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Dogs and Demons: Tales From the Dark Side of Modern Japan [Paperback]

Alex Kerr
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 10 2002 0809039435 978-0809039432 First Edition
A surprising assessment of the failures and successes of modern Japan.

In Dogs and Demons, Alex Kerr chronicles the many facets of Japan's recent, and chronic, crises -- from the failure of its banks and pension funds to the decline of its once magnificent modern cinema. He is the first to give a full report on the nation's endangered environment -- its seashores lined with concrete, its roads leading to nowhere in the mountains -- as well as its "monument frenzy," the destruction of old cities such as Kyoto and construction of drab new ones, and the attendant collapse of its tourist industry. Kerr writes with humor and passion, for "passion," he says, "is part of the story. Millions of Japanese feel as heartbroken at what is going on as I do. My Japanese friends tell me, 'Please write this -- for us.'"

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Kerr (Lost Japan), a 35-year resident of Japan and the first foreigner to win that country's Shincho literary prize, contends that the Japanese miracle has become a Japanese mess. Once admired, and perhaps feared, for its spectacular economic successes, Japan, Kerr claims, has become a land of "ravaged mountains and rivers, endemic pollution, tenement cities, and skyrocketing debts." What happened? He says that ideology and bureaucracy are to blame. Japan is in effect managed by an autonomous and corrupt government bureaucracy, driven by an ethos of economic growth at any cost and a mania for control. Everywhere Japan's natural beauty is being destroyed by useless construction projects, as nature must be controlled and construction companies rewarded. The great ancient cities too representative of old, underdeveloped Japan are being replaced by monuments and hotels that are concrete monstrosities. Japan's banking system has failed, yet no one really knows the extent of the damage, as the bureaucracy keeps accurate information hidden. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy continues to pour money into older industries, while Japan falls dangerously behind in the development of new information technologies. There is popular discontent, but protest is hard to come by, because the bureaucratically controlled educational system emphasizes obedience above all else. Japan is stuck, concludes Kerr, and he sees no easy way out. While perhaps alarmist in his message, Kerr fascinates with detailed descriptions of Japan's dilemma and offers a surprising, if controversial, vision of a land in trouble.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In what may prove to be a highly controversial book, Kerr argues that Japan is in big trouble: a self-destructive country that is systematically destroying its landscape, its environment, its very culture by adherence to ideas and policies that are decades out of date. The author describes land-preservation schemes that end up destroying the land; a national health program that's near collapse; an education system that values conformity over originality; money-eating government programs that no one can seem to stop. In 1994, Japan produced 91.6 million tons of concrete (30 times as much as the U.S.), much of it used to build structures that serve no purpose. In 1998, Japan's government spent $136 billion on public works, more than what it cost to build the Panama Canal. It's hard to know if Kerr hits the mark here, but he makes a strong case. Expect him to start showing up on talk shows soon, and when he does, the requests for this inflammatory position paper will begin to build. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
In Dogs and Demons, Alex Kerr describes a Japan that few people outside the country ever encounter. He notes the river and streambeds paved with concrete, the forests filled with monoculture cedar trees, and a Ministry of Environment so weak that it can only "rubber-stamp" more construction projects. He details how the Ministry of Finance and the Construction Ministry have become "addicted" to "make-work" construction projects that prop-up one fifth of the Japanese workforce but ravage the environment and place both local government as well as the entire nation in perilous debt. He reports the ways in which bureaucrats have created "cozy" relationships in which they retire from public service and through "amakudari" or "descent from heaven" take jobs in the industries they used to monitor and award contracts to. Kerr finds the bureaucracy guilty of "institutionalized corruption," and fills the pages of his book with statistics and anecdotes pointing to horrendous mismanagement of public funds and self-serving greed. He states that Japan's institutional policies largely froze in the 1960s when the Japanese bureaucracy perfected techniques of "Japanese-capitalism" and assumed tremendous power in steering the nation to riches. When the "bubble" burst in the early 90s, Kerr finds that the bureaucracy did not evolve. While America, Europe, and ascendant East Asian "tigers" invested more heavily in information services and tourism, Japan sought to preserve the status quo and enrich itself by creating a "construction state." Kerr concludes that Japan is a developed nation with a developing country's mentality and as a result finds itself in the quagmire its in today. Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smackdown! April 28 2004
I know the title of this review is crass, but that was a significant impression I had while reading Dogs and Demons. This book is a venomous, hard-hitting, and an unabashed assessment of the problems Japan as a country, a society, as an economy has for the present and near future. Yet this book is very necessary and a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in contemporary Japan or the state of affairs in East Asia when it pertains to Japan.
Alex Kerr has spent thirty five years in Japan, he speaks and writes the language as well as the average Japanese, and he calls Japan his home. In various ways I could argue that Alex Kerr is Japanese in most ways except on his passport. But there is no denying his perceptions garnered from being very Japanese in certain ways but very obviously not in others. In Dogs and Demons he uses his attachment to Japan and his linguistic skills to expose and highlight problems that he sees in Japan from various elements. For instance there is economy, thirteen years in recession and continuously amounting a huge national debt that in some estimates could be upwards of (US)$11trillion. (He goes on to explain why this figure is neither official nor exactly accountable, which is linked to other problems.) There is the environment, which from an aesthetic perspective is cluttered with concreted rivers, cedar monoculture forestry, clusters of exposed power lines in every urban and suburban center, uninspired architecture of concrete and molded plastic, and an overwhelming obsession with grandiose and uninspired monuments that pepper the landscape.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, some reviewers wrote rubbish April 15 2004
I believe this is a must-read for anyone who has spent time in Japan. I was greatly concerned at some of the rubbish in the previous reviews, though, and couldn't resist adding some responses below:
"the author tries to detail how the hugely complex Japanese economy is a total mess, when in reality it is the second largest in the world... In fact what they have achieved in 50 years may be one of mankind's greatest economic miracles" - T Biamonte
Response: Actually, Kerr himself states that the rapid development of the Japanese economy was a miracle, but Biamonte's preceding statement relies on the "Biggu izu bettaa" fallacy through which many Japanese banks have merged, becoming the world's largest in terms of assets, while remaining essentially bankrupt due to even greater liabilities. An economy is large in GDP terms if it spends/consumes a lot, but if this consumption is founded (as in Japan) on massive borrowing which can't be repaid without massive inflation which the government won't allow, then it really is "a total mess".
"Example [of stupid arguments]: Japanese businesses really have no capital and inflate all earnings beyond actual facts. Hey, if this was true, wouldn't someone have noticed before him?" -chimara27
Response: Well, yes, but the fact that this hasn't come out in a major newspaper or academic journal doesn't mean that nobody noticed, simply that it hasn't been made official. Why not?
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Ethnocentric white-suprematist view of Japan
If you want to read an ethnocentric white-suprematist view of Japan, this is it. It's thinly disguised but nevertheless obvious that this author thinks he's better than the... Read more
Published on July 16 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars hyperbole
Alex Kerr's argument seems to have won a lot of readers over, not necessarily with cogent points & a judicious use of factual evidence, but with heated statements that border... Read more
Published on June 15 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Detailed, depressing and true
This book, of which Lost Japan serves as a prequel, is a very good guide to the current condition of the health of Japan. And it is of one very sick patient. Read more
Published on March 20 2004 by Jim Richards
5.0 out of 5 stars Factual and Excellent
I found Alex Kerr's book, 'Dogs and Demons' well-written, sardonic and wittily edged. To know whether it is correct or was written for 'some' cynical reason, one has to go and... Read more
Published on Dec 27 2003 by David Butterworth
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost Japan and Lost Alex Kerr
"Dogs and Demons" reads like 1/2 of a love affair gone wrong, with the bitter partner writing a "tell all" book about his famous former mate. Read more
Published on Dec 11 2003 by Zack Davisson
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and disturbing
Alex Kerr has the courage to speak the truth about "the emperor's new clothes" and the detachment to do it without anger. Read more
Published on Dec 10 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Dogs and Demons
I think this is a book that should be read by every economist and every politician or businessman that thinks Japan is a wonderful example to the world, and has created a method... Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2003 by Gareth Griffiths
5.0 out of 5 stars Dogs and Demons
Alex Kerr is well known writer and fellow classmate of our school in Yokohama, Japan. We all attended Saint Joseph College
and we all share couple languages. Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2003 by "gordo223"
1.0 out of 5 stars Orrock off course
Andy, your review reads like a history of Joe Anycountry , or more specifically , a description of your life . Take it from step one . Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2003 by jason Smythe
1.0 out of 5 stars Orrock off course
Andy, your review reads like a history of Joe Anycountry , or more specifically , a description of your life . Take it from step one . Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2003 by jason Smythe
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