something I agree with.

But here is where I have a problem: he essentially divides Japan into two groups; (1) the construction companies, their cronies, their supporting bureaucrats and (2) everyone else.

He then blames group (1) for this construction state in place today. You see, group (2) is an innocent victim of these dastardly construction companies. I say that is nonsense.

To me, there comes times for everyone, even in Japan, where you have to take a stand. To this point, nearly no one has (as far as cutting back on these projects). Kerr states that he has received a ton of letters from Japanese people who agree with him but just couldn't voice their opinions for fear they'd be ostracized. But again, I tend to think this falls flat.

In living in Tokyo, I see people living pretty affluent lives (certainly the highest in the world on average) as result of the government spreading around all this money. And I don't think too many of them would give it up in favor of the environmental cost of one more dam being constructed. But that is entirely my opinion.

For being an American, I take a lot **** for what the US government does (whether I agree with it or not). I think the Japanese people ought to take an equal amount. I mean, people in Japan live pretty nice lives and they get to be considered victims of a government gone mad too? This just doesn't wash with me.

But again, the book is worth reading.

Captain

thomas
Feb 20, 2003, 19:23
Apart from his fundamental knowledge of all things Japanese, I like the fact that Kerr is holding up a mirror to Japanese, a mirror reflecting issues that appear to be widely ignored. Of course he receives a lot of attention because he is a foreigner: a gaijin admonishing them for disrespecting and ignoring their own roots and culture. After having read "Lost Japan" I understood that the construction industry ranks among his most favourite targets, lol.


In living in Tokyo, I see people living pretty affluent lives (certainly the highest in the world on average) as result of the government spreading around all this money. And I don't think too many of them would give it up in favor of the environmental cost of one more dam being constructed. But that is entirely my opinion.

That's really sad. What do you think is the reason for this ignorance? I mean people in the U.S. and Europe lead affluent lives too, still environmental issues are taken very very serious (there's a strong green movement in Europe). Are Japanese just afraid of being "the nail that stands out" when they try to take a stand?

Captain Japan
Feb 21, 2003, 08:20
Originally posted by thomas
That's really sad. What do you think is the reason for this ignorance? I mean people in the U.S. and Europe lead affluent lives too, still environmental issues are taken very very serious (there's a strong green movement in Europe). Are Japanese just afraid of being "the nail that stands out" when they try to take a stand?

Well, the last thing I'd like to do is attempt to explain something about Japan. But...

For me, all I can say is that I have one vote as a US citizen. If I see something as being wrong I'll try to use it to improve the situation. In Japan, I think that simply preserving the status quo is favored no matter what. And given that the status quo is pretty nice right now there is even less motivation to indeed change anything.

Kerr makes the point (actually it might have been in something else I read) that Japan's plan for recovering from WWII is still in place today even though recovery was completed about 40 years ago. In essence, very little (apart from superficial changes in culture) has really changed since then. In looking around, living, and working in Tokyo, I tend to agree.

Captain

ben
Jun 11, 2003, 06:30
Hi there. Sorry to but in, but i am VERY interested in this subject. I have read the book (along with its sister, Lost Japan) and found it excellent. Actually, I cried a few times, because I had seen examples where I had lived (rural Nagano) of what he was talking about.
But to the point. About the "corrupt bureaucrats/ innocent bystandeds" thing, both of you are right, in different ways.

Of course, HUGE changes have been, and continue to be made without the public's approval or even knowledge. I knew of (save one)no onein Japan while I was there (outside of gaijin) that even cared enough to find out what was up. (There is a Book by david Suzuki co-authored by a japanese of korean descent that detailed some people working in social/environmental struggles). Japanese people seem to be disinterested in such things. As why that might be, I won't offer an opinion just yet. There are probably many reasons. But even in Kerr's book, in the cases where people did care enough to fight back, most times (the french bridge in kyoto noted) the gov't goes ahead and does it anyways. Not very democratic. Even the Nagano governer Tanaka was booted out by his collegues when he didn't agree with the new danm the prefecture wanted to build. However, the public voted him back in with a vengance.
So yeah, I think the gov't is taking the public for a ride.

However, i also believe that the public is responsible for what it belives in. If it thinks the govenment is not doing the right thing, then it should do something about it. It has happened before, even in japan. If you have a problem in society, then it is up to you to do something about it, because as far as i can see, no significant progress that i can think of has ever been voluntarily tackeled by gov't. It always starts as a grassroots movement (in my opinion of course. I am not an expert, mind you). Gandhi was also clear about this, with all of his struggles. They had to involve the whole nation, not just the gov't. So i believe it is the reponsibility of those who live in japan to do something about it. The problem is, there is no motivation to do such things. Or rather, there seems to be great deterance to speak out against the norm. Not to mention apathy. How many japanese vegetarians do you know? How many actively involved in social movements? How about someone who even uses their own chopsticks instead of disposible ones when they eat out? I know only of two, and both have spent consiterable time overseas.
I don't believe it was always this way, and i do belive change is possible. I hope i can help when i get back over there...sorry about the length

senseiman
Jun 25, 2003, 01:37
I too, read both of Kerr's works and I was very impressed by them.

Saying that the Japanese people don't care about what is happening or don't do anything to try and stop it isn't being entirely fair. Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions against the construction of Kyoto station and Kyoto tower in massive grassroots campaigns, but they were completely ignored by the people in power. The movement against the construction of Narita Airport was lead by ordinary citizens who occupied the building and fought against it for years, winning a lot of public support, which was then ignored by the government. These days there are movements against all sorts of things the government is doing, from US bases in Okinawa, to Kobe's idiotic plan to build a useless airport, but the government, which is totally beholden to the construction industry, simply ignores them.

There are a few exceptions which are quite heartening. The governor of Nagano Prefecture, Tanaka San is quite an honest politician who has scrapped a couple of dam projects that were obvious pork bellies. In Kyushu citizens were succesful in blocking the construction of a dam over a beautiful river by forcing a referendum in which about 95% of the votes were against the government plan.

Still, those kinds of victories are few and far between. Its a shame, this country has the potential to be the nicest to live in the world, but because it is run by fools it us one of the worst, at least among industrialized countries.

Also, arnadstephen, just as a correction to your post, Kyoto has in fact been bulldozed. I've been there on many occasions, its a city of ugly plastic and concrete as far as the eye can see just like every other city here. In the guidebooks you see pictures of pretty temples, but those are all well framed, close up pictures. If the camera gave you a wider view, you would see the giant pachinko parlors, power lines and concrete mountains that surround them. Its a depressing place to visit.

mdchachi
Jun 25, 2003, 10:34
I also read and agree with Dogs & Demons -- many examples proving its points are all around you in Japan.

As Japan remains mired in its problems and the status quo becomes less and less pleasant I predict we will see more activism. Especially when working people are asked to pay for the excesses of the past as well as support the aging population.

http://www.japantimes.com/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?ed20030623a1.htm

...an enormous budget deficit. As the report points out, Japan has avoided increasing the tax burden and, instead, has depended heavily on borrowing, passing the bill to future generations. In other words, the budget mess is essentially the result of the politics of procrastination.
However, any sharp tax increase will trigger a public backlash. The most controversial of the recommendations is that the consumption tax rate be raised to 10 percent or more from the present 5 percent...

Maciamo
Jun 26, 2003, 23:00
Originally posted by Captain Japan

...Japan's plan for recovering from WWII is still in place today even though recovery was completed about 40 years ago. In essence, very little (apart from superficial changes in culture) has really changed since then. In looking around, living, and working in Tokyo, I tend to agree.


Hi Captain ! I completely agree with you. How comes Japanese people don't realise it by themselves ?

Maciamo
Jun 26, 2003, 23:04
Originally posted by senseiman

Hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions against the construction of Kyoto station and Kyoto tower in massive grassroots campaigns, but they were completely ignored by the people in power. The movement against the construction of Narita Airport was lead by ordinary citizens who occupied the building and fought against it for years, winning a lot of public support, which was then ignored by the government. These days there are movements against all sorts of things the government is doing, from US bases in Okinawa, to Kobe's idiotic plan to build a useless airport, but the government, which is totally beholden to the construction industry, simply ignores them.


Please stop that ! I am feeling all blue. That is so true... :(
I don't even know what's more depressing, the concretisation of Japan or the utter ignorance of people's opinions.

Maciamo
Jun 27, 2003, 00:28
IMPORTANT NOTICE

I have split the thread in two. The argument about Kyoto which became a bit lengthy (mea culpa) has been moved to a new thread : Kyoto : ugly or beautiful ? (http://forum.japanreference.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=2986) in the History and Traditions forum

senseiman
Jun 27, 2003, 02:18
If you are interested in citizens campaigns to try and halt the spread of useless construction projects, I just started a thread on the all things japanese board about Kobe airport which is sort of related to all this.

Thingamabob
Aug 24, 2006, 03:42
I love reading books about Japan. This one seems kind of interesting! My friend is obsessed with Japan, and she has so many books....