Mar 15 2005
Alex Kerr’s deconstruction of Japan. In it he seeks to shed light into how the world’s second largest economy could have the greatest debt and how in a country known to be lovers of nature they could manifest this “trait” by concreting over thier rivers and coastlines at break neck speed.
If you want to know what is wrong with Japan, Dogs and Demons will point you in the right direction. I have read many reviews on Dogs and Demons and a lot of reviewers lambast Kerr on not supporting his arguments (although there is 34 pages of sources listed in the back). So I figured I should get Kana to read the book, since I figured, a Japanese person would be best to say whether Kerr is “off his rocker” or not. After finishing the book, Kana turned to me and said: “I can’t believe how well and how deeply he knows the Japanese!” This should not be a surprise since Kerr’s first book Lost Japan was written in Japanese!
Dogs and Demons can be a bit depressing, but I think it is well worth knowing the “rules of the game” if you are going to be living in Japan.
Also reviewed by: SEKIDOBASHI Sakura
The following review (reprinted here by permission WITH THANKS!) was written by Sekidobashi Sakura, author of “The Kabuki”.
Review Date: March, 24th, 2003
Actually, it is a terrible book for a Japanese. This book was very impressive and gave me a strong impulse. And it forced me to consider deeply about Japan itself. I think ‘terrible’ is the most suitable word for my feeling. Its author Alex Kerr has gotten angry with the recent issues of Japan severely. Especially, his criticism of bureaucracy pointed its current problems directly. While I had been reading it, many mismanagements of politicians and bureaucrats of Foreign Ministry were disclosed, and I was very embarrassed as a Japanese. There are terrible problems actually, but I think that nobody becomes a civil servant in order to embezzle from the beginning. I still think that most civil servants know what their job is. It isn’t wrong to say that Japanese bureaucrats need a stricter morale, though.
Just before this book, I had read about Roman Empire’s infrastructure. So I could understand Kerr’s criticism of the Japanese construction’s problems very easily and clearly. Although all roads goes to Roman Empire, he wrote that the highways of Japan go nowhere. And he wrote that many big concert halls and museums had been built in underpopulated areas. He wrote that the public construction of Japan was of the bureaucrat for the bureaucrat by the bureaucrat. It made me laugh, but I think that he was right.
I live in a suburb of Tokyo. Also our city has built a new museum, but I haven’t visited there yet. And Kerr wrote that the museum most frequently visited by Japanese was the Louvre. Yes, I have visited there.
Obviously, the public constructions of Japan didn’t have a global view and a balance sheet. I think that Japanese should reflect on the mismanagement of the past public constructions, as he wrote.
Sometimes he uses unknown words that have a pronunciation of a Japanese word, for example, zaito, zero-yaku, and fuyu-type. Zaito is zaisei-touyushi 財政投融資 that means treasury investment and loan. Although, he wrote that most Japanese didn’t know on zaito, I hadn’t heard it until I have read this book ‘Dogs and Demons’. However, I think most Japanese know zaisei-touyushi, and that nobody says zaito instead of zaisei-touyushi, because I learned it at high school. I still have no idea what zero-yaku and fuyu-type mean, though.
And Kerr wrote that Japanese discriminate of everything. While I had been reading it, I wanted to deny his thought that most Japanese were racists. But I had to say yes unwillingly, because I had known a Japanese woman who was a racist. She discriminates of colored foreigners of Asian, Arabian, and especially African. It is expanded exclusionism, and often it goes toward disabled, even Japanese women, and especially her daughter-in-law. Always her talking is bothering me, but she thinks that she is average as Japanese woman. Kerr wrote about her as an average Japanese. Unfortunately, he is right. I don’t think that she is an average Japanese, though.
Sometimes I wonder how a racist became a racist. Kerr didn’t show me its answer. I really hope that everyone will be able to throw his exclusionism off someday, and I think that it isn’t a problem of Japanese only.
Kerr’s analysis and criticism are almost right about politics and economic problems. It is because the general consensus of them has been built already. I think that his thought isn’t new. It means that Japanese have left the problems alone for a long time. I think that Japanese have to accept that fact severely.
However, I think that Kerr might have misunderstood the Japanese culture. He tried to write about a cultural background of the Japanese general public. But the general public had no culture until Meiji restoration in 1868, because the warrior class which population was 5% only of Japan had monopolized almost traditional culture and art. Of course there were the general public entertainment or skill, but it is an unreasonable trying to write about the traditional Japanese culture as the general public culture systematically. He may as well have written about the Japanese real traditional art rather than the cultural mismanagement of the general public.
Kerr wrote also about the Japanese current subculture. According to his writing, ‘Heisei Pon-poco War’ was the best anime of Japan. It showed me that he might not know Play Station 2, Final Fantasy, Gundam, Evangelion, Princess Mononoke, Sharkskin man and Pink hip girl, and etc. . . I even think that he might not know how evaluated in the western the current Japanese subculture is directly, because his writing looked like other superficial reviews. I wouldn’t like to be a friend of someone who thinks ‘Toy Story’ is great. And I’m worried that ‘Titanic 2’ might be made someday. I think that he may as well have written about the commercial management of the Japanese subculture rather than its artistic value.
Then, I have no idea what he intended to suggest by the film that was based to ?Rising Sun? written by Michael Crichton. It was the most uninteresting movie I have ever seen.
Anyway, Alex Kerr reminded me of a responsibility as a Japanese. I think that Kerr didn’t write this book for Japanese only. Of course Japanese should receive his thought severely, but it doesn’t mean to accept all of his thought. As I mentioned before, he has some misunderstanding. However, I intend to receive his misunderstanding in order to think how foreigner thinks Japan. Japanese have to know that the cultural difference isn’t enough as excuse any more. And I think that every Japanese has to consider how to be as a citizen of the world. I think that this book might be a warning to everyone on the earth.
And Kerr wrote that he would like to write about Kabuki someday. When he starts writing, I expect that he would refer to my Kabuki review. I thank for my e-mail friend, Wim. His recommendation is always interesting.