In response to:
It Can't Happen Here from the April 23, 1992 issue
To the Editors:
For anyone who wonders why sensible people retreat into silence whenever the topic of Japan arises, I suggest that they read Ian Buruma’s review of Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun [NYR, April 23]. In fewer than 5,000 words, Buruma associates Crichton’s work with red-baiting and racism, compares the book with two notorious anti-Semitic works, and leaves a lingering impression, whether intended or not, that Crichton and other critics of predatory Japanese business practices may be paranoid in a way akin to the anti-Semites of prewar Nazi Germany.
As Buruma’s citation of Uno Masami’s best-selling, anti-Semitic book suggests, the bitter irony of this review is that a large segment of Japan’s populace believes that all foreigners, including Jews, are barbarians and therefore inferior. As one Japan expert, who understandably prefers anonymity, says, “It says much about Japan—a non-Arab, non-Christian, non-Western country with a tiny, non-native Jewish population and no history of conflict with Israel—that so many Japanese embrace anti-Semitism as an outlet for their racist impulses.”
Because the Japanese are so obsessed with race, they naturally assume that foreigners are similarly preoccupied and that their criticism of Japan is racially motivated. Consequently, Japan’s official-dom and press—exercising a hair-trigger restraint—vilify critics as “racist,” “Japan Bashers,” “enemies,” or “emotional.” When distinguished Western writers, such as Buruma, seemingly endorse such a view, the destructive racial predilections of the Japanese are reinforced.
The viciousness and virtual certainty of these attacks, regardless of their source, is enforcing a powerful self-censorship in America over what is said and written about Japan. The result is a remarkably one-sided dialogue. Through fiction, Crichton has illuminated real issues in the US-Japan relationship which seem to be too painful and risky for discussion in traditional forums. For that reason alone, Rising Sun is worth reading.