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Dogs And Demons: The F...
Alex Kerr
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Dogs And Demons: The Fall Of Modern Japan

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  879 Ratings  ·  84 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
430 pages
Published 2002 by Allen Lane (first published 2001)
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Patrick McCoy
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, non-fiction
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
Aug 24, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 12, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, non-fiction
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
Dec 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, japan
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
Jun 09, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  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
Feb 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ben Taylor
what not to read when on holiday in Japan
Michelle Olsen
I'm actually giving this 3.5 stars. And I ask myself why; this book, now over a decade dated, was written to reflect the growing crisis that was Japan of the '80's and '90's. I believe the most current date mentioned was 2000, maybe 2002 in a passing reference.

Alex Kerr, the author, had a very distinctive way of writing this. Absolutely none of his thoughts seemed to reflect the good AND bad of Japan. There was only negativity found throughout this book, because the way Japan is run seems to ru
Sarah Crawford
Jan 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an attack on many facets of Japanese society, primarily dealing with economics. Among the things the book examines are (and these are only bare topics, not the details under each of them):

1. Runaway construction, the building of roads, bridges, buildings, etc, that aren't really needed, but are built just to spend the money that is available.

2. Bad architecture, in which the good things of the past buildings are ignored and often destroyed, and much that is built is sterile and blea
Gavin Smith
A weak argument that you agree with is still a weak argument.

And there is so much here that I agree with. I'm sure that any long-term foreign resident of Japan will have shared some or all of Alex Kerr's frustrations. I particularly appreciated his summary of Japanese economics which I found balanced and free of both the current hysterical doom-mongering of recent times or the slavish fanboyism of the nineties. This highlights the single biggest problem with Dogs and Demons... though. It's signi
Jee Koh
Sep 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 19, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
We recently spent 2 weeks in Japan. Narita, Tokyo, Sendai, Kyoto, Nagano, Hachinohe. I agreed with a few parts of this book (paving over the rivers, there are almost no wild animals in Japan), but really expecting people in Kyoto to live in old houses is like expecting people in Denver to live in log cabins. They aren't fire resistant, they are cold, and difficult to plumb.
I LOVED the Kyoto train station.
There ARE beautiful trees, streams, ponds, paths, and temples around nearly every corner. I
Nov 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Illustrative narrative explication of Japan circa 2000.

Kerr sets forth a clear context for Japan's failed response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Spike Gomes
I originally got "Dogs and Demons" on the advice of a classmate of mine when I was in grad school many odd years ago. I never actually got around to reading it until now, years after I had lived in Japan. Of course much has changed both in Japan, in the West, and to myself since it was published back in 2001.

The most immediate thing that one can say about Kerr's take on Japan, is that it offers a counterpoint to the whole "Japan Inc." boosterism/fearmongering of the pre-bubble era. In this book,
Gaylord Dold
Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan by Alex Kerr (Hill and Wang, FS and G, New York 2001)

As a seasoned traveler with a life-long fascination with Japan I thought I needed to know the “truth” about that country. Having studied for a number of years with a master at Japanese Karate (Shotokan) and having read extensively in the religious and spiritual history of that country, not to mention having watched dozens of classic Japanese movies (though none recently), I wanted to get the o
Max Shen
Nov 23, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The book is horribly written. Worse than that, it lost my trust early on, perhaps the greatest sin any writer can commit. I finished it anyway because it was quick skim and it was nice to reminisce on my month-long visit to Japan, but it's incredible how single-minded Kerr's story is. Perhaps its single-mindedness cannot be helped as it rails against the perceived single-minded and behemoth cultural monster of Japan.

Unfortunately, there are far too many subjective value judgments, it's extremely
Apr 28, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second of Alex Kerr's books on Japan that I've read, and it certainly doesn't hold back. It's critical - rightly so, in many cases - of the ornate, backhander-rich culture that permeates government and industry, of the blinkered educational aims of the country, of the done-with-mirrors, waiting-for-collapse economic system, the addiction to government works and needless halls that bankrupt cities and swell construction coffers, the lack of regulation and the wholesale disregard for c ...more
Bob Colwick
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: investigative
'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
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at a side of Japan you don't read about much in the news or see on TV. Kerr is a foreigner who has spent years living and working in Japan, observing its social and cultural changes over the past 30-40 years. In the same way that Tocqueville was able to offer unique insights into 19th-century American Democracy in that way only an outside observer can, Kerr looks at the good, the bad, and the ugly within Japan.

It's important to note that this is not a hit piece. While I disag
Rowland Pasaribu
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
Oct 15, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Patrick Lum
Alex Kerr provides convincing evidence to support his view of a nation-state that has trapped itself in an kind of cultural, economic and political stagnation via a compounding of convoluted bureaucratic systems and corporations in-bed with ministries, alongside a decades-long education system topped by a culture that lends itself easily to conservatism. In other words, his arguments - though applicable largely to Japan pre 2001, and which would have benefited from a more modern update - are sou ...more
Oct 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chi Pham
Aug 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, contemporary
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
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Born in 1952, he's an American writer and Japanologist that has lived in Japan since 1977.
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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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