Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

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9780143126959: Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival

“[A]n excellent book...” —The Economist

Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling's Bending Adversity captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan.

Pilling’s exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan’s vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country’s past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan’s survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan’s own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle—the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity Pilling questions what was lost in the country’s blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990—the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan’s “lost decades”—to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities—in particular for the young and for women—have diversified. 


Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling’s many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people.

The Financial Times
“David Pilling quotes a visiting MP from northern England, dazzled by Tokyo’s lights and awed by its bustling prosperity: ‘If this is a recession, I want one.’ Not the least of the merits of Pilling’s hugely enjoyable and perceptive book on Japan is that he places the denunciations of two allegedly “lost decades” in the context of what the country is really like and its actual achievements.”

The Telegraph (UK)
“Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, is perfectly placed to be our guide, and his insights are a real rarity when very few Western journalists communicate the essence of the world’s third-largest economy in anything but the most superficial ways. Here, there is a terrific selection of interview subjects mixed with great reportage and fact selection... he does get people to say wonderful things. The novelist Haruki Murakami tells him: “When we were rich, I hated this country”... well-written... valuable.”

Publishers Weekly (starred):
"A probing and insightful portrait of contemporary Japan."

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

David Pilling is the Asia editor of the Financial Times. He was previously the Tokyo bureau chief for the FT from January 2002 to August 2008. Pilling’s reporting from Japan and his weekly column on Asia have won several prizes, including from the Society of Publishers in Asia Awards and the UK’s Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. He lives in Hong Kong.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

List of Illustrations

List of Maps

We are lost and we don’t know which way we should go. But this is a very natural thing, a very healthy thing.

Haruki Murakami,
Tokyo, January 2003

Foreword

All books come from somewhere. This one was swept into existence by a giant wave. For me, the catalyst for writing about Japan was the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. I had lived in Japan as a foreign correspondent from 2001 to 2008, and had often thought about writing a book back then. But the daily pressures of news reporting and my own lack of urgency ensured that the idea of a book remained just that – an idea. I left Japan at the end of 2008 and went on to other things. When the earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, I flew to Japan to cover the disaster both in the immediate aftermath and over the ensuing months. The scale and horror of the catastrophe, and the way the Japanese sought to confront it, provided impetus for an idea that had lain dormant in my mind for several years. My aim was to create a portrait of a stubbornly resistant nation with a history of overcoming successive waves of adversity from would-be Mongolian invasions to repeated natural disasters. The portrait would be rooted in my own seven years’ experience of reporting and living in the country during a time of economic slowdown and loss of national confidence, but one told, as far as possible, through the voices of Japanese people themselves. It would largely be a portrait of contemporary Japan, a country that, in spite of its obvious difficulties, is changing and adapting in ways that are often invisible to the outside world. But it would also be a depiction rooted in its historical context, since events in the present are rarely fully comprehensible without reference to the past. That is certainly true of Japan, where history and tradition are ubiquitous, peeping from behind the endless concrete of what can seem one of the most relentlessly modern urban landscapes on earth.

This, then, is not a book about the tsunami. The scope is much broader. But the ‘triple disaster’ of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown provided a starting point for an enquiry into how Japanese institutions and, just as important, Japanese people, have dealt with adversity. As the crisis unfolded, there were many failings as well as much to admire, but the tragedy reminded us of what we should not have forgotten: the extraordinary resilience of a people who live in one of the most naturally unstable regions on earth. In Hong Kong, where I now live, in the disaster’s aftermath, many marvelled at the television images of orderly lines outside shops and in evacuation centres; they admired the quiet dignity of survivors; and they shook their heads in wonderment at the near-absence of crime. A country supposedly on its knees after two decades of stagnation had shown itself stronger than many had given it credit for. It highlighted what Pico Iyer, an author and long-time resident, called ‘the self-possession and community-mindedness that are so striking in Japan; suddenly, the country that had seemed to insist on its difference from the rest of the world could be seen in its more human, compassionate and brave dimensions’.1

The disaster revealed, too, if only for an instant, Japan’s continuing relevance to the world. Even most Japanese were unaware that the northeast of their country, where the tsunami hit, produced anything other than rice, fish and sake. Though hardly Japan’s industrial heartland, the northeastern Tohoku region turned out to be a vital link in the global supply chain. One factory alone produced 40 per cent of the world’s micro-controllers, the ‘little brains’ that run power steering in cars and the images on flat-screen televisions. After the tsunami destroyed the plant that makes them, halfway round the world in Louisiana, General Motors was forced to suspend vehicle production. Likewise, because of electricity shortages after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Japan – already the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas – stepped up its purchases of LNG, oil and subsequently coal, becoming an important swing factor in global energy demand.

What the Japanese call ‘Japan bashing’ stems partly from the country’s continued importance to the global economy. No one bothers much to bash Switzerland, which also grew at approximately 1 per cent a year in the 1990s, thus suffering, by the Japanese yardstick, its own ‘lost decade’. But Switzerland, though an important financial centre, is a smallish economy. Japan has shrunk in relative terms, but still accounts for 8 per cent of global output against 3.4 per cent for Britain and 20 per cent for the US. Japan is the world’s biggest creditor nation, not its biggest debtor as is sometimes supposed. It has the second highest foreign exchange reserves and by 2012 was again vying with China to be the biggest holder of US debt. The tsunami briefly reminded people of these neglected facts. It was ironic that, just when Japan was truly in the midst of crisis, some people should be reminded of how important it still was.

Of course, the crisis also revealed much weakness. Many argued that the tsunami, which destroyed factories, roads and other infrastructure worth an astonishing 10 per cent of GDP, would be the final nail in Japan’s economic coffin. If nothing else, it would accelerate what was already the slow exodus of manufacturing to China and other cheaper production bases. Even worse than Japan’s economic vulnerability was evidence of a rotten body politic. The crisis at Fukushima exposed an official culture riddled with paternalism, complacency and deceit. The risks of a nuclear catastrophe in the most seismically unstable country on earth ought to have been foreseeable, as should the vulnerability of plants so close to a tsunami-prone coastline. Bureaucrats, politicians and nuclear plant operators were blinded by their faith in Japanese technology and organization. In other ways too, the Japanese state was shown to be unprepared. Some old people’s homes had inadequate, or non-existent, evacuation procedures. After the disaster, it took too long for the central government to identify needs on the ground and to meet them with financial and technical help. Too much was left to the legendary diehard patience of the people of northeast Japan themselves. Japan’s response may have been far better than that of the US in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, but it left much to be desired.

Still, great moments of crisis have proved decisive turning points in Japanese history before. Some hoped the country, literally jolted from its complacency, would rediscover its lost energy. John Dower, whose book Embracing Defeat is perhaps the greatest study by a foreign scholar of post-war Japan, talked of the clarity that can come from such moments. ‘Things are cracked open and things can be put in motion,’ he told me not long after the tsunami. The tragedy, he said, had provided a fresh opportunity for ordinary Japanese – not just its politicians and bureaucrats – to rethink priorities and to remake their society. ‘The question is can they do it again?’ he asked. ‘Will these ideas be squelched because of the entrenched, gridlocked system? Or can this help create a more participatory democracy, can people be mobilized as they have on occasions in the past, and challenge what is going on?’2

The title of this book, Bending Adversity, comes from a Japanese proverb about transforming bad fortune into good. Japan has a remarkable track record of confronting and transcending adversity. Virtually alone in Asia, it resisted the colonial predations of western powers. After 1945, it overcame its own crushing defeat by blazing an economic trail that has had a profound impact on all of Asia, including China. In both instances, it found some sort of path through adversity. Sometimes, though, rather than bending adversity to its own advantage, Japan has instead been bent by circumstance. Its island status has provided it security and a firm sense of itself, yet too often it has been a prisoner of its geography and an island mentality. Its nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent ended up in an imperial endeavour of its own that caused the death of millions and its own near-annihilation. If this was bending adversity, it had perhaps been better left unbent. Even its post-war economic miracle, so impressive in so many ways, could seem to some like a soulless exercise in wealth accumulation, a search for international prestige through manufacturing and commerce where war and conquest had failed. Though Japan had found the key to economic development, it had perhaps lost something of itself in the process.

Now it has lost its economic vigour too. Paradoxically, as Haruki Murakami, the best-selling author, once suggested to me, this may give it a better chance of finding itself again. Along with post-bubble drift has come an existential angst, a probing for a way forward. Japan was lost, he said, but to be lost is not always a bad thing. A friend, echoing those sentiments, recently wrote to me of her fellow Japanese, ‘People are lost. They lost their model and they lost themselves.’ But in the disappearance of something old lies the possibility of something new – at least a chance to bend adversity and turn it into something better.

·   ·   ·

I arrived in Japan in the winter of 2001. Before I started my job as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo, I spent a month beginning to learn the language while I was living with a family in the castle town of Kanazawa, a sort of mini-Kyoto on the rugged Sea of Japan coast. Kanazawa was a charming place with much of its medieval heritage preserved. It had samurai and geisha quarters, a famous garden called Kenroku-en – like most famous sights in Japan, diplomatically said to be one of the ‘best three’ in the country – and a thriving artistic community of potters, gold-leaf craftsmen and amateur Noh dramatists. On my first day, fresh off the plane from London, I was taken to the sixteenth-century moated castle, an imposing whitewashed structure set on huge stone walls, to attend a tea ceremony. Dozens of people had gathered on a gazebo-like platform in the castle grounds, where the ritual was to take place. I was ushered by my ‘host mother’, Mrs Nishida, to the very front so that I could sit as close as possible to the proceedings. A woman in kimono prepared the hot water in a sunken hearth, spooning out green powder with a wooden scoop and whisking it with a long brush. Every action she performed, from the way she knelt to her handling of the tea bowl, was precise and rehearsed – a mirror of the actions made in countless other tea ceremonies down the ages. I sat, as did everyone else, in seiza style, legs and feet folded beneath my buttocks, back straight. After a few minutes of initial pain, my limbs grew used to the position and I concentrated on what was going on around me. When the tea was served, we first ate an exquisite handmade sweet, separating it into bite-sized pieces with a small wooden utensil like a large toothpick. Then we earnestly examined the tea bowl’s shape and glaze, and felt the heat of the tea penetrate the fired clay. We rotated the bowl two quarter-turns, before downing the pleasantly bitter, jade-green liquid in quick, noisy slurps.

Japan is a country of performances and role-playing: here we were all actors in a centuries-old pageant, our every action dictated by custom. When the ceremony was over, the other guests rose and took their leave. My lower limbs, however, had lost all feeling and standing was impossible. I was left, alone on the stage, waiting for what seemed like several minutes while a painful tingle slowly crept up my legs as sensation returned. I still regard the experience as my initiation into the pains and pleasures of Japan.

From my first days in Kanazawa, I resolved to embrace the new culture in which I found myself. I ate the food I was served, whether it was crab brains, sea urchin or raw octopus. Slowly I discovered that almost everything the Japanese prepared, however unfamiliar, was fresh and delicious – better, in fact, than any food I had tasted before. At the age of thirty-seven, I plunged into the study of the Japanese language, working my way through a series of exams that obliged me to learn more than 2,000 kanji characters and obscure grammatical constructions. (I eventually learned to read fairly fluently and to conduct stilted interviews, but my Japanese remained like Samuel Johnson’s description of a dog walking on its hind legs: it was not done well, though at my age it was perhaps surprising to find it done at all.) In Kanazawa, I learned to love the routine of living on tatami, the traditional rush-mat flooring. One removed one’s shoes at the house entrance known as the genkan, knelt on the floor to watch TV and unrolled one’s futon at night. The tatami had a comforting, musky smell. Bathing was in a square upright tub, in which you sat only after a thorough scrub in a separate shower area. Sometimes we would walk to the local public bath with its old-fashioned municipal tiles. It had outdoor communal pools of cold, warm and hot sulfurous water and vibrating massage chairs of worn leather in the changing room.

I loved that Japanese people always put their hands together to thank their food before they ate it, and the way they apologized before they asked for money in a shop as though payment sullied the otherwise pleasant human interaction. I learned the correct place at which guests should sit at a table – furthest from the door, a position in former times that was safest from surprise attack. I gained an appreciation for small, considerate gestures. My teacher had told me, for example, that it was rude in a business conversation to say that you were busy, since this might imply that you were more in demand than the person to whom you were speaking. I liked it that even cheap restaurants handed out a hot hand towel before you ate and that, when it rained, there was a machine at the department store to seal your wet umbrella in a plastic cover. I marvelled at how social convention trumped laws. The streets were entirely litter-free. No one would dream of answering their mobile phone on the train or in a lift, not because it was illegal but because consideration was expected. Even in the street, people cupped their hands over mouth and phone to muffle the sound of their voice.

When I got to Tokyo to start my job, I was enthralled all over again. Its urban thrum, theatres and galleries and astonishing variety of restaurants, clubs and bars made it the New York of Asia, only far bigger, with a population, in the greater metropolis, of 36 million people. Yet Tokyo was anything but the faceless conurbation I had imagined. Most big cities have been described as a collection of villages. But Tokyo, more than any other, deserves that description. City neighbourhoods, including the one I moved to in Higashi Kitazawa, are still organized into village-sized units. At festival times, bankers to bricklayers gather to pound rice into soft mochi cakes. At n...

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. -[A]n excellent book.- --The Economist Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling s Bending Adversity captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan. Pilling s exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan s vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country s past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan s survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan s own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle--the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity Pilling questions what was lost in the country s blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990--the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan s -lost decades---to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities--in particular for the young and for women--have diversified. Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling s many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people. The Financial Times -David Pilling quotes a visiting MP from northern England, dazzled by Tokyo s lights and awed by its bustling prosperity: If this is a recession, I want one. Not the least of the merits of Pilling s hugely enjoyable and perceptive book on Japan is that he places the denunciations of two allegedly -lost decades- in the context of what the country is really like and its actual achievements.- The Telegraph (UK) -Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, is perfectly placed to be our guide, and his insights are a real rarity when very few Western journalists communicate the essence of the world s third-largest economy in anything but the most superficial ways. Here, there is a terrific selection of interview subjects mixed with great reportage and fact selection. he does get people to say wonderful things. The novelist Haruki Murakami tells him: -When we were rich, I hated this country-. well-written. valuable.- Publishers Weekly (starred): -A probing and insightful portrait of contemporary Japan.-. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143126959

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. -[A]n excellent book.- --The Economist Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling s Bending Adversity captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan. Pilling s exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan s vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country s past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan s survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan s own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle--the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity Pilling questions what was lost in the country s blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990--the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan s -lost decades---to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities--in particular for the young and for women--have diversified. Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling s many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people. The Financial Times -David Pilling quotes a visiting MP from northern England, dazzled by Tokyo s lights and awed by its bustling prosperity: If this is a recession, I want one. Not the least of the merits of Pilling s hugely enjoyable and perceptive book on Japan is that he places the denunciations of two allegedly -lost decades- in the context of what the country is really like and its actual achievements.- The Telegraph (UK) -Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, is perfectly placed to be our guide, and his insights are a real rarity when very few Western journalists communicate the essence of the world s third-largest economy in anything but the most superficial ways. Here, there is a terrific selection of interview subjects mixed with great reportage and fact selection. he does get people to say wonderful things. The novelist Haruki Murakami tells him: -When we were rich, I hated this country-. well-written. valuable.- Publishers Weekly (starred): -A probing and insightful portrait of contemporary Japan.-. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143126959

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2015. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. -[A]n excellent book.- --The Economist Financial Times Asia editor David Pilling presents a fresh vision of Japan, drawing on his own deep experience, as well as observations from a cross section of Japanese citizenry, including novelist Haruki Murakami, former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, industrialists and bankers, activists and artists, teenagers and octogenarians. Through their voices, Pilling s Bending Adversity captures the dynamism and diversity of contemporary Japan. Pilling s exploration begins with the 2011 triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. His deep reporting reveals both Japan s vulnerabilities and its resilience and pushes him to understand the country s past through cycles of crisis and reconstruction. Japan s survivalist mentality has carried it through tremendous hardship, but is also the source of great destruction: It was the nineteenth-century struggle to ward off colonial intent that resulted in Japan s own imperial endeavor, culminating in the devastation of World War II. Even the postwar economic miracle--the manufacturing and commerce explosion that brought unprecedented economic growth and earned Japan international clout might have been a less pure victory than it seemed. In Bending Adversity Pilling questions what was lost in the country s blind, aborted climb to #1. With the same rigor, he revisits 1990--the year the economic bubble burst, and the beginning of Japan s -lost decades---to ask if the turning point might be viewed differently. While financial struggle and national debt are a reality, post-growth Japan has also successfully maintained a stable standard of living and social cohesion. And while life has become less certain, opportunities--in particular for the young and for women--have diversified. Still, Japan is in many ways a country in recovery, working to find a way forward after the events of 2011 and decades of slow growth. Bending Adversity closes with a reflection on what the 2012 reelection of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and his radical antideflation policy, might mean for Japan and its future. Informed throughout by the insights shared by Pilling s many interview subjects, Bending Adversity rigorously engages with the social, spiritual, financial, and political life of Japan to create a more nuanced representation of the oft-misunderstood island nation and its people. The Financial Times -David Pilling quotes a visiting MP from northern England, dazzled by Tokyo s lights and awed by its bustling prosperity: If this is a recession, I want one. Not the least of the merits of Pilling s hugely enjoyable and perceptive book on Japan is that he places the denunciations of two allegedly -lost decades- in the context of what the country is really like and its actual achievements.- The Telegraph (UK) -Pilling, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, is perfectly placed to be our guide, and his insights are a real rarity when very few Western journalists communicate the essence of the world s third-largest economy in anything but the most superficial ways. Here, there is a terrific selection of interview subjects mixed with great reportage and fact selection. he does get people to say wonderful things. The novelist Haruki Murakami tells him: -When we were rich, I hated this country-. well-written. valuable.- Publishers Weekly (starred): -A probing and insightful portrait of contemporary Japan.-. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9780143126959

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