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'Japan as Number One' author Vogel still upbeat on country's future

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The all-time, best-selling book by a Western author translated into Japanese is said to be Harvard professor Ezra Vogel's controversial "Japan as Number One: Lessons for America," published in 1979. After the 1986 Plaza Accord, Japan was beset by stock inflation, and during those boom years, referred retrospectively as the "bubble economy," many began wondering if Vogel's predictions might come true. But after the law of gravity inevitably set in, the impact on capital and property markets was precipitous, and by 1991, a less-heralded writer named Jon Woronoff had penned an ambitious rebuttal to Vogel's book titled "Japan as (Anything but) Number One."

Still, Japanese haven't forgotten Vogel's sunny optimism about their country; so when Sapio (May) produced a cover story titled "Will Japan become the world's top superpower in 2050?" it assigned U.S.-based Makiko Izuka to track down Vogel, a spry 85, and ask if the impressions that originally led to his bestselling work have changed, and if so how.

"At present it is pointed out that Japan faces a variety of problems, and I'm hearing numerous voices expressing concern for Japan's future," Vogel begins. "But I don't think things are that serious. That's because when viewed globally, Japan is quite a good society." What follows is two pages of running commentary.

Vogel acknowledges that the population decline will present problems, solutions for which will be needed to support the aging population. Even with the total population decreasing to 90 million, however, considering the size of Japan's land area, Vogel does not see that to be a serious problem.

What he admires most about Japan is its orderly society, which has few equals in the world. For the past 10 years, Vogel has welcomed about 60 students a month to his home, where Japan's future is discussed. He says he's "deeply impressed" by the poise of the Japanese students he meets, particularly in terms of how they demonstrate mutual respect and pay attention to the opinions of others. Chinese students by contrast, show a tendency toward being ambitious and egotistical. When the Japanese students are asked in which country they hope to live in the future, they usually reply "Japan." In contrast, the replies given by Chinese students are typically the U.S., Australia or Canada.

So while China's overall economic indices have eclipsed Japan's, that country confronts serious problems such as the growing gap between the wealthy and poor, as well as a deteriorating environment, leading many concerned individuals to consider emigrating. Japan's solidly established middle class makes it a good place to live. Vogel also has a favorable impression of Japanese women. Thirty years ago, the standard for women to achieve equality with men obliged many of them to affect masculine mannerisms. But Vogel feels that Japanese women are able to debate with men as equals while maintaining their femininity.

"When I published 'Japan as Number One,' the country was advancing incrementally and a mood of optimism prevailed. People believed that the standard of living for the children's generation would surpass their parents. But presently many Japanese rue the future and feel secure if they can maintain the status quo."

Thanks to their reasonably good standard of living, however, Vogel would not describe Japanese concerns as serious compared with the disaffected Americans who support Donald Trump.

Japan's postwar economic boom was created by "hungry" industrialists like Soichiro Honda and Konosuke Matsushita, who were not averse to taking major risks. This is why South Korea's Samsung has surpassed such Japanese majors as Toshiba and Hitachi and Vogel thinks Japan will need to return to these roots if it wants things to become better. He also advises Japan to make greater efforts at globalization, such as by employing outstanding foreign human resources and achieving a more cosmopolitan business environment. Along with expanding usage of English, its universities should change to start the academic year from September in line with other countries, and work at bringing in excellent students and faculty from abroad. And thirdly, Vogel advises Japanese politicians to pay more heed to the advice of the nation's elite bureaucrats, as was commonly practiced in the 1970s.

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What he admires most about Japan is its orderly society, which has few equals in the world.

But at what cost, Ezra?

13 ( +17 / -4 )

I read Vogel's book "Japan as Number One" in the mid 1980s, back when many in the business world thought Japan was well on its way to being "number one." In those days, it was a top seller in the business community back when everyone was trying to emulate Japan, and one of the definitive books on Japanese competitiveness, but in retrospect it missed the boat.

Vogel really has drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to Japan, and his logic is more than a few decades behind the times.

For instance, he obviously sees Japan's groupthink and pressure to conform as a positive attribute in saying that Japanese students "demonstrate mutual respect and pay attention to the opinions of others," but sees the "tendency toward being ambitious" that her perceives in Chinese students as being negative.

He also perceives parochialism among Japanese people as a plus, but the desire to live in other countries among Chinese students as a negative ("When the Japanese students are asked in which country they hope to live in the future, they usually reply “Japan.” In contrast, the replies given by Chinese students are typically the U.S., Australia or Canada.")

I won't even go into this one, but the 1950s certainly does come to mind:

Vogel feels that Japanese women are able to debate with men as equals while maintaining their femininity.

8 ( +14 / -6 )

There was a brief heyday for such alarmist texts back in the late 80's and early 90's. I remember reading one called "The Coming War with Japan". Laughable now in retrospect

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Vogel also has a favorable impression of Japanese women. Thirty years ago, the standard for women to achieve equality with men obliged many of them to affect masculine mannerisms. But Vogel feels that Japanese women are able to debate with men as equals while maintaining their femininity.

Wow, that guy escalated from "shallow, superficial analyst" to "honest-to-goodness dinosaur Japanologist" in a hurry.

What does it tell us when the most upbeat voices about Japan are so obsessed with looking backward at the past?

12 ( +18 / -6 )

Agree with all of the above.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Living in the rose-tinted past, thinking of the good ol' days - much like Japan Inc. When it all boils down, Japan is a tiny island that's wildly overpopulated. Japan had it's chance to keep the roaring 80s steaming ahead, but we all know what happened. Geographically, demograpically, socially & economically - Japan cannot & will not grow.

Sorry to say, but it's a country in decline.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

Sapio --- its name derives from sapient, meaning "wise," as in homo sapiens --- tries to put up a serious front. But how serious can a magazine be, when its most popular feature is a manga by Yoshinori Kobayashi, a dingbat with crayons who coined the term "Washism"? (A combination of "wa" for Japan combined with "fascism" and referring to nationalism with a Japanese flavor.) As for Vogel, we tend to ignore the second half of his book's title ("Lessons for America") which was the rationale for his writing it. Looking at the current Facebook-Selfie-Twitter-driven culture, however, it was a waste of wood pulp.

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Sapio (May) produced a cover story titled “Will Japan become the world’s top superpower in 2050?” I'm glad this is a question, cause it's really easy to answer. No.

Of course Japan has its good points and is currently in a better state than a majority of countries in the world. No question about that. But trying to paint the future of the country in a rosy color is looking away from reality. Vogel is no economist, so while he can say that Japan's ordered society is good (subjective opinion), he can't extrapolate that to say they will be "number one" just from that. If that were the case, they wouldn't had needed Western (or Chinese) technologies to advance where they are now, they could have developed it themselves. But they can't, because as a society they lack the innovative mind and there aren't enough people willing to take the needed risks.

As to the future of Japan, he seems to understand that Japan has its problems. He actually lists some great points that Japan needs to change. But won't. Except for this:

And thirdly, Vogel advises Japanese politicians to pay more heed to the advice of the nation’s elite bureaucrats, as was commonly practiced in the 1970s.

WTF?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

WTF?

Japan Inc worked for a reason. The close coordination between technocrats and corporations was undeniably a large reason for Japan's post-war prosperity.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Is it 'ordered society' or 'passively self-subjugating society'?

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Japan Inc worked for a reason. The close coordination between technocrats and corporations was undeniably a large reason for Japan's post-war prosperity.

@Illyas

Even more crucial to Japan Inc.'s success (the educated and hard-working population aside) was the longstanding artificially weak yen (Y360 to the USD), import barriers for several decades post-war combined with unfettered access to the U.S. market of over 300 million consumers.

Japan deserves a lot of credit for the post war "economic miracle" but it wouldn't have been possible with a lot of external support as well.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Japan can not and does not want to be the Number One.

Sensato, the yen rate in the 80s was 100 something, not 360.

-14 ( +2 / -16 )

Tina -

the rate was over 200 for much of the 80's (high of 270+), strengthening in the bubble peak to 120ish and finishing at around 150

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Even more crucial to Japan Inc.'s success (the educated and hard-working population aside) was the longstanding artificially weak yen (Y360 to the USD), import barriers for several decades post-war combined with unfettered access to the U.S. market of over 300 million consumers.

Japan deserves a lot of credit for the post war "economic miracle" but it wouldn't have been possible with a lot of external support as well.

Sensato,

That was the best assessment I have ever heard on the JP economy. Hat off to you sir.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

browny1, low of 200+ until 1985, 100+ since 1986, definitely not 360 as Sensato suggested.

-11 ( +2 / -13 )

Back in the 70's the well-educated bureaucrats may have been a net positive for Japan, but now today these bureaucrats are more parasitic in nature - they have over the years created a lot of useless satellite organizations to serve as Amakudari exits, enabling themselves to be "appointed" after retirement age, and consequently suck 10s of millions of yen of tax payer money away in just their over-inflated salaries alone.

There are no doubt some good eggs in the bureaucracy but they aren't in control - otherwise we'd be seeing these parasite organizations abolished one after the other, for the benefit of the country. These people are supposed to be working for the public good, not their own bank accounts.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

These people are supposed to be working for the public good, not their own bank accounts.

The same thing can be said about every civil servant in Japan, including the police and military.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

low of 200+ until 1985, 100+ since 1986, definitely not 360 as Sensato suggested.

@tina

The USD/JPY traded at Y360 from 1949 to 1971 (see link below), and remained artificially weak until the Plaza Accord of 1985 (around 250 in the first half of 1985).

In 1949 the U.S. occupation government set the artificially low exchange rate of Y360 to the USD to help Japan get its economy on track. The Japanese export-driven miracle was in large part attributable to the artificially very weak yen, protectionism at home, and low-barrier access to the U.S. market (plus of course also attributable to the hard-working, educated and at the time demographically young Japanese population).

In 1990, Japan's lost quarter century began as the nation began to suffer the quadruple whammy of the bursting stock market/real estate bubble, increasingly difficult and strings-attached access to the U.S. market, strengthening yen, aging manufacturing infrastructure, and the aging population.

Here are the USD/JPY rates post WWII: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_yen#Historical_exchange_rate

3 ( +5 / -2 )

"Vogel really has drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to Japan, and his logic is more than a few decades behind the times."

Definitely out of touch with reality, living abroad in a disconnected world of fantasy and nostalgia. Its always interesting to observe these types and just how goofy they really are. The posters above completely picked apart every idiotic defense of Japan this guy has made so I dont need to even go at it. I would say he is naive, but he knows better, so its not fair to give these types that label Instead they choose to ignore reality and keep banging at it, just like many Japanese, hoping those bubble years will return (explains why they are such a huge fan of his). You can forgive the tourist who comes to Japan, in awe and praising everything Japanese because they are experiencing something new. Its the people who know better that continuously defend and apologize that are really annoying.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Anounymous Jones and Ah_so,

Do you realise the tone of the last paragraph is different from the rest? He was commending Japan then all of sudden in the end he says Japan to

globalize 2, employ foreigners 3. achieve a cosmopolitan environment 4. use English 5.change the univ in line with other countries 6. bring students and faculty from abroad 7. listen to the beauraucrats

Practically he is saying Japan to stop being Japan. Even fxgai above, who I don't usually agree to, are critical about #7.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

@tina

bascially he is saying....that he dont know what the hell he is saying

globalize - Impossible in Japan. Just look at how far TPP has come. Protectionism is still king. Anything else is just too risky employ foreigners - another impossibility. Language barrier and racist paradigms towards anything "gai" will never be changed. Just use them gaijin for no brainier service jobs Japanese wont do. Problem is that isnt sustainable long term, unless you have a revolving door immigration policy for foriengers under 30 from east asian countries.. Cosmopolitan enviroment - Well for that you need to invite foreigners and their ideas, but since that wont happen, just more stuff for his pipe. A cosmopolitan enviroment...geez this dude is getting deep...) Use English - I just keep laughing as I go through this. "Use more English" has been tried for decades, (perhaps centuries?) and its employed many a gaijin to entertain Japanese. Result? 40 years old salaryman able to communicate at a kindergarten English level. Once again, nothing is taken seriously; just crawl back into the shell of nihonjinron safety and keep making silly excuses Change the university in line with other countries - how the hell is that going to change anything? Hire more foriegner staff and implement courses that allow for critical thinking and creativity? That would be a start but of course thats unthinkable. Schedule change? wow if it was that easy bring students and faculty from abroad - see # 5 listen to the beauraucrats - Yes please do so we can cycle through the list again and here every excuse why not to change

The best book Ive ever read about Japan that is still relevant today is Karl Wolverens The enigma of Japanese power Excellent read, and most of its still applicable.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

Vogel advises Japanese politicians to pay more heed to the advice of the nation’s elite bureaucrats, as was commonly practiced in the 1970s.

Yeah sadly Vogel seems rather out of touch or he just doesn't want to tell Japanese the truth..........

Japan is a great place I love it, BUT it really grates on how Japan continually BASHES ITSELF in in so so many ways, some mentioned in above posts.

And I have always said that Japan prospered NOT because of bureaucrats but DESPITE them!!!

They seem to get way more credit then they ever deserved, & yes now they are indeed highly parasitic & doing great harm.

As yes it was the YANKS that did so much for Japan with the exchange rate & open markets & let Japan set up its closed mentality (that still exists today) and here we are all witnessing the decline

4 ( +6 / -2 )

He shows a lack of understanding the fundamentals, one of them being that in Japan its Japanese way or no way, they think in absolute terms. When he brings on the fluff like "use English" its time to stop reading for me as I know this individual is just talking. One must be careful when using English in Japan, as not to offend or hear the cringe worthy "eigo dekinai" response by everybody around you. Some Japanese who travel abroad and want to express themselves freely are suddenly crushed by the conformity around them and bottle up every joy they discovered abroad. Why, lets just wave our hand and everybody learn English. It doesnt work that way in Japan. The same goes for his cosmopolitan advice. Yes, Tokyo could become cosmopolitan and progressive, less dependence on crowded trains and rush hours, more progressive like dedicated bike roads, open spaces but that thinking upsets interest and powers; its not to be. Now, an author who can explain the "whys" of all this; why the grip of conformity, why the need to suffer etc, gets my attention because these are not easy things to understand and might even offend.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

1979 book discussion?

Well a few years before the bubble and 2 years before myself settled. It seems the market is also upbeat on JP as the Yen shows resilience so far as a safe heaven, whatever that is.

Still, being a EU citizen the unmoving politics are a bit unnerving. Why still think in WW2 terms?

The Dutch professor a few years after, although not a jew, had a different opinion.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Vogel also has a favorable impression of Japanese women.

I got as far as this before hand slapped forehead.

Dinosaur, for sure. A senile one.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Self-criticism is sign of maturity. I tend to look back on my old views more critically. What's the saying, about how less intelligent people don't see their own faults or doubt themselves? I'd be embarrassed to say I was so right. It's just silly. I guess it's harder to tell inconvenient truths than to tell people what they want to hear.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

When the Japanese students are asked in which country they hope to live in the future, they usually reply “Japan.”

It's just the amazing devil-may-care attitude of young Japanese people that is so impressive.

That fantastic desire to contemplate an existence outside of their safety zone... to push the boundaries and challenge something new.

Some of them would even consider working in Saitama instead of Tokyo...

They really are just incredibly adventurous young people.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

He says he’s “deeply impressed” by the poise of the Japanese students he meets, particularly in terms of how they demonstrate mutual respect and pay attention to the opinions of others.

I hate to have to tell you this, but if the Japanese students that I know are anything to go by, they actually do not understand a word you are saying, and are just winging it by smiling and nodding a lot (hence your generous assumption of their "paying attention to the opinions of others").

6 ( +8 / -2 )

@ Tessa,

Exactly, and if he is this disconnected from present day reality Japan, it makes me wonder how come so many fell for his original book. Perhaps for the same reason so many today miss the mark when it comes to Japan, they are using Western logic to process Eastern culture and the two are very incompatible.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

People think the world revolves around them. Rather than consider chance or "dumb luck" or special treatment/privilege, they happily crow about their own superiority. The 80s must have been an annoying time to be here. Probably like the British at the height of the British empire or Americans still yapping about exceptionalism...This guy helps himself while he tells himself that he's a lover of Japan. The truth is, he helps no one but himself with his shallow uncritical attitude. There are plenty of Japanese struggling to make some change. He's on the side of the wall of "elites" who push back. Sick.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The modis operandi of the Gaijin Japanophile is always the same. Claim that Japan is somehow inherently unique; that its weaknesses are somehow actually strengths; that something within this uniqueness makes the Japanese superior; that only they are able to identify what this is because of their special cultural insight; that the only reason Japan is failing is because of some other country's meddling; and finally, if you disagree with this it's because you haven't learned enough Kanji to truly understand Japan.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

People like Ezra Vogel and Donald Keene made names for themselves by extolling the virtues of Japan and its people, e.g. perfection in manufacturing and the attractiveness of the traditional aesthetic culture. On the opposite end, other individuals (such as Ivan Hall and Arudou Debito) have made names for themselves by repeatedly highlighting the shortcomings of Japan and its people, e.g. bigotry and parochialism.

These two groups of people really have much more in common with each other than either side would care to admit, namely drawing attention to their written work by ditching any pretense of objectivity with regard to assessing Japan. I find the written perspectives of both groups of people (dubbed the "Chrysanthemum Clubbers" and the "Japan Bashers" by some) tiresome to read and very much outdated in the year 2016.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

At 85 Mr Vogel is hardly going to be authoritative voice any longer and many of his wishes of 'more English' and 'debating whilst preserving femininity' sound slightly perverted. However, as Mr Vogel resides in the US I would imagine that he is unfamiliar with the fact that most products purchased in Japan nowadays are made in China and that it is the Chinese that are responsible for a boom in tourism in Japan.....

Still, it would be wrong for an old codger to be deprived of his fantasies wouldn't it.......?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@masswipe,

another excellent observation. The post war "Chrysanthemum Clubbers and the more recently arrived apologist are a tired and mostly sickening read. Some are just people who naturalized and have to justify their mistake. Admittedly, the bashers do sometimes hit the mark, but if it strays or stays too long in the negative, then the message gets lost, or like the apologist, it just becomes personal justification for mistakes made. Its only human coping and survival that we all find ourselves doing time to time, you have to sort it out to feel his truth. Its rare to find reads that explain the untouchable "why" things are, like circle logic and many other concepts are difficult enough to experience, but to process the logic is even more perplexing because you dont know where its coming from.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Anyone remember a book, "The Japan That Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals" ? So laf.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This guy has got to be one of the oldest weaboos. Maybe he was the trend-setter. I dunno about you guys, but to me, his Japanese/Chinese students comparison didn't sound like a compliment to the Japanese students. The way he described the Chinese students sounded like they have what it takes to make it. Like when was being ambitious a bad thing? Okay, so he thinks they're also egotistical..........but hey, maybe they see Western countries have better standards of living compared to their own country, China. Therefore they want to live there. That doesn't sound that egotistical, right? The way he painted Japanese students are like conformist yes-mans.That won't work, especially this day and age.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

japan is always number one to me

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japanese women can debate with men while remaining their femininity.

Wow.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Wow.

what's the problem with that sentence?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I met and spoke with Vogel at Harvard in 1980 after he gave his "J as Number One" talk peddling his fatuous but lucrative bestseller riding on the bandwagon of boosterism for a sudden visibly rising sun. I begged to differ with him over his hero-worship of the arch-conservative Japanese bureaucracy and his complacent view of the virulent strain of right-wing nationalism that has hindered reconciliation with Japan's neighbors and that one day might break out into militarism and revanchism. I'm not surprised that the old bird has since seemingly made a career of smoothing and preening the ruffled feathers of those Japanese whose gaijin complex and assorted insecurities are a constant threat to their amour-propre. To those unfamiliar with that shill in don's clothing, don't waste your time!: read Van Wolferen instead to gain an insight into the workings of "Japan Inc.".

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

But they can't, because as a society they lack the innovative mind and there aren't enough people willing to take the needed risks.

Damn right. We are are nation of imitators. Every last one of us.

Even more crucial to Japan Inc.'s success (the educated and hard-working population aside) was the longstanding artificially weak yen (Y360 to the USD), import barriers for several decades post-war combined with unfettered access to the U.S. market of over 300 million consumers.

Nice try, no cigar. As others have pointed out, the 360 yen to the dollar rate ended in 1971 and the yen has been as low as 76 to the dollar. The population of the US did not hit 300 million until 2007.

The best book Ive ever read about Japan that is still relevant today is Karl Wolverens The enigma of Japanese power Excellent read, and most of its still applicable.

Yeah, right. Karl van Wolferen who neither reads nor speaks Japanese was saying in 2009 that the DPJ electoral victory represented a "political revolution" in Japan. He was really spot on, right?

I hate to have to tell you this, but if the Japanese students that I know are anything to go by, they actually do not understand a word you are saying, and are just winging it by smiling and nodding a lot (hence your generous assumption of their "paying attention to the opinions of others").

Vogel doesn't say which language he used. I know him personally. He is reasonably fluent in Japanese.

However, as Mr Vogel resides in the US I would imagine that he is unfamiliar with the fact that most products purchased in Japan nowadays are made in China and that it is the Chinese that are responsible for a boom in tourism in Japan.....

He gets around. A few years ago, I met him in Oxford, England. As I recall, he had just come in from China.

This guy has got to be one of the oldest weaboos.

In point of fact, Vogel is primarily a China specialist. His writing on Japan is more of a sideline than his major activity. Look at his publication list. When I last saw him (2013 in Oxford) he was there to promote his book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

"In point of fact, Vogel is primarily a China specialist. His writing on Japan is more of a sideline than his major activity."

Vogel's writing on Japan may be more of a sideline now, but it certainly wasn't 30-50 years ago. It was his main focus for decades. Vogel is right up there with people like Donald Keene, Gerald Curtis, and Ronald Dore as a man who authored some of the most widely known academic books about Japan during the country's economic heyday in the Cold War era. I'm not sure "weaboo" is the right word to describe Ezra Vogel, but his body of written work dating back to the 1960s does not make him primarily a China specialist.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Tessa

Vogel also has a favorable impression of Japanese women.

Dinosaur, for sure. A senile one.

Wrong assumption. I had quite a few Western friends in 20s - 30s who had the same impression of Japanese women, exactly for the same reason - they maintain their femininity, a trait rather lost in many Western women. And I observed for quite a lot of times that the Western women tend to have the harshest view on their Japanese sisters. Jealousy, pure and simple.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

He does know this consideration for others' opinions is because they are in public, right? He should check out the anonymous Japanese language message-boards and chatrooms to find out what they're really thinking. lol

About women, Japanese women in general do value femininity more than my fellow Americans do I think. Nothing wrong with that, as long as "maintaining femininity" doesn't mean "accepting harassment/lower pay for the same work/limited rights/opportunities" etc. in society.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Vogel's writing on Japan may be more of a sideline now, but it certainly wasn't 30-50 years ago. It was his main focus for decades.

Japan as Number One was published in 1979. Japan's bubble burst in 1989. He had about a decade in the limelight. He was already getting off the Japan schtick in 1989 with his One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong Under Reform. Before he detoured into Japan, he was primarily know for Canton Under Communism (1969). The Wikipedia article has a bibliography of his major writings. It clearly shows that he is predominantly a specialist on China.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

"It clearly shows that he is predominantly a specialist on China."

Fine, think whatever you want. We could go back and forth on this innocuous point all day, but neither you nor I are the final authority. The Wikipedia list does show that Vogel's first Asia-oriented book was published in 1963 and entitled "Japan's New Middle Class: the Salary Man and His Family in a Tokyo Suburb." That doesn't sound like something any China specialist would write as his/her first book on an Asian country, and that was 16 years before Japan as Number One.

Basically, Vogel can no longer be called a specialist focusing on any one country. In recent years, he also edited a large volume about Park Chung Hee of South Korea (2011). The person he reminds me of most in terms of the country focus of academic books and articles he has written is Chalmers Johnson, another person who wrote about both Japan and China and to a lesser extent South Korea.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The person he reminds me of most in terms of the country focus of academic books and articles he has written is Chalmers Johnson

Some similarity but Chalmers was a much heavier weight scholar. I learned quite a bit from Chalmers even when I thought he was wrong. Vogel has been more of an academic journalist although Chalmers was somewhat in that direction as well.

As for "Japan's New Middle Class," I've heard people who should know claim that it was largely the work of Vogel's first wife. It was not well known outside of Japanese studies. It was just something you read to bring Ronald Dore's City Life in Japan into the 1960s.

I started graduate study in 1968. Contemporary Japan was still very marginal. Research was concentrated on late Tokugawa and early Meiji Japan. The first book to attract some attention to contemporary Japan was The Emerging Japanese Superstate: challenge and response by Herman Kahn published in 1970. Vogel did not get into the game until nearly a decade later.

In any event, Vogel was in the limelight for his Japan as No. 1 thing for only about a decade, not "decades" as was asserted. Indeed, I have heard him assert that there was far more interest in Japan as No. 1 in Japan than in the US. It is also my recollection that he claimed that as trade friction heated up, he was left out of the loop because his take on Japan was too positive and did not fit the later Japan bashing mood.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Vogel also has a favorable impression of Japanese women. Thirty years ago, the standard for women to achieve equality with men obliged many of them to affect masculine mannerisms. But Vogel feels that Japanese women are able to debate with men as equals while maintaining their femininity.

Equals? Actually they are the boss. Japanese household is governed by women. Men are controlled by wives who hold the purse-strings and even husbands’ willpower. Mountain goddess, kakaa-denka, oni-yome, slave driver, as you name it. This may be what helps make this society comparatively stable in the days of prolonged recession in addition to such social merits like the small disparity in wealth and the medical insurance program for the whole nation.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@ bullfighter

obviously your a Vogel fan and Wolfren did made some wrong predictions but I found his book to be an invaluable resource when it comes to residing and understanding the peculiar world of Japan. Most of what he wrote is still valid and is by far one the best books I have read, along with embracing defeat, japans imperial conspiracy and hirohito. Obviously, Im not a fan of any apologist nonsense, and agree with masswipe; you could argue with an apologist and get nowhere and chase my behind in circles. Where I find Vogel to be disconnected and living in perhaps a nostalgic fantasy is with this statement: “But I don’t think things are that serious. That’s because when viewed globally, Japan is quite a good society." Its one of the fundamentals you first learn-tatemae, and all things are not what they seem. He seems to be defending his original mantra of "Japan as Number One" to a safe content Japan @ 90 million. Strange, did he predict such a dismal decline in the 70s? Why the sudden change? I guess I could forecast a word that succumbs to western degeneration while Japan maintains its traditions, (I suspect thats what this is all about..“Will Japan become the world’s top superpower in 2050?) but I think a more realistic view doesnt paint that future to be so rosey.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

obviously your a Vogel fan

Not at all. I thought Japan As No. 1 was rubbish. I have used it in teaching as a bad example of someone seeing only what they wanted to see and ignoring everything else.

Where I find Vogel to be disconnected and living in perhaps a nostalgic fantasy is with this statement: “But I don’t think things are that serious. That’s because when viewed globally, Japan is quite a good society."

That is my experience. It's far from perfect but a damn sight better than the two options I had: US or UK.

I have lived and worked for extended periods in the US, the UK, and Japan. My first choice is Japan followed by the UK. Under no circumstances would I want to live in the US. Since I maintain a residence in the UK and spend part of the year there, I can compare them on an on going basis.

As a Japanese citizen, I am not the least bit bothered if Japan does not return to the go go days that spawned Japan as No. 1 and similar literature. Second tier countries like Italy, France, Canada, etc. can be very comfortable.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

@bullfighter,

Fair enough, but your post seemed to give the impression you were defending Vogel, thus my response. The problem I have with Vogel is that I think he was naively defending just another version of the co prosperity sphere of world domination by Japan. Ive seen it argued that part of Japans post war success was just another take on that rabid at all cost take hold and control, our way or no way mentality that got Japan into WW2. Its not as innocent and inclusive as he might suggest.

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Japanese students want to live in Japan in the future?! Why is that good thing? You need people to have a broader understanding of the world. Modern Japan came about because it wanted to be more international. Most of the institutions exist because Japan wanted to be apart of the world. Ah well, no problem for me. The lack of change makes me richer.

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"In any event, Vogel was in the limelight for his Japan as No. 1 thing for only about a decade, not 'decades' as was asserted."

This back and forth is getting a little tiresome, but I just want to point out that the comment I wrote in response to you had nothing to do with claiming that Vogel was "in the limelight" for decades. It had to do with disputing your assertion that Vogel is predominantly a China specialist. I wrote that Japan had been the main focus of Vogel's writing for decades. But that is an overstatement, and I think it is most accurate to write that Japan was one of the main areas of focus of Vogel's writing for decades. The other main area of focus was China. But this doesn't mean that Vogel is predominantly a China specialist. The Wikipedia list of Vogel's publications is very mixed in terms of country focus and does not at all clearly show that he is predominantly a China specialist.

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Vogel is too old now, but it would give him much more credibility if he married himself a Japanese woman, had kids, and lived as a resident in Japan for say, 20 years.

There is nothing like experience when it comes to Japan, or any country. No book, scholar, interest, or fantasy can replace that.

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One more thing probably unmentioned in the book. Their greatness can be attributed to the continuous strive to be better by first a "look within self" approach in any problem - always examining self, how can one be better, was any mistakes made, how can things be improved by contribution on a personal level. instead of ya'll white countries who first point the finger, then self examination is optional and rare, if any at all. This is what gave birth to the society wrecking SJWs and their hundreds of causes that you have now.

All these bitter unsatisfied comments are exactly why you people will stay behind Japan, forever.

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People like Ezra Vogel and Donald Keene made names for themselves by extolling the virtues of Japan and its people, e.g. perfection in manufacturing and the attractiveness of the traditional aesthetic culture.

Donald Keene "made a name for himself" by singing the praises of Japan and its people? That's a common attitude among western ex-pats in Japan who came here because of anime and video games, who have never actually read anything Keene himself wrote, and first heard about Keene from Debito's defamatory blog posts and newspaper columns, but it's not actually accurate. Keene is known in academic circles for his early translations and for his monumental and authoritative History of Japanese Literature; the "name" to which the above post refers was made not by Keene himself but by angry bloggers trying to make a name for themselves by attacking a well-regarded scholar.

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