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The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  170 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A full-scale examination of the inner workings of Japan's political and industrial system.
Paperback, 524 pages
Published June 10th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1989)
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Петър Стойков
Dec 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
Някога замисляли ли сте, защо Япония е толкова РАЗЛИЧНА?

Да, всички държави и култури имат своите особености, но Япония и хората й понякога изглеждат, сякаш са дошли от друга планета. Безподобната учтивост на японците и безподобната им ксенофобия и жестокост във война, отдадеността към професията и фирмата им, парадоксите на демокрацията им, където една и съща партия е на власт от 50 години, на икономиката им, която е от първите в света въпреки постоянната рецесия в страната и ниския стандарт на
...more
Ricardo
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An impressive book on the way politics and power work in Japan. For all those with an activity related to Japan this is fundamental reading. It will also help you reflect on the political system of your own country, and you will find yourself asking - is it different in my country? You will also wonder if such a comprehensive analysis on how things really work has been done for many other countries.

After reading this book, many things will fall in place, and you will appreciate much better what
...more
Nash
Aug 31, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one.
Not worth your time. The author got it all wrong. Despite a lot of research, he still seems couldn't grasp the enigma that is behind the Japanese power. In p. 251, for example, he intentionally quoted Zen priest Shosan quote of context when he was writing on Bushido and Zen, and ridiculing the ancient samurai ideal and basically trying to make it look bad. I think he just didn't get it. Period. And by his inability to understand the Law of Karma, Law of Impermanence, and other concepts of Dhamma ...more
Vasil Kolev
This book definitely answered a lot of questions on the Japanese culture and people that I had in my head.

Mostly what it describes is a combination between an autocratic bureaucracy and a cult that encompasses the whole country. It explains all the cliches you can see in anime/manga and the general behavior of the Japanese people. There's some bias in the author, but that doesn't seem to affect the conclusions of the book.

All in all, the best book about Japan that I've seen. I wonder if there's
...more
Jacob van Berkel
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Detailed, but the details are not always telling and the narrative tends to get lost in them. Making it a sometimes interesting, but also highly messy, repetitive, and tiring read.

The main point is that Japan is basically rudderless, or at least captain-less: no one is ultimately capable of or can be held responsible for decision-making. Instead, it is governed by various organizations (the LDP, various ministries, conglomerates, etc.) that think and act independently, like the arms of an octop
...more
Shawn
Nov 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Excellent analysis of Japanese politics, government and international relations. This book hit home for me, I actually saw a 1-star review that said that the author just didn't get it, and this review mentioned the Buddhist influence on their perspective of the world as the reason for their ways. I thought of this review, okay, but is that reason to give a 1-star review of a book so comprehensive? For an economist or a political scientist this book is a trove of insights not only on Japan but fo ...more
David B
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Journalist Karel van Wolferen makes a compelling case for the argument that there is virtually no one in control of the Japanese state: it's ruling elite consists of administrators who jockey for position as they seek advantage for their respective ministries, thereby making it difficult for Japan to speak with a unified voice on the international front or make commitments to foreign governments on which it can follow through. Detractors unfairly stain van Wolferen's name with the epithet "Japan ...more
David Bonesteel
Jun 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Journalist Karel van Wolferen makes a compelling case for the argument that there is virtually no one in control of the Japanese state: it's ruling elite consists of administrators who jockey for position as they seek advantage for their respective ministries, thereby making it difficult for Japan to speak with a unified voice on the international front or make commitments to foreign governments on which it can follow through. Detractors unfairly stain van Wolferen's name with the epithet "Japan ...more
Dan
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
A dense work on how power is exercised in Japan. The author draws from a wealth of sources political, economic, social and historical to make the case that while Japan has the appearance of democracy, its power structure is actually a chaotic patchwork of bureaucratic oligarchies insulated from public oversight. Although people of Chomsky's persuasion may believe this is also true of the United States, Wolferen makes it clear that the US and Europe are nowhere close to possessing the national gr ...more
Kshitiz Goliya
Sep 09, 2013 rated it liked it
The book gives an inside view of Japanese society, culture and economy.It touches almost every aspect of Japanese society, but mostly dwells on politics and economy. It gives a totally alternative view of Japan from what the outsiders generally think. Instead of a hardworking and free country, it shows how the people of Japan are instructed and taught to behave in a certain way from the beginning. The great role that personal political influence or 'jinmyaku' play in the Japanese politics is ver ...more
Keith
Aug 17, 2011 added it
Finished the Enigma of Japanese Power in 2006- it's a book that came out in 1989 + 'the bubble that does not burst'. It's a very scholarly book by Karel van Wolferen. I must have tried reading it over the past decade because I have penciled notes. The gist of the book- Japanese power is not the emperor's power or the prime minister's power but a collective power of the established system-( the government is 80% who graduate from Todai etc- no outsiders please) + their agenda is to keep themselve ...more
Sean
Dec 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a very intriguing survey of Japanese culture written by a Westerner who has spent much of his life in Japan. It focuses on the different means by which social order is maintained in Japanese society. Van Wolferen concludes that Japan is a "stateless nation" whose institutions mask the racial ties through which real power flows. Even if you are not particularly interested in Japan, or if you believe that Japanese culture has undergone fundamental changes since the book was written in the ...more
Dinda
Mar 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Japanese have been taking over entire industries worldwide and storming the high ground of international finance, yet Japan does not behave in the way that the rest of the world expects a world power to behave. In The Enigma Of Japanese Power, the first book to effectively analyze the structure of the Japanese social and political reality, the author shows how the docile conformity exemplified by company loyalty, near absence of litigation, and lack of individualism of Japanese society and c ...more
Sandy
Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
this blistering book was initially banned in Japan shortly after it was published. It is full of hard truths about that complex and contradictory land. Ultimately, the ban was removed as that was where I bought and read it.... and finally found some answers to plaguing questions.... is it me? is it the Japanese? Beautiful country, exquisite culture but how do you reconcile that with so much brutal and bristling nastiness.... read this book if you are curious of what I speak and saw and to some e ...more
Adelle
Jun 06, 2007 rated it liked it
This book mainly talked about how power is organized in Japan, and how that manifests itself in different aspects of Japanese culture. I recommend this for anyone living in Japan or interested in the culture. It's very academic/dry, and what kept it interesting for me is that living in Japan, I was able to witness firsthand some of the claims of the book.
Nevin Thompson
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Interesting book, but Van Wolferen does not read Japanese, so I kind of wonder about a lot of his assumptions.
marisa inez
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
oh van wolferen you crazy man
Joichi Ito
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan, politics
Classic book about the power structure of Japanese politics and the Japanese economy.
Joel
Aug 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: japan buffs
Shelves: japan
This is the most comprehensive book on the often slimy inner workings of Japan. A must read for anyone who is thinking of living here.
AC
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-events, japan
an utterly brilliant book -- for anyone interested even remotely in Japan -- this is a MUST read.
Arjen
Oct 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If you want to understand Japan and the Japanese this book is a must read
David
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May 20, 2017
Charley
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Mar 07, 2010
Daniël Hoekstra
rated it it was ok
May 30, 2019
Bill Goetzler
rated it really liked it
Aug 18, 2015
Enrique Cardenas Arestegui
rated it it was amazing
Feb 09, 2020
Ryuta  Fukuya
rated it it was amazing
Apr 07, 2015
Tunguskas
rated it it was ok
Sep 10, 2011
Subhajit Das
rated it really liked it
Nov 28, 2019
John
rated it it was amazing
Sep 11, 2019
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Karel van Wolferen (born 1941) is a Dutch journalist, writer and professor, who is particularly recognised for his knowledge of Japanese politics, economics, history and culture.

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19 likes · 8 comments
“This may seem labouring the obvious, but in Japan one meets intelligent people who claim that ‘logic’ is something invented in the West to allow Westerners to win discussions. Indeed, the belief is widespread that the Japanese can as happily do without logic now as they supposedly have for centuries past.” 0 likes
“To sum up what is most crucial in Japanese political culture: the Japanese have never been encouraged to think that the force of an idea could measure up to the physical forces of a government. The key to understanding Japanese power relations is that they are unregulated by transcendental concepts. The public has no intellectual means to a consistent judgement of the political aspects of life. The weaker, ideologically inspired political groups or individuals have no leverage of any kind over the status quo other than the little material pressure they are sometimes able to muster. In short, Japanese political practice is a matter of ‘might is right’ disguised by assurances and tokens of ‘benevolence’.” 0 likes
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