Should we care about Japan anymore? It has a long history and a rich artistic heritage; kids today can't seem to get enough of its popular culture; and it is supposed to be America's number one ally in Asia-Pacific. But Washington treats the place with something between absent-mindedness and contempt, and while some fret that Tokyo could drag the US into an unwanted confrontation with China, it has otherwise essentially disappeared from the American radar screen. A quarter-century ago, Tokyo's stock exchange was bigger than New York's and the Japanese industrial juggernaut seemed destined to sweep all before it. Now, Japan is seen as a has-been with a sluggish economy, an aging population, dysfunctional politics, and a business landscape dominated by yesterday's champions. Does it even matter today except as an object lesson in how not to run a country? R. Taggart Murphy argues that yes, we should care about Japan and, yes, the country matters-it matters very much. Murphy concedes that with the exception of its pop culture, Japan has indeed been out of sight and out of mind in recent decades. But he argues that this is already changing.
Political and economic developments in Japan today risk upheaval in the pivotal arena of Northeast Asia; parallels with Europe on the eve of the First World War are not misplaced. America's half-completed effort to remake Japan in the late 1940s is unraveling in ways that will not be to Washington's liking-ironic, since the American foreign policy and defense establishment is directly culpable for what has happened. Murphy traces the roots of these events far back into Japanese history and argues that the seeming exception of the vitality of its pop culture to the country's supposed malaise is no exception at all but rather provides critical clues to what is going on now. Along the way, he shares insights into everything from Japan's politics and economics to the texture of daily life, gender relations, the changing business landscape, and both popular and high culture. He places particular emphasis on the story of the fraught, quasi-pathological US-Japan relationship, arguing that it is central to understanding Japan today - and to the prospects for continued American global hegemony.