Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan, Alex Kerr
This book is an attack on many facets of Japanese society, primarily dealing with economics. Among the things the book examines are (and these are only bare topics, not the details under each of them):
1. Runaway construction, the building of roads, bridges, buildings, etc, that aren't really needed, but are built just to spend the money that is available.
2. Bad architecture, in which the good things of the past buildings are ignored and often destroyed, and much that is built is sterile and bleak in appearance.
3. An educational system that emphasizes sameness and discourages original thought and creativity.
4. New cities, in which interesting historical parts of cities are torn down in order to build new portions which lack the atmosphere of the original buildings.
5. The stock market system as it works in Japan.
6. University education which, according to the author, isn't really very significant, where students who make it through the exam hell at the end of high school can basically coast along through college.
7. Bureaucracy, which the author talks a lot about. Basically, he's saying it's incredibly corrupt and inefficient and the manner in which it works is not at all well adapted to the conditions in today's world. This also involves construction, public works, etc, and an incredibly complicated system of kickbacks, unacknowledged monies, etc.
8. Cinema, which he says is mostly aimed at children. He also attacks Japanese manga.
9. Questionable accounting practices of many companies.
10. Lack of concern about the environment.
11. The medical system.
13. Ikebana, as it is done today.
14. Japan's basic dislike and intolerance of non-Japanese in their country.
Those are not all of the things that the author attacks, but it's a good number of them. As you can see the book covers a very wide variety of topics, and the author backs up his assertions with numerous statistics. A lot of it is sort of complicated (if you don't really have a deep understanding of economics, which I don't), and at times a little tedious.
While I was reading the book I checked one of the on-line Japanese newspapers (that are translated into English), and I found an article covering one of the topics in the book, the article noting that the Finance Ministry had allocated 100 million yen for a research commission that didn't actually exist. Further, this came on the heels of reports of similar things by the Social Insurance Agency and the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, all of this relating to topic 7, especially, of the above list.
The book paints a very grim picture of Japanese economics and doesn't really hold out a lot of hope for the country. As far as I can understand what the author is saying will happen is that Japan will fall behind other countries economically and that their quality of life will continue to get worse.
It's an interesting albeit somewhat complicated book.
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