Thursday, April 4, 2024

Review of Japan Unbound: A Volatile Nation's Quest for Pride and Purpose by John Nathan

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Intriguing Connections = 1) Get To Know The Peoples Of The World (Japan), 

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“The challenge was not only understanding European political and social institutions and the worldviews they reflected, but adapting them to fit the contours of Japanese society.  Establishing an authentic sense of national self and purpose in the modern world required the merging of two disparate and often irreconcilable cultures, one native, inherent, grounded in history, the other founded on concepts such as individualism and intractably foreign.  This exercise in cultural synthesis continues to tax and trouble the Japanese imagination.” – John Nathan, Introduction, Page 8

“The pressure was intense, but diligence and high achievement paid off: graduation from a preferred college guaranteed a fast-track job in government or industry, and lifetime employment.  School was a ticket to a successful life; teachers were trusted and respected.  |  But by the early 1980s, as the postcollege job market constricted, students began to show signs of stress.” – John Nathan, Chapter 1: Monsters in the House: Japan’s Bewildered Children, Page 32

“The fact remained, in a society that valorized individualism, that many people were not content to work for others: alienation, and the consequent loss of productivity, were inchoate in the moment of hiring.  The Japanese never resented sacrificing individuality in the interest of the group; on the contrary, discovering one’s place in a vertically integrated group, belonging harmoniously, was the basis for gratification and, beyond that, self-certainty.” – John Nathan, Chapter 3: The Culture of Arithmetic, Pages 72-73


Is This An Overview?

Japan has been influenced by various cultures.  Cultures with different values, which challenged their fusion.  Tension formed between perceived unique traditional values, and the alternative values that are often foreign.  Threatening Japanese identity, their sense of self.  A cultural change that effects how people live.  Changing how people behave, find meaning, and find belonging within school, family, work, society, and politics. 


A society in which people tend to be willing to defer to the community.  People found belonging being part of the community, but communities are becoming isolating experiences.  The changing family structure and the traumatic school experiences, prevent people from building friendships and developing communication skills.  School and working hard used to provide people with an appropriate work and rewards, but the state of the economy led to a loss of jobs, a lack of potential reward to look forward to.  Various people are seeking differing ways to resolve the economic and social challenges facing Japan.



This book provides an introduction to the changing society in the late 20th century.  For a deeper political, cultural, and historic understanding of Japan would require more research.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How has Japanese culture been influenced by other cultures?
•How is Japanese identity threatened?
•What are Japanese values?
•What did people expect from their work?
•How does Japan use language?
•How unique is Japan?
•Can Japanese culture be understood by outsiders? 
•What is the trend in juvenile crime? 
•What did people expect from school?
•What is happening inside the classrooms? 
•How are teachers effected by their jobs? 
•What is the extended family?
•How did people get married? 
•What do the Japanese think of entrepreneurs? 
•What kind of information did the Japanese want in textbooks?
•Who is Yasuo Tanaka?
•Who is Shintaro Ishihara?

Book Details
Publisher:               Houghton Mifflin Company
Edition ISBN:         0618138943
Pages to read:          253
Publication:             2004
1st Edition:              2004
Format:                    Hardcover 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall          2