Japan and the Shackles of the Past

Oxford University Press
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Japan is one of the world's wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, and its rapid ascent to global power status after 1853 remains one of the most remarkable stories in modern world history. Yet it has not been an easy path; military catastrophe, political atrophy, and economic upheavals have made regular appearances from the feudal era to the present. Today, Japan is seen as a has-been with a sluggish economy, an aging population, dysfunctional politics, and a business landscape dominated by yesterday's champions. Though it is supposed to be America's strongest ally in the Asia-Pacific region, it has almost entirely disappeared from the American radar screen. In Japan and the Shackles of the Past, R. Taggart Murphy places the current troubles of Japan in a sweeping historical context, moving deftly from early feudal times to the modern age that began with the Meiji Restoration. Combining fascinating analyses of Japanese culture and society over the centuries with hard-headed accounts of Japan's numerous political regimes, Murphy not only reshapes our understanding of Japanese history, but of Japan's place in the contemporary world. He concedes that Japan has indeed been out of sight and out of mind in recent decades, but contends that this is already changing. Political and economic developments in Japan today risk upheaval in the pivotal arena of Northeast Asia, inviting comparisons with Europe on the eve of the First World War. America's half-completed effort to remake Japan in the late 1940s is unraveling, and the American foreign policy and defense establishment is directly culpable for what has happened. The one apparent exception to Japan's malaise is the vitality of its pop culture, but it's actually no exception at all; rather, it provides critical clues to what is going on now. With insights into everything from Japan's politics and economics to the texture of daily life, gender relations, the changing business landscape, and popular and high culture, Japan and the Shackles of the Past is the indispensable guide to understanding Japan in all its complexity.
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About the author

R. Taggart Murphy is Professor of International Political Economy at the MBA Program in International Business at the Tokyo campus of the University of Tsukuba. He is the author of award-winning books on modern Japan and a number of articles in publications from The New Republic to the National Interest and The New Left Review. A former investment banker, he has also taught at the university's main campus, was a Non-Resident Senior Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and is a coordinator of the web's leading clearing-house for serious writing on Japan, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Nov 7, 2014
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9780190213251
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / International / General
History / Asia / Japan
History / General
Political Science / World / Asian
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Akio Mikuni
Until quite recently, the Japanese inspired a kind of puzzled awe. They had pulled themselves together from the ruin of war, built at breakneck speed a formidable array of export champions, and emerged as the world's number-two economy and largest net creditor nation. And they did it by flouting every rule of economic orthodoxy. But today only the puzzlement remains—at Japan's inability to arrest its economic decline, at its festering banking crisis, and at the dithering of its policymakers. Why can't the Japanese government find the political will to fix the country's problems? Japan's Policy Trap offers a provocative new analysis of the country's protracted economic stagnation. Japanese insider Akio Mikuni and long-term Japan resident R. Taggart Murphy contend that the country has landed in a policy trap that defies easy solution. The authors, who have together spent decades at the heart of Japanese finance, expose the deep-rooted political arrangements that have distorted Japan's monetary policy in a deflationary direction. They link Japan's economic difficulties to the Achilles' heel of the U.S. economy: the U.S. trade and current accounts deficits. For the last twenty years, Japan's dollar-denominated trade surplus has outstripped official reserves and currency in circulation. These huge accumulated surpluses have long exercised a growing and perverse influence on monetary policy, forcing Japan's authorities to support a build-up of deflationary dollars. Mikuni and Murphy trace the origins of Japan's policy trap far back into history, in the measures taken by Japan's officials to preserve their economic independence in what they saw as a hostile world. Mobilizing every resource to accumulate precious dollars, the authorities eventually found themselves coping with a hoard they could neither use nor exchange. To counteract the deflationary impact, Japanese authorities resorted to the creation of yen liabilities unrelated to production via the largest financial bubble in history. The bursting of that bubble was followed by massive public works spending that has resulted in an explosion in public sector debt. Japan's Policy Trap points to the likelihood that Japan will run out of ways to support its vast pile of dollar claims. Should the day come when those claims can no longer be supported, the world could see a horrific deflationary spiral in Japan, a crash in the global value of the dollar, or both. The effects would reach far beyond Japan's borders. Mikuni and Murphy suggest that a reduction in Japan's surplus must be accompanied by a reduction in deficits somewhere else—most obviously through far-reaching shifts in the American economy.
David Pilling
“[A]n excellent book...” —The Economist

Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling's Bending Adversity captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan.

Pilling’s exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan’s vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country’s past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan’s survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan’s own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle—the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity Pilling questions what was lost in the country’s blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990—the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan’s “lost decades”—to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities—in particular for the young and for women—have diversified. 


Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling’s many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people.

The Financial Times
“David Pilling quotes a visiting MP from northern England, dazzled by Tokyo’s lights and awed by its bustling prosperity: ‘If this is a recession, I want one.’ Not the least of the merits of Pilling’s hugely enjoyable and perceptive book on Japan is that he places the denunciations of two allegedly “lost decades” in the context of what the country is really like and its actual achievements.”

The Telegraph (UK)
“Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, is perfectly placed to be our guide, and his insights are a real rarity when very few Western journalists communicate the essence of the world’s third-largest economy in anything but the most superficial ways. Here, there is a terrific selection of interview subjects mixed with great reportage and fact selection... he does get people to say wonderful things. The novelist Haruki Murakami tells him: “When we were rich, I hated this country”... well-written... valuable.”

Publishers Weekly (starred):
"A probing and insightful portrait of contemporary Japan."

Daniel O'Sullivan
Captain James Cook was the greatest explorer of his age, perhaps of any age. He was a leader of men, a master voyager who journeyed to unknown places, a seeker of knowledge who commanded three demanding scientific expeditions. He and his crews had encounters with peoples of the South Seas which could lead to mutual respect and trade, but also to misunderstanding and violence. Even before he died his exploits were widely admired. But his death at the hands of Hawaiians turned him into a legendary figure, a hero of the Enlightenment, who was said to have brought “civilization” to the Pacific while giving up his own life in the process. Yet despite everything that is known about Cook’s life and many adventures, the man himself remains shrouded in mystery. Even J.C. Beaglehole, the legendary editor of Cook’s Journals, acknowledged the problem: ‘Everybody knows Cook’s name; yet, I have always felt, extraordinarily little is known about him. He is an exceptionally difficult man to get inside’. With this book, Dan O’Sullivan seeks to do just that and casts vivid light on Cook’s character, teasing out his personality from the pages of his own journals - cautious, objective-seeming texts, full of the minutiae of daily events which are almost the only sources available for one of the outstanding figures of his generation and of his country. Presenting Cook’s life thematically, O’Sullivan examines his ideas and attitudes - towards his men, the Pacific Islanders, sex, god and death - in the context of the ideas and conflicts of the turbulent 18th century As well as an original and illuminating re-examination of Cook's complex character, this is also a vivid introduction to his life and times which is essential reading for anyone with an interest in this incomparable sea-captain.
Evan Osnos
Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist

Winner of the 2014 National Book Award in nonfiction.

An Economist Best Book of 2014.

A vibrant, colorful, and revelatory inner history of China during a moment of profound transformation

From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy-or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don't see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes.
As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party's struggle to retain control. He asks probing questions: Why does a government with more success lifting people from poverty than any civilization in history choose to put strict restraints on freedom of expression? Why do millions of young Chinese professionals-fluent in English and devoted to Western pop culture-consider themselves "angry youth," dedicated to resisting the West's influence? How are Chinese from all strata finding meaning after two decades of the relentless pursuit of wealth?
Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail.

Akio Mikuni
Until quite recently, the Japanese inspired a kind of puzzled awe. They had pulled themselves together from the ruin of war, built at breakneck speed a formidable array of export champions, and emerged as the world's number-two economy and largest net creditor nation. And they did it by flouting every rule of economic orthodoxy. But today only the puzzlement remains—at Japan's inability to arrest its economic decline, at its festering banking crisis, and at the dithering of its policymakers. Why can't the Japanese government find the political will to fix the country's problems? Japan's Policy Trap offers a provocative new analysis of the country's protracted economic stagnation. Japanese insider Akio Mikuni and long-term Japan resident R. Taggart Murphy contend that the country has landed in a policy trap that defies easy solution. The authors, who have together spent decades at the heart of Japanese finance, expose the deep-rooted political arrangements that have distorted Japan's monetary policy in a deflationary direction. They link Japan's economic difficulties to the Achilles' heel of the U.S. economy: the U.S. trade and current accounts deficits. For the last twenty years, Japan's dollar-denominated trade surplus has outstripped official reserves and currency in circulation. These huge accumulated surpluses have long exercised a growing and perverse influence on monetary policy, forcing Japan's authorities to support a build-up of deflationary dollars. Mikuni and Murphy trace the origins of Japan's policy trap far back into history, in the measures taken by Japan's officials to preserve their economic independence in what they saw as a hostile world. Mobilizing every resource to accumulate precious dollars, the authorities eventually found themselves coping with a hoard they could neither use nor exchange. To counteract the deflationary impact, Japanese authorities resorted to the creation of yen liabilities unrelated to production via the largest financial bubble in history. The bursting of that bubble was followed by massive public works spending that has resulted in an explosion in public sector debt. Japan's Policy Trap points to the likelihood that Japan will run out of ways to support its vast pile of dollar claims. Should the day come when those claims can no longer be supported, the world could see a horrific deflationary spiral in Japan, a crash in the global value of the dollar, or both. The effects would reach far beyond Japan's borders. Mikuni and Murphy suggest that a reduction in Japan's surplus must be accompanied by a reduction in deficits somewhere else—most obviously through far-reaching shifts in the American economy.
R. Taggart Murphy
Japan is one of the world's wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, and its rapid ascent to global power status after 1853 remains one of the most remarkable stories in modern world history. Yet it has not been an easy path; military catastrophe, political atrophy, and economic upheavals have made regular appearances from the feudal era to the present. Today, Japan is seen as a has-been with a sluggish economy, an aging population, dysfunctional politics, and a business landscape dominated by yesterday's champions. Though it is supposed to be America's strongest ally in the Asia-Pacific region, it has almost entirely disappeared from the American radar screen. In Japan and the Shackles of the Past, R. Taggart Murphy places the current troubles of Japan in a sweeping historical context, moving deftly from early feudal times to the modern age that began with the Meiji Restoration. Combining fascinating analyses of Japanese culture and society over the centuries with hard-headed accounts of Japan's numerous political regimes, Murphy not only reshapes our understanding of Japanese history, but of Japan's place in the contemporary world. He concedes that Japan has indeed been out of sight and out of mind in recent decades, but contends that this is already changing. Political and economic developments in Japan today risk upheaval in the pivotal arena of Northeast Asia, inviting comparisons with Europe on the eve of the First World War. America's half-completed effort to remake Japan in the late 1940s is unraveling, and the American foreign policy and defense establishment is directly culpable for what has happened. The one apparent exception to Japan's malaise is the vitality of its pop culture, but it's actually no exception at all; rather, it provides critical clues to what is going on now. With insights into everything from Japan's politics and economics to the texture of daily life, gender relations, the changing business landscape, and popular and high culture, Japan and the Shackles of the Past is the indispensable guide to understanding Japan in all its complexity.
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