Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

The Making of Modern Japan

Marius B. Jansen (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000)

CONTENT: Nearly 900 lugubrious pages about Japan's past four centuries.

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GIST: Scholarly but dull mainstream treatise on Japan points out many trees but gives no vivid sense of the forest. Princeton professor emeritus Jansen pays little attention to the role of religion, and merely notes that "no student of the Japanese past could doubt that a nation so gifted, resourceful, and courageous [is] destined to play a major role in the millennium now begun."

Japan: A Modern History

James L. McClain (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002)

CONTENT: Only 700 pages, and better-written.

GIST: Also a flyover of four centuries, but McClain occasionally gets down to ground level to describe life in both the opulent courts of wealthy shoguns and the thatched huts of common folks scratching to stay alive at subsistence level. Most of the work deals with Japan in the 20th century and readably explains how the country emerged into the world and surged for four decades, but then brought disaster upon itself.

Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan

Alan Kerr (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001)

CONTENT: Japan has a ruined economy, a befouled environment, and a sick culture.

GIST: In a ground-level assessment of current Japan, Kerr affectionately but severely analyzes the roots and stalks of the country's current malaise. He argues that big government and strong unions have created an overtaxed and overbuilt country with unnecessary public works and failing family structures. PokŽmon, pornography, and payoffs abound, and anyone looking for a model of development should look elsewhere.

Japan and Kyoto Guidebooks

Lonely Planet (Melbourne: Lonely Planet Publications, 2001)

CONTENT: Succinct and generally reliable travel guides.

GIST: Fodor's guides also have merit, but Lonely Planet books often feature livelier writing along with information about less expensive accommodations and restaurants. While accurate concerning planes, trains, and automobiles, the Kyoto volume made Internet access at cyber cafes seem more readily available than was the case-but travel is always an adventure.

The Unseen Face of Japan

David C. Lewis (Tunbridge Wells, England: Monarch Publications, 1993)

CONTENT: A view of contemporary Japan by a Christian anthropologist.

GIST: Lewis readably explains the influence of Buddhist and Shinto religions, and the ravages of sin, shame, and insecurity. He shows how many Japanese deal cafeteria-style with birth, marriage, and death, picking up bits and pieces from various religions, and often settle for safety charms and fortune-telling. Lewis also examines how to evangelize effectively among those who think they have no need of Christ.


Junichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows and Gouverneur Mosher's Kyoto: A Contemplative Guide succinctly show how different Japanese perceptions are from those of the West. Other older books worth reading include G.B. Sansom's Japan: A Short Cultural History and Robert Bellah's Tokugawa Religion. Rex Shelley's Culture Shock: Japan and Shifra Horn's Shalom, Japan are amusing accounts of cultural differences. Robert Whiting's Tokyo Underworld is a deadly serious account of Japanese gangsterism by the lucid writer of a fine book on Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa. Masao Miyamoto's Straitjacket Society is a hard-to-find, insider's indictment of Japanese bureaucracy. Shichihei Yamamoto's The Spirit of Japanese Capitalism emphasizes the history of free markets in a Japan that fell into centralized planning. Operation Japan and Notto Thelle's Buddhism and Christianity in Japan present some theological basics from radically different perspectives.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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