Japan is one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations, and its ascent to global power status after 1853 remains one of the most remarkable stories in history. Yet it has not been an easy path; military catastrophe, political atrophy, and economic upheavals have made regular appearances from the feudal era to the present. Today, 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. Though it is supposed to be America’s strongest ally in the Asia-Pacific region, it has almost disappeared from the American radar screen.
R. Taggart Murphy latest book, Japan and the Shackles of the Past, places the current troubles of Japan in a sweeping historical context, moving from early feudal times to the modern age that began with the Meiji Restoration. Combining analyses of Japanese culture and society over the centuries with accounts of Japan’s numerous political regimes, Murphy not only reshapes our understanding of Japanese history, but of Japan’s place in the world. He concedes that Japan has indeed been out of sight recently, but contends that this is already changing. Political and economic developments in Japan today risk upheaval in the pivotal arena of Northeast Asia, inviting comparisons with Europe on the eve of the First World War. America’s half-completed effort to remake Japan in the late 1940s is unravelling, and the American foreign policy and defense establishment is culpable for what has happened. The one apparent exception to Japan’s malaise is the vitality of its pop culture, but it’s actually no exception at all; rather, it provides critical clues to what is going on now.
In a major review in its 1/10/15 issue, The Economist heralded Murphy’s book as “an insightful analysis of what ails Japan;” the magazine of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan proclaimed it “the most important book on Japan by a non-Japanese writer to have appeared in the last two decades,”and Satyajit Das, author of Extreme Money, called it “a challenging and rewarding work,” noting that “Murphy has crafted a precise and highly critical analysis of Japan’s problems.”
About R. Taggart Murphy:
A former investment banker, Murphy is now Professor of International Political Economy at the MBA Program in International Business at the Tokyo campus of the University of Tsukuba. His articles have appeared in publications from The New Republic to the National Interest , Fortune , and The New Left Review as well as the op-ed page of the The New York Times (most recently on 12/13/14.) He is also the author of the award-winning books The Weight of the Yen (Norton, 1996) and, with Akio Mikuni, Japan’s Policy Trap (Brookings, 2002). He was a Non-Resident Senior Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and is a coordinator of the web’s leading clearing-house for serious writing on Japan, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.