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This report is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

A Murderer and his Mandala T.J.G. Harris
The Gambler's Tale: A Life in Japan's Underworld, by Junichi Saga with illustrations by Susumu Saga; translated by John Bester. Kodansha International, 1991.

After living in Japan for a few years, anyone with a modicum of perceptiveness develops a strong resistance to those books and articles by 'experts', whether Western or Japanese, whether Japanophile or Japanophobe, that purport to 'explain' Japan, its people and civilization, and ceases to read them. It is not merely that, over the years, these books and articles have largely repeated one another, nor th&amarc;t they rehearse clichés that can be traced back beyond the Meiji Restoration, nor that although comparisons are constantly made between nations no genuine basis for the making of significant comparisons is ever established, nor even that the apolitical and 'anthropological' bias of much Western (particularly American) work and the chauvinist bias of much Japanese work (notably nihonjin-ron - 'theory of the Japanese Volk') has resulted in a curious situation in which both sides are saying more or less the same thing; it is the complete absence from these works of living Japanese individuals, the sort of people one works with, is friendly (or unfriendly) with, lives next to, is married to or related by marriage to, and who, like all of us, have their problems, personal and otherwise.

If any Japanese person is given a walk-on part, it is as a cipher, a mere function of some large 'truth' about Japanese society or 'the Japanese soul'. The situation ...


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