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

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  668 ratings  ·  67 reviews
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
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Paperback, 448 pages
Published February 10th 2002 by Hill and Wang (first published 2001)
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Shōgun by James ClavellMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenTokyo Vice by Jake AdelsteinNorwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Best Books About Japan
12th out of 261 books — 163 voters
Norwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiStrange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi KawakamiDogs and Demons by Alex KerrInk by Amanda SunStupeur et tremblements by Amélie Nothomb
Understanding Modern Japan
2nd out of 43 books — 5 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,443)
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Eugene Woodbury
When published a decade ago, Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan was the latest in a series of polemics that began most prominently with Karel van Wolferen's The Enigma of Japanese Power. Unabashedly iconoclastic, the revisionist themes common to these critiques hearken back to earlier academic criticisms of Ruth Benedict's landmark anthropological survey, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

Written during Second World War on behalf of the Office of War Information, Benedi
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Tomoaki
I believe this book needs to be updated. This book's publication data back to 2001 and he actually wrote this book before that. What he described here in the book is 80s and 90s. Even though most incidents and figures may be correct, still we feel these events were long ago. A lot of situations may be still the same but many other situations have changed dramatically too.
The book shows so many negative side of Japan and those add up when you read through and I felt totally fed up.
Since he does
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Patrick McCoy
I went to a talk by Alex Kerr, a noted Japanologist and author of the book Dogs and Demons, at Temple University's Tokyo branch campus and was impressed with his presentation on some problems facing modern Japan today. I read his book and felt that although it effectively addressed some pressing concerns for Japanese society, it ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. It is always difficult to be an outsider looking on and criticizing a society from the outside. He had some good points to make, ...more
Juha
Apr 01, 2013 Juha rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the Japanese and Japanophiles.
Alex Kerr is angry. He’s angry at the Japanese bureaucrats, construction industry, media and, not least, education system that have all destroyed not only the natural beauty of the unique archipelago, but also the culture and psyche of the ancient country. The book is very well researched and Kerr knows his subject, the country where he has lived for decades. All in all, the book is an important antidote to the Japanophiles who look at the country through rose-tinted glasses—and as Kerr points o ...more
Phil
As someone living long-term in Japan, this was, hands-down, the most depressing book I've read all year. Kerr's argument is that Japan is in the midst of "cultural malaise," with no real end in sight. The book is an impassioned laundry list of the (mainly structural) problems facing modern Japan.

Kerr raises the following as the foremost issues at the heart of Japan's perceived decline:
- pointless pork-barrel construction projects
- garish, misguided architectural design that ignores local flavor
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Melissa
Jul 03, 2009 Melissa rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people concerned about Japan and the environment.
I'm torn in my feelings about this book. It paints a very negative portrait of Japan, albeit it was published in 2001 so a lot of time has passed. I found myself trying to remember details from my trip to see if they supported Kerr's writing or not. It is rare that I read negative non-fiction books. Even if there is a problem at the heart of the tale, there is some redemption or hope in the end. Not so much with this one. It did make me wonder if Kerr's book is the equivalent of the horrendously ...more
Justin
To anyone who has ever been a gaijin, this book can offer some assistance in explaining the history behind certain customs and norms that Westerners might find a little baffling, at least economically.

I was reminded of this book last night upon reading of the disinvestment going on throughout more rural Honshu in the Times. The construction budgets have been cut in some rural prefectures and the consequences have been disasterous because little else supports the base in certain areas. It really
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J
A great book which highlights the scandals, failures, and shortcomings of the Japanese Elite who control the government, ministries, and corporations. This is a book that sometimes entertained me. Other times it made me frustrated and disgusted. I had to take a few breaks from this book due to the nature of the content. While reading this, I often had to step back and remind myself to make an objective (as objective as possible) comparison to the U.S. and it helped to put things back into a less ...more
Jee Koh
Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons (published in 2001) is a polemic against the wrong direction that Japan has taken in the closing decades of the last century. The charge sheet looks serious. Excessive construction is destroying the environment. Bureaucrats are enriching themselves at the expense of national interest. The country is piling up its national debt but losing its technological edge. Schools are teaching rote-learning and social conformity. Culture has degenerated into manga and anime, plas ...more
Alejandro
Feb 22, 2007 Alejandro rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in contemporary themes
I read this book while i was living and working in japan and I thought it was spot on. Kerr might be overly critical of the erosion of "traditional" japan but he looks at it through the perspective of one not interested in fetishizing but perserving a culture and countryside that is beautiful and worth knowing. Read it if your are planning to visit or if you are planning to live there... it is eye-opening.
Brad
Illustrative narrative explication of Japan circa 2000.

Kerr sets forth a clear context for Japan's failed response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Emily
This may not have been the best book to cap off my 4+ years living in Japan, but I suspect long-time expats will find much to relate to...

There's a lot of literature and vocal praise out there for Japan, especially from people who have never lived there, but some of it tends to gloss over some of the more serious problems festering in the country. Anyone who has been here long enough recognizes just how ineffective Japanese bureaucracy can be, and just how deep corruption is a part of the govern
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Barry Lancet
For muckrakers, conspiracy theorists, and anyone who has scratched his or her head over some of the more inexplicable moves of the Japanese powers-that-be, this is the book for you. A long-time Japan resident, Kerr's effort is a well-researched, well-written peek behind the facade—sure to be an eye-opener for even the most jaded expat. Don't let any of the unfortunate subtitles (they vary with the edition) put you off. In Lost Japan, Kerr's previous work, he goes in the opposite direction, offer ...more
Ben Taylor
what not to read when on holiday in Japan
Bob Colwick
'Demons are easy, dogs are hard'...this reflects an old Japanese proverb that espouses the relative ease of tackling the more extreme things in life as opposed to the problem of taking on the common, ritualistic things. In Japan's case, the author argues that the nation easily accepts its fantastical bent on progress at all costs (even if the benefits of their defined 'progress' are marginal at best), yet finds other common aspects more cumbersome to follow (doing what's best for the common good ...more
Chi Pham
While the book shockingly fails to highlight that many problems also exist in the West and elsewhere, that the picture outside of modern Japan is not one of the rosy color after all, the book DOES dwell on the inherent issues that merit discussions outside of Japan as well. More than everything, the author is a Japanophile - which means that he does not blindly criticize Japan, and arrogantly tell them what to do, but instead rants on and on because he loves and worries about Japan so much. Of c ...more
Rowland Bismark
Japan has not been anxious to reveal much about itself. In fact, the opposite could be said to be true to the point of near xenophobia. So it is little wonder that this inside look at the workings and mind set of the Modern Japanese society is so surprising and educational. Kerr examines the bureaucratic, economic and social realities of a people trapped in historical forces that are at great odds with the rest of the world.

In a few short years Japan went from seeming on the edge of world domina
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Jakub
This one is a tough one to judge. Sure, Japan's condition is rather bleak but I don't think it's this dire.

After flipping through first three chapters I was rather depressed. I knew about Japan's bureaucracy problems, but never thought them to be so severe. Around middle of the book, I found a factual error[*]. At the end of the book, I've discovered why the picture seems so bad - most of the sources for Kerr were other concerned citizens. This moves this book from a document to "collaborative a
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Mike
Can be a bit dry in spots, but gives one a look at a side of Japan that not many have encountered before. The book for the most part describes government funding of various overzealous contruction projects..to the point that there are now only 1 or 2 major rivers in Japan not diverted or given concrete banks...over half of japan's coastline is now paved (incredible, and not something you read about or see spoken up in Japanese tourism)...and large swaths of the countryside are being destroyed to ...more
Terrance
Expats may not have citizenship but we have residentship and this book is a shout out to all of us who love Japan but are also deeply hurt by the never ending 'gaijin' treatment and the lack of realization by many Japanese that we have a stake in the future of this country, too. Kerr can get too heated and a bit haughty in his criticism but the examples of silly nihonjinron at work are gems. Japan wouldn't import foreign made skis because Japanese snow is different from 'gaikoku' snow, but what ...more
Ryan
Another excellent book from Alex Kerr outlining the many problems of both past and present Japanese society. This is an excellent book that should be required reading for Japanophiles to get a more realistic look at Japan. While it can feel a bit preachy at times, and realistically many of these problems affect almost every developed nation, i'm always impressed at Kerr's able writing and ability to peel back and present the layers of Japan that aren't usually presented. This book was written ov ...more
Theo Howe
Alex Kerr paints an interesting enough portrait of Japan at the turn of the century but feels at some points sensationalist and at many points dated. It would be interesting to have Kerr write a book about his views on Japan in more recent years as he writes very well and knows what he is talking about with many aspects of Japanese culture.
Matt
This was a very well-researched book that does indeed paint a bleak picture for Japan today. It's a bit dated (over 10 years), but serves as an interesting study of how bureaucracy can go awry.

I do not agree with his assertion that the uniforms worn by Japanese schoolchildren are militaristic and feature brass buttons. Suicide bombers wear cargo pants and sandals and are part of the War on Terror, but no one is going to say that cargo pants and sandals are an automatic indicator that someone is
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Herman
Interesting, eye-opening, and thoroughly depressing. This book definitely on my list of "what not to read when visiting or living in Japan". That said, it does give a unique and well-researched perspective of the problems facing Japan, and is a good choice if you want to understand more of the dark side of Japan's beaurocracy and economy.

This book was published in 2000, and most facts cited from the 1980s and 1990s, and I found myself constantly wondering how many of the facts cited are still re
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Mollytrex
A good book to read at the end of a bittersweet two years of living in Japan - it made me feel better about having come here and even more ready to leave. Alex Kerr loves Japan and hates what bureaucracy is doing to it.
Fencetennis
Alex Kerr candidly reveals some of the rough spots of modern Japan. I think the best chapters are on the environment, education, and modern Japanese society. I especially liked how he noted the unfortunate departure of modern Japan from the traditional aspects of Japanese life that once marked this nation and its people. The book is a critique, but I think it should have offered a little bit more on signs of hope for the future. It was almost entirely negative (but Kerr obviously loves Japan and ...more
Adam Carter
Fascinating look at contemporary Japan, debunking a lot of the myths Westerners have about Japan. Kerr writes what Japanese writers shy away from: the bitter truths that are holding Japan back. Well-researched and very enlightening for anyone interested in Japan!
Melissa
good points :
all in all, its a good book. i thoroughly enjoyed it. but, keep in mind that i am exhausted with japan, so it was good to read a book that picks it apart.

bad points :
there were a lot of points that kerr made that i could argue with.

review :
to be clear, it is a book written about japan through the eyes of a foreigner (even if he did live here for 35 yrs). no one i know who was born and raised here knows of this book... which makes me wonder how many books there are written in japanes
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Lauren Langford
Eye-opening, intelligent, insightful, even a little comical at times...

But also very, very depressing.

Two words: Boiled. Frog.


I love it when I find myself racing through the pages of a book that has been assigned for school and upon completing it I can only hope that Japan will find some self control and hearken back to old philosophies and values so that they might save themselves from their own ambition.
Thieluar
The data alone is worth the read. Amazing book.
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“Tatemae is a charming attitude when it means that everyone should look at the other way at a guest’s faux pas in the tearoom; it has dangerous and unpredictable results when applied to corporate balance sheets, drug testing, and nuclear-power safety reports.” 1 likes
“It is not, of course, only the Japanese who find flat sterile surfaces attractive and kirei. Foreign observers, too, are seduced by the crisp borders, sharp corners, neat railings, and machine-polished textures that define the new Japanese landscape, because, consciously or unconsciously, most of us see such things as embodying the very essence of modernism. In short, foreigners very often fall in love with kirei even more than the Japanese do; for one thing, they can have no idea of the mysterious beauty of the old jungle, rice paddies, wood, and stone that was paved over. Smooth industrial finish everywhere, with detailed attention to each cement block and metal joint: it looks ‘modern’; ergo, Japan is supremely modern.” 1 likes
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