Dogs and Demons Tales From the Dark Side of Modern Japan

Alex Kerr

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

448 Pages



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In an ancient tale, a Chinese emperor asks his court painter about the easiest and most difficult subjects to paint. The painter replies, "Dogs are difficult, demons are easy." To Alex Kerr, a longtime resident expert and observer, Japan's "dogs" are the vital activities that sustain an ecologically and culturally responsible economy, while the expedient "demons" are the million-dollar boondoggles that have bulldozed and cemented over so much of Japan today.

Dogs and Demons offers tales from the dark side of Japan's well-known modern accomplishments. For Japan's problems go far beyond the failures of its banks and pension funds. And Kerr discusses subjects that are all too often disregarded in the Western press when the focus is on finance and business: Japan's endangered environment (seashores lined with concrete, roads leading to nowhere in the mountains), its "monument frenzy," the decline of its once magnificent cinema, the destruction of cities such as Kyoto and construction of drab new ones, the attendant collapse of its tourism industry.

It is Kerr's contention that all these unhealthy developments show the devastating boomerang effect of an educational and bureaucratic system designed to produce manufactured good—and little else. This is what he calls Japan's "failure of modernism," and a mere upturn in economic growth will not quickly remedy it. He assails the foreign experts who, often dependent on Japanese government and business support, fail to address these internal signs of illness, and warns of the dangers of ignoring the monument parks, the garish comics and Pokémon gizmos, the bridges to nowhere, the Ponzi schemes that enrich the bureaucrats but impoverish the people. Kerr himself is willing to confront these demons, however, and the mixed blessings of Japan's outdated notion of what modernity is. "How Japan went bonk is one of the strange and terrible tales of the late twentieth century," he writes.

Meanwhile, what of the Japanese people themselves? Kerr, who has lived among them for years, writes of the Japanese 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.'"


Praise for Dogs and Demons

"Provides keen insight into the unique causes and disastrous results of the once heralded 'Japan Model' of development . . . a must read for anyone with even a cursory interest in the rise and continued fall of postwar Japan."—Michael Judge, The Wall Street Journal

"Kerr is on-the-street, immediate and intense, informative and hard-hitting . . . Kerr brings deep knowledge and affection to his analysis of the country's malaise . . . A tough book, but one that can tell us a huge amount about contemporary Japan."—Jan Dalley, The Financial Times

"Provocative . . . Dogs and Demons is a product of tough love. Instead of simply dismissing the book as a condemnation of their society, as many will, Japanese readers might do well to examine its many valid criticisms and take them as a powerful exhortation to chart a new course."—Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek

"Should be required reading for anyone who writes about or studies the Japanese economy . . . One of the most worthwhile books on Japan in quite some time."—Eric Johnston, The Japan Times

"Dogs and Demons succeeds, as no other count of Japan has, in conveying the tragedy of a scrupulous and well-intentioned people cursed with the headless system of governance. Let us hope, for the Japanese as well as for the rest of us, that it contributes to the cause of what we might be calling 'regaining common-sense.'"—Karel van Wolferen

"Burdened by a mania to 'catch up with the West,' Japan's political leaders have caused the country and its people to pay a terrible price. The cost is here verified in a scrupulous accounting which honestly recounts just what happened."—Donald Richie

Reviews from Goodreads



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Dogs and Demons
I The LandThe Construction StateOur country, as a special mark of favor from the heavenly gods, was begotten by them, and there is thus so immense a difference between Japan and all the other countries of the world as to defy comparison. Ours is a splendid and blessed country, the Land of the Gods beyond any doubt.--HIRATA ATSUTANE (1776-1843) 
Writers on Japan today mostly concern themselves with its banks and export manufacturing. But in the greater scheme of things, for a wealthy nation does it really matter so much if its GNP drops a few percentage
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  • Alex Kerr

  • Alex Kerr, educated at Yale, Oxford, and Keio Universities, is the author of many monographs and articles in both Japanese and English. He now lives in Bangkok.