After reading Pilling, I can say I've been exposed to a bit more, even if I don't feel exactly enlightened. Pilling, a Brit who worked in Tokyo for the Financial Times from 2002 through 2008, sets out to share aspects of Japanese culture by way of historical data and voluminous interviews with contemporary Japanese leaders, scholars and ordinary citizens. He begins and ends with the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown followed by devastation and some recovery on the country's north sea coast. In between we meet government leaders, technocrats, entrepreneurs and non-profit enthusiasts, all contesting, mostly politely, the future of their country. I found the book fascinating, though sometimes hard to follow.
Perhaps wisely, though to the detriment of incisiveness, Pilling is partial to a familiar journalistic formula: recourse to on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hand story telling. And he hedges his conclusions. Some specimens of his technique, borrowed from James Fallows' review.
My personal "on the other hand" to my own critique seems warranted: what foreign observer can make strong pronouncements about a wildly different culture and country without including some cautionary qualifiers? Only a foolish one. David Pilling seems no fool and I appreciated what I learned from this volume.
Pilling attributes Japan's inability to soften its national image to a combination of its own nationalism, its feeling of victimization as the one people ever subjected to nuclear attack, and U.S. choices after the war. U.S. observers reflexively call out the Japanese for "racism. Pilling emphasizes a particular history.
Accountability for Japanese war crimes never took place, so no clean break ever came as far as Japan's critics are concerned.
When I think of the long catalog of crimes committed by my country, even if I limit my thoughts to the last century, I find it nearly impossible to imagine all the accountability we'd have to accept and the amends we ought to make to countries and peoples around the world. In addition to Japan's representing a cautionary story of the limits of bubble-inflated hypercapitalism, it also serves as a cautionary example of what happens when a country fails to face up to the evils of its own past actions. Horrors.