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The 'Dark Side' and the Bright Side: Coming to Grips with the New Japan

20.06.2002 | 18.30

Alex Kerr

Abriss

 Japan faces not only a fiscal and economic crisis, but deep troubles in the realms of the environment and culture. In talking about these issues to foreign and Japanese audiences, I receive a wide range of reactions and feedback. My approach has had to be very different for Japanese and foreigners living abroad - and this has impacted what I write, including the translation of Dogs and Demons. Japan is changing - or at least, there are millions of people who seek change and are very eager discuss Japan's problems. This is not always so of the foreigners (especially those living abroad) who tend to cling to a vision of Japan as a cultural utopia.

The Japanese are not unified in their response to the nation's modern troubles. One cannot underestimate the extent to which Japan is a comfortable and therefore unconcerned place. There is a radical split in this society - between the complacent majority, and an articulate minority who are deeply dissatisfied with what they see going on around them. Nor are all the signs bad ones. There are definite signs of renaissance, in politics, in culture, in finance, and even (slowly) in the environment. Within Japan, there is fierce debate about where the country is headed. Dogs and Demons is a part of this larger process.

Alex Kerr has lived on and off in Japan since coming to Japan as a boy in 1964. He studied Japanese at Yale and Keio Universities, and Chinese at Oxford University, after which he took up residence in Kyoto in 1977. His book Utsukushiki Nihon no Zanzō (Shinchōsha 1993), originally written in Japanese, was the first by a foreigner to win the Shinchō Gakuei Literary Prize for non-fiction. This was followed by its English version Lost Japan (Lonely Planet, 1996), and Dogs and Demons (Hill and Wang, 2001), the Japanese translation came out in May 2002 under the title Inu to Oni by Kōdansha.

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