Dogs and Demons

Dogs and Demons

Book: Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan
Author: Alex Kerr

This is a depressing book in many ways, but an enlightening one in many others. It’s an excellent indictment of the state of Japan’s bureaucracy. It shows how Japan is still regarded as a high-tech modern country, but in so many ways is stuck back in the mentality of 1965. Kerr is a long-term resident of Japan, understands the language and culture, and is in an excellent position to give an overview of the problems facing modern Japan.

One of the main themes of the book is the proliferation of unneccessary construction at the expense of Japan’s environment and finances. For a country that is supposed to value nature so highly, there is hardly a spot in the countryside that doesn’t have a highway, dam, or concreted-in river to spoil the view. Meanwhile, the native forests are being cut down at a frantic rate to create unneccessary Sugi forests which cause dreadful hay fever for millions of people every year.

Many years ago, I was a civil engineer working for a Japanese company in Nagoya. One of my most vivid memories was of a trip to Hokkaido. We drove along a road which turned into a dust track through a forest. Finally, after a long drive, we arrived at a shining bridge all ready for 4 lanes of traffic. Asking about the road construction, no-one had any idea when the connecting road would be built, or even if it would. In the meantime, the bridge must be maintained at a large cost every year.

From the building of pointless monuments to the destruction of old Kyoto, from the dreadful state of national finances to the bank debt debacle, Kerr paints a very dark picture of the effects of an over-powerful bureaucracy who are unable to change their mindset.

This should be a required read for anyone who cares about Japan.

Added: February 7th 2003

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