Japan Victorious

Behind the Mask: On Sexual Demons, Sacred Mothers, Transvestites, Gangsters, Drifters and Other Japanese Cultural Heroes

by Ian Buruma
Pantheon, 242 pp., $16.95

Japan in the Passing Lane: An Insider's Account of Life in A Japanese Auto Factory

by Satoshi Kamata, translated and edited by Tatsuru Akimoto, introduction by Ronald Dore
Pantheon, 211 pp., $6.95 (paper)

Trade War: Greed, Power, and Industrial Policy on Opposite Sides of the Pacific

by Steven Schlossstein
Congdon and Weed, 296 pp., $17.95

Shadows of the Rising Sun: A Critical View of the "Japanese Miracle"

by Jared Taylor
Morrow, 336 pp., $14.95

The Management Challenge: Japanese Views

edited by Lester C. Thurow
MIT Press, 230 pp., $14.95

The Japanese Conspiracy: The Plot to Dominate Industry Worldwide
and How to Deal with It

by Marvin J. Wolf
Empire, 336 pp., $13.95


By the time the last car and calculator, machine tool and videotape recorder are totted up, Japan’s trade surplus with the United States for 1984 is going to be close to $36 billion, nearly double that of 1983 and the biggest ever recorded, anywhere. Americans are voting with their credit cards for Japanese products, mostly invented in America, all items Americans used to make for themselves. The sections of American industry that are feeling hard pressed, i.e., most of them, charge that the Japanese success is owed to dumping, cheating, lying, sweated labor, and other unsavory and un-American practices. The Japanese say that they have been maligned and misunderstood.

Where does the truth lie, in this complex case? The Japanese are, at least, a change from the Soviet menace, although one of the books considered here (The Japanese Conspiracy: The Plot to Dominate Industry Worldwide—and How to Deal with It, by Marvin J. Wolf) warns that the two threats are in fact linked, since Japanese duplicity is said to be undermining the high-technology industries vital to American, and thus “free world,” defense. A flood of books explaining, denouncing, and (less commonly) defending the Japanese have appeared in the US, while the Japanese have given up producing books about America, and seem to be concentrating their curiosity on more specific questions, the internal layout, for instance, of the next generation of IBM computers.

It was not always so. Largely by chance it was an American, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who introduced the Japanese to the Western style of gunboat salesmanship in 1853, with a none-too-veiled threat to bombard the shoguns’ capital unless they opened their ports to trade. Thus it was to America that seven years later, on the eve of the Civil War, Shogun Tokugawa lemochi sent Japan’s first overseas mission in more than 250 years, with greetings for “His Majesty the President of the United States.” Ostensibly the delegation of seventy-seven middle-ranking samurai came to present a draft treaty, but, as the pioneer consul and currency speculator Townsend Harris noted, they were actually more interested in “observing the prosperity of cities, the wealth of citizens, the conditions of the Army and Navy, and the strength and greatness of the United States.”

Thus even in the days before IBM the Japanese looked to the US for practical information, rather than ethical guidance. Perry’s cannon had persuaded the shogun’s advisers that only Western weapons would keep out Western predators. While they could see that Manifest Destiny was rolling their way, in 1860 Hawaii was still an independent monarchy and America looked a marginally safer bet than the ravenous empires of Russia and Great Britain, already picking China’s carcass. The slogan of those years, “Western Technology, Japanese Spirit,” might well be inscribed on Japanese T-shirts, if they wore such things, to this day.

The fact-finding samurai all kept diaries, published and avidly read when they got home. They were looking for the essential secrets of American power and prosperity, winnowed,…

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