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Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  701 ratings  ·  87 reviews
In Bending Adversity, 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 vo ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published March 13th 2014 by Penguin Press (first published January 1st 2014)
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4.09  · 
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 ·  701 ratings  ·  87 reviews

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Patrick McCoy
Feb 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Over the years I have read many books about Japan from foreign pundits, some good (classic books by old Japan hands such as Ian Buruma and Donald Richie among the best of those) and some not so good (TR Reid's Confucius Lives Next Door and Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk for example). Nonetheless, I was compelled to read David Pilling's latest addition, Bending Adversity (2014), in that he analyzes and discuses the country in light of the last triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and nu ...more
Dec 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
I didn’t mean to read this book enjoyably since I first had a Penguin paperback some months ago but I decided to trade it in at the DASA BookCafe in Bangkok due to its small fonts. However, early last month there I came across this hardcover, its presence challengingly astonished me so I decided to have it hopefully for my casual reading, at least its fonts are larger and its 29 illustrations more illuminating.

From the author’s journalistic writing style, I found reading its 6 parts and 16 chap
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, asia, japan, men, non-fiction, europe
3,5 stars

It took me ages to read this book so that gives an impression it may not be very good. Which would be a lie – because it is. Pilling managed to present a very complex and detailed image of Japan, full of respect but he also doesn’t shy away from criticism.

The book consists of several topics that are discussed in great detail. I loved the ones about society, be it the reaction of people after the latest tsunami or Fukushima explosion, or the attitude different people adapt towards life i
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Japan provides delicious opportunities to compare east with west, old with new, gaudiness with elegance, etc. as cases and examples of these different categories are intensely present in Japan and throughout its culture. While this review may be a little more than such a comparison, I can guarantee that Pilling’s book does a much more interesting job.

One major theme here is how Japan defies categorization. The author convincingly argues that this is a source of strength and resilience for the J
“Most Japanese don’t have any sense of direction. We are lost and we don’t know which way we should go. But this is a very natural thing, a very healthy thing. It’s time for us to think. We can take out time.”

There is always a bit of hesitancy when picking up a book about a country/culture that the author is not native to. There is always this fear of whether the author will do a good job in discussing the culture of the country without bias seeping in. This is especially true in books dealing
Gavin Smith
Any reader of Bending Adversity who has also read John Dower's Embracing Defeat will have a very hard time not comparing the two books. The titles share a structure and David Pilling makes several references to Dower's work. In the acknowledgements, he refers to Dower as his 'hero'. Unfortunately, this comparison does not serve Bending Adversity well. Dower's book has a fantastically clear focus on historical detail and context that cuts through the noise of both war-time propaganda and historic ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Spotted it in a bookshop display
I have a lot of respect for books that refuse to make generalisations and broad judgements, as is the case here. On the other hand, I find lack of clear structure in non-fiction somewhat frustrating, which also applies. Pilling reflects on Japan’s past and present, only briefly touching on its future, with a reluctance to settle for easy answers. He considers Japan’s so-called ‘lost decade(s)’ of very low economic growth, its politics, and how the population handled the tsunami and Fukushima cat ...more
Kati Heng
Dec 16, 2014 rated it liked it
I’m always a bit hesitant with books that offer sweeping generalizations of an entire group of people, whether it be based on gender, race, age, generation, nationality, etc., ESPECIALLY if the person writing that book is outside the demographic in question. So for this book: David Pilling’s originally a Brit, spent years working/living in Japan, and still acknowledges the impossibility of summarizing a population.

That said, this book’s entirely a compliment to the people. Sure, it points out so
Richard Janzen
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A very timely look at Japan during the past few decades. Analysis, interviews, historical references, economics, geopolitics....all combined to provide insight into what has happened to Japan since the burst of the bubble, and what challenges it is facing now. In particular, this book discusses the impact of the 2011 tsunami / nuclear meltdown and the challenging relationship with China. This book helped me to understand the politics and economics of the country a little better, and to further c ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Journalist David Pilling provides a succinct and engaging account of Japan's post war history. Pilling charts Japan's economic rise after the Second World War and its eventual demise during the economic stagnation of the "Lost Decades." The book is structured around chapters related to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The ability of the Japanese people to rebuild after numerous disasters is truly inspiring. What is disconcerting however is the inability of the country to adopt more open i ...more
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been savouring this read, and it was with mixed feelings that I came to the end of it today. It is achingly affectionate for the country of Japan, a stalwart defense against unfair criticism, but not afraid of hard facts as well. I left this book the way I have left literally every Murakami book I've read or Ghibli film I've watched - wondering why in the world I don't live in Japan.
May 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Review originally posted at

Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review

Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life.

Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilli
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
Having read a number of books on Japan, I was hoping to encounter fresh and new perspectives in 'Bending Adversity'. The author broke down the book into 6 parts, of which I can only comment on the first three parts. Part One 'Tsunami' is a good read and very moving. Part Two 'Double-bolted Land' felt like a regurgitation of several books on the history of Japan with no original analysis. Park Three 'Decades Lost and Found' really started to feel like a poorly constructed section. It talks about ...more
Esben Groendal
Feb 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, history
A very good and well-researched account of the current predicament of Japan. The author is optimistic on Japan's behalf, but he does a very sober job of describing the very real challenges it is facing. More of a picture of how Japan came to where it is economically and politically, than a recipe with suggestions for what actually to do about moving forward.

The interviews presented in this book is an impressive line up, and they lend the book a very approachable credibility that more, for lack o
Tom Ewing
A chewy book on modern Japan since the growth bubble popped and it turned from example to cautionary tale. Not so fast, says Pilling, if this is a country in decline, it's a gentle downhill trundle and there's still lots to admire about Japan (as well as plenty to frown at, not least the rise in war revisionism). Pilling is a reporter, and the best sections of the book find him simply exploring the post-Tsunami devastation, letting survivors tell their stories. When left to his own analytic devi ...more
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fine account blending history and reportage of how Japan has struggled to overcome multiple challenges since the early 1990s. The review of Japan's history prior to 1990 was probably a bit overlong, but nevertheless Pilling has written perhaps the best social, political, and economic history of the post-bubble era. Perhaps best of all is his willingness to let others do the talking, including both notable Japanese - Murakami Haruki, Funabashi Yoichi- and ordinary Japanese voices.
Vikas Datta
Jul 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incisive account of a nation and people that pride themselves on being different and exceptional but are they? Well, in some respects, both not as much they think they are... Mr Pilling in this masterful blend of travelogue, history, and social, political and economic commentary paints a vivid picture of today's Japan.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I listened to an audio book version.

This book has received mixed reviews, which I suspect has depended on what various readers were expecting to get from it. I was looking for a complement to Dower's excellent Embracing Defeat and a book that would move away from the American obsession with Japan during the 1930s/40s (to the exclusion of everything else about the country) and provide some perspective on the nation in the decades since, especially in regard to its economic development.

Pilling is
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you’ve ever wanted the opportunity to say, “Wow! Japanese economic policy is really interesting!”, here is your book. Pilling does more than cover The tumultuous state of Japanese economics, however; this book is an in-depth look as to where Japan is today and how it got there. Heavily researched, Pilling seems to have interviewed almost everyone in Japan, looked at every piece of data, and have read every article to not say what Japan should do, but to reveal it as it is— flaws and all. He o ...more
Sep 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: listened-2019
Bending Adversity is a good overview of Japan's recent political history. Pilling does not offer any particularly new insight or detail that people who follow Japan closely would be greatly interested in, but it is still refreshing to hear his informed views and a few new anecdotes. While Pilling's narrative is fair and accurate, he avoids taking any stances on the contentious political issues facing Japan, and does not provide a fully balanced perspective. For example, Pilling does a good job b ...more
AJ Payne
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, japan

This was an enjoyable and pretty in depth look at Japan over the past 150 years, focused on how they have changed and adapted to the different circumstances they found themselves in (both self made and externally imposed). The sociologist in me loved the parts about Japanese people and society and how they behave in different situations and the good and bad things in Japan. The part of me that dislikes economics (which is a big part, and is one of the main reasons I will never be wealt
Jun 05, 2017 rated it liked it
A history of Japan mostly focused on the period from the stock market crisis in the late 90s until the recent tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima (2011). The author investigates the nature of Japanese culture and how the events of Meiji restoration (1868) through the rise of imperialism and militarism, culminating in defeat during WWII, influenced the current views and behaviours of their society.
An interesting and informative account, relating facts and events in a way that attempts to r
Max Lauber
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great introduction to the political and social situation in modern Japan. Pilling's strength is analysing each topic from multiple angles. As I'm not at all familiar with the academics and politicians referenced in this book, the author's repeated introductory sentences to everyone were very useful, but I can imagine that if you know who he's talking about it might get tedious. Definitely recommended for readers new to the topic.
Matthew Green
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is a lot of solid insight in Bending Adversity about Japanese culture, economy, history, and society. The only thing that detracts from the book is Pilling's writing style, which struck me as being too unfocused. Still, a very good, recommended title for readers with a serious interest in Japan.
Elias Daler
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
This book is quite good, but it lacks structure and sometimes just plain boring with facts that don't really add much to the picture, but made me want to put the book away.
Most of the time it's okay, though. It was interesting to learn so much about Japan. This book has covered much morex than I expected it would
Burcu Basar
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books about Japan along with Lost Japan by Alex Kerr. This one focuses more on economical side and the political situation whereas Kerr`s book is more focused on cultural and social aspect. Amazing reads. ...more
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Started off well but got bogged down. I am not a big reader of non fiction and started it in preparation for a trip to Japan which got postponed. Maybe my own interest waned. Maybe I will come back to it, but for now it's a DNF.
Charlie Thomas
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenal blend of storytelling, economics, and history. Pilling manages to illuminate the uniqueness and origins of the Japanese culture, while incorporating a wide variety of viewpoints on the subject. If you like economic history, this is a breezy, satisfying read.
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well written book, very rich in information regarding many aspects of Japan the nation. The author managed to stay neutral throughout the book, which is something remarkable considering that Japan has been the subject of so many hype and stereotypes.
Mar 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
A friend gave me this book to read since I will be traveling to Japan this year. It isn’t something I would normally pick up but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author turns a somewhat dry subject into a very interesting read with personal stories of the people he met and places he visited.
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David Pilling has reported from at least 50 countries over two decades as a foreign correspondent working for the Financial Times. That probably makes him 50 times more confused than the average person, but it has also made him inquisitive and unafraid of asking dumb questions. Pilling became accustomed to writing about "the economy", "growth" and "GDP" early in his reporting career. But only as h ...more
“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.” 0 likes
“There are things we are taught at school, for example that the Japanese bring in things from abroad and then adapt the to how things are done on these islands. That’s our self-image. That’s how we teach our children: that the Japanese are different. Such reinforcement through education could become a mantra.” 0 likes
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