Japan as anything but number one, by Jon Woronoff

This book was written in 1990 in reaction to Ezra Vogel' "Japan as number one" and other utterly idealising books on Japan.

The book starts by quoting all those authors and how perfect they see Japan. Jon Woronoff then starts destroying each wrong praise with great talent through a series of chapters from economy to education, and politics to welfare.

In chapters 2 and 3, he explains admirably how big Japanese companies have become so sucessful thanks to their network of suppliers bound to them and forced to sell them components at low price to survive. He continues with the crucual factors in winning the Japanese market, that is access to finance (through keiretsu banks) and control over distribution.

It transcends from those very chapters that foreign manufacturers have virtually no chance of ever establishing themselves in Japan, as they cannot break connections between big manufacturers and suppliers, and will lack the distribution network to seel their products. All is based on relationships between big companies and their subordinate suppliers and distributors that are completely bound to them.

In chapter 4, Woronoff explains what sectors of the economy are efficient and which are not. He also justly points out that major companies aim at gaining market share through high production, rather than aiming at high-profits like Western entreprises.

Chapter 6 on education reveals more thruth about the abnormally praised Japanese educational system, which in fact is pretty mediocre and limited to short-term memory and exam drills.

In chapter 7, Woronoff tell us about crime and the various kinds of yakuza.

In chapter 8, he exaplains how undemocratic Japan is, and how the bureaucracy makes all the important decisions for the incapable and corrupted dynasties of politicians. Big business then "advice" top bureacrats on the direction to take and how to help the economy develop as they wish.

Chapter 9 tells us about the so-called "group harmony" Japanese are so proud of. In fact, if Japanese really feel solidarity for each others on an international point of view, in Japan itself, nobody is equal due to the all-pervading vertical hierarchy, seniority system or discrimination against women. The harsh competition between companies contrast with the received ideas of harmony, and the education system strongly influenced by the parents' ability to pay for "good schools" is the determinant factor is one's success in life.

Chapter 10 explains how isolated Japan remains in the international community, notwithstanding it is the world's 3rd economic power. Woronoff points out that Japan's international politics follow the need of companies to open trade relations with a particular country. As for domestic issues, politics follows the economy, and not the contrary, as in Western countries.

This is a book to read if you want to get a clear and acurate image of the so-called "Japanese system", far from the myths and legends.