Over the years I have read many books about Japan from foreign pundits, some good (classic books by old Japan hands such as Ian Buruma and Donald Richie among the best of those) and some not so good (TR Reid's Confucius Lives Next Door and Pico Iyer's The Lady and the Monk for example). Nonetheless, I was compelled to read David Pilling's latest addition, Bending Adversity (2014), in that he analyzes and discuses the country in light of the last triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown of 2011. In Part One: "Tsunami", he discusses the triple disaster of 2011 in chapter one and in chapter two looks at the concept of "Bending Adversity"-a term that he as adopted to explain the resilience to catastrophic events in Japan over the years. Part Two: "Double-bolted Land" is comprised of a historical overview of Japan and its society as well as a discussion of Japan's relationship with the outside world. These chapters are the ones you find in every book in Japan in that they are trying to create a context for discussing contemporary Japan in a historical context. Part Three: "Decades Found and Lost focusing on "bending adversity" in context of the rebound from the 1923 earthquake and WWII, and the economic collapse of the housing bubble in 1990. Part Four: "Life After Growth" is comprises of five chapters focuses on the post bubble years and subjects as China's economy overtaking Japan, the Koizumi years in the 2000s, the graying of Japanese society, the hiring "ice age" and decline of lifetime employment, and gender relations in contemporary Japan. Part Five: "Adrift" looks Japan's precarious relations with China and Korea as well as the wrestling with the pacifist constitution and the role of Japan's self defense forces which Shinzo Abe challenges in his first term. Part Six: "After the Tsunami" focuses on Tohoku after the devastation through personal stories and a discussion of weak government vs. strong citizens. And in the Afterword he muses on whether or not these tragedies resulted in Japan reassessing its society and their place in the world.
Pilling does an especially excellent job of explaining economics and politics since the post bubble years-especially the Koizumi years. He interviews scores of everyday citizens, but also cultural figures like authors Haruki Murakami, Natsuo Kirino and the Prime Ministers who ruled Japan in the last two decades. There are savvy observations of Japan and its society through as well. And he discusses all the major media stories of the last few decades such as the Afghanistan hostage, women as an untapped resource, nationalism and its effect on its Asian neighbors, and Japan's strange victim mentality in relation to WWII among others. Obviously much of the material was reused from articles he wrote for the Financial Times, I think he did an excellent job of explaining what has happened economically, politically and socially in Japan since the bubble.