Essay Book Review: Japan in Transformation

Essay Book Review: Japan in Transformation

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Jeffrey Kingston. Japan in Transformation, 1952 – 2000. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2001. 230 pp.


     Over the past fifty years Japan has seen significant changes in all aspects of its society and the way it interacts with the outside world. For example, despite suffering a defeat in World War II, Japan soon became one of Asia’s greatest economic powers. In Japan in Transformation, 1952 - 2000, Jeffrey Kingston focuses on various aspects of change in Japanese society and politics in the period after World War II. These include the effect of the US occupation, analysis of postwar politics, the economic boom, changes in demographics, the treatment of women, and foreign policy and security issues. Throughout the book, the author tries and often succeeds to explain many of these changes as part of the legacy of the occupation. All in all, Jeffrey Kingston gives a thorough economic, politic and social analysis of this crucial period in Japanese history.
      Kingston begins with a brief introduction of the American occupation of Japan following World War II from 1945-1952. He notes that the principal focus of the US occupying forces was to demilitarize Japan and convert it into a democracy. Japanese troops have been demobilized and “in the first two years of the Occupation purges of thousands of officers, bureaucrats and industrialists blamed for the war were a further hedge again a revanchist threat.” (9). A policy of democratization was also important. “By spreading power within the government and among all citizens, including voting rights for women, and by supporting a robust press and unions, the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP) was attempting to inoculate Japan from the scourge of militarism,” points out Kingston (10). Yet, the author agrees that despite half a century of what may seem to have been positive changes, the Japanese themselves are still having different opinions of the US Occupation. For instance, “conservative Japanese frequently trace many of Japan’s current social problems back to the Occupation … they see women’s legal equality, the end of the patriarchal ie system, educational reforms, the new Emperor system, demilitarization, etc., and a vague process of Americanization as harmful to the Japanese social fabric.” (16)
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... flag,” (3) as symbols of Japan, he incorporates several of these same photographs as an inset to the book. Also included are several maps, documents and a timeline used to supplement the author’s arguments.
     It would appear that Jeffrey Kingston is targeting a more scholarly audience with Japan in Transformation. While not necessarily difficult to read or understand, the material includes a large number of statistics and the author’s extended analysis of very narrow topics in this period of Japanese history would probably be of more interest to historians and scholars rather than the general public. Additionally, the fact that the book is not organized chronologically would make it a less than helpful resource on postwar Japanese history to a novice scholar.
     All in all, Japan in Transformation, 1952 – 2000 is a broad analysis of Japan’s social, political and economic issues following the US Occupation after World War II. Kingston’s knowledge of the material, attention to detail, and thorough analysis of the subject is an invaluable resource on this selection of topics from an important period in modern Japanese history.

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