6 Comments

After college and law school in the late 1980s I moved to Japan and stayed for almost a decade. I spoke and read Japanese, studied at Tokyo University, and worked at Japanese and American law firms in Tokyo. My feeling is a little different than your review suggests.

For one thing, MITI doesn't exist anymore. It has become METI and is a shadow of its former self. MITI steadily lost power as the dollar-yen exchange rate started to shift after the Smithsonian Agreement in 1971 (again, that year!). It took a while for things to change much, but the cumulative effect has been dramatic. The government largely lost control of the economy.

You can see it in the books being written. Back in the 1980s books lauded Japan's successes:

-- "Japan as Number One: Lessons for America", by Ezra Vogel.

-- "Trading Places: How We Are Giving Our Future to Japan & How to Reclaim It", by Clyde Prestowitz.

-- "MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925-1975", by Chalmers Johnson.

-- “The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals”, by Ishihara Shintaro and (Sony founder) Morita Akio.

All interesting, well-written books (except for maybe the last). But all turned out to be pretty worthless in their prognostications and nostrums. We don't see books like that anymore.

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> Mass suffrage and mass conscription are inextricably bound with one another.

In China, mass conscription is an ancient practice that didn't lead to mass suffrage.

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Democracy is an input. Stability and prosperity are outputs. Postwar Japan as a machine, democratic or not, functions well. Despite massive deficits and debt, despite a declining population, despite Chinese competition, Japan sails on with low inflation, low unemployment, safe streets, good schools and one of the highest standards of living in East Asia. No one know how it works, but it works. And diversity is scarce.

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I am reminded of this short story by John Wright: https://www.scifiwright.com/2018/12/peter-power-armor/

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There is a wonderful historical novel - "The Emperor's General" - by James Webb - that covers this dynamic (post war occupation of Japan and the cat and mouse between the American occupiers and Japanese regime).

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Hmn ... the above is somewhat fanciful. In the tradition of the Collisons who see Japan and Switzerland as exceptional examples of organized societies, I don't see the Mejii restoration as other than a twist on collaborative practice that goes back to the daimyos of the 1500s, akin to the Swiss collaborative system that dates from 1481. After all, Japan controlled technological spread from the 1500s on, not only post-Mejii. Both the Swiss and Japanese systems assume a status quo of credible threats related to military levels and federated separations, and an elaborated fabric of ongoing concords, frequently and flexibly updated, which both protect credible threats and enforce agreements between them. The credible threats and consensus compromises propogate in a fractal manner up and down the whole social order, as can be seen by a universality of bullying and simmering griping. Yelling and posturing are followed by prostrating and bowing. On the plus side, the abject submissiveness of a Walmart or an Amazon employee as an ongoing condition of their employment, and their expulsion when they fail to submit, is alien to Germany, Japan, or Switzerland.

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