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Bibliographic Data: Garon, Sheldon. Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Main Argument: This book argues that "social management," which Garon defines as the system "in which the state has historically intervened to shape how ordinary Japanese thought and behaved," has been a powerful part of society in Japan since the Meiji period (xiv). The chief tool of the authors is "moral suasion," and has been carried out in conjunction with a variety of mostly middle-class interest groups, enabling the state to forge a powerful public consensus around its campaigns.

Historiographical Engagement: In some ways this book is a complement to T. J. Pempel's excellent Regime Shift: Comparative Dynamics of the Japanese Political Economy, which in my view is one of the two books on how Japan accomplished the Economic Miracle (the other being Andrew Gordon's The Wages of Affluence. He is also responding to, and extending, the literature of "social control," which up to this point focused mostly on Britain, France, and the United States.

The state in everyday life )

Critical assessment: It's not Sheldon' Garon's fault that I read this book right after Miriam Silverberg's magisterial Erotic Grotesque Nonsense, and it's not his fault that it's nearly 20 years old and starting to seem more than a little dated. And yet--while I think this is a good book that deserves its ritual citation in most every book discussing modern Japan since it was written, I'm also kind of floored at how little quotation of individuals there is in here, and more than that, I also think that Garon's discussion doesn't cover at least two important aspects of the state/interest groups interaction that leads to "moral suasion." Namely, there is not much discussion in here of the concrete, and often draconian, policies that the Japanese state has implemented in order to get its way: significantly, nearly every prewar chapter ends with the fascist military government imposing some kind of sweeping new legislation that gives them total authority in yet another sphere of culture or society. In the postwar period, what comes to mind most readily is the nearly $3000 US fee that the government imposes to obtain a driver's license, as well as the punitive car registration requirements, used to keep individual drivers off the road. Garon also pays no attention to the mechanism by which "moral suasion" was and is made the common sensical, the unquestioned, the everyday [seikatsu]. For that, one needs to look at a book like Louise Young's Japan's Total Empire, which portrays vividly the interactions between state, society, and media that formed an iron-clad imperialist consensus in the early 1930s, or Lois Peak's Learning to Go to School in Japan, which explores the inculcation of social norms and mores in preschools. I appreciate Garon's discussion of things like the regulation of religion and of licensed prostitution, which have not received enough attention, and this book is very good as far as it goes; it's just that it's only part of the story. And on a minor note, coming off of Silverberg's focus on the urban metropolises in the modern period, I found myself wondering with respect to Garon's book--is "Japan" the cities or the countryside? I also, passé Silverberg, have a quarrel with Garon's axiomatic equation of "modernization and Westernization"; to equate the one with the other is to deny the hybrid modernity that Japan created via conscious choice. Finally, the rupture that the 1980s and the Bubble economy creates in Garon's otherwise smooth narrative bears further consideration.

Further reading: Sheldon Garon, The State and Labor in Modern Japan

Meta notes: Someone please smack me before I ever put an epigraph by Thomas L. Friedman anywhere in my damn book.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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