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History of Political Economy 32.2 (2000) 402-403

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Book Review

Economic Thought and Modernization in Japan

Economic Thought and Modernization in Japan. Edited by Shiro Sugihara and Toshihiro Tanaka. Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar, 1998. xxvii; 182 pp.

This collection of essays is the first in a forthcoming series to be written in English by Japanese authors and published under the auspices of the Society for the History of Economic Thought, Japan. It is to be warmly welcomed, not only because of its intrinsic merits, but also as the harbinger of what will surely be in the long run a valuable means of circumventing the language barrier that has hitherto made so much of the large Japanese history of economic thought literature inaccessible to the potential international audience. The presence of Japanese scholars at many international conferences in the field, over the past three or four decades, has usually given their Western counterparts only tantalizing glimpses of the riches awaiting competent translators. This volume demonstrates that Japanese authors are themselves eminently capable of doing the job.

After a brief introductory overview by Sugihara, there are nine chapters by separate authors. The chronological range is from the Tokugawa era (pre-1868) to the post-World War II period, which occupies more than a third of the whole. This share is even greater if we include the chapter on general equilibrium theory, for it covers publications in both the interwar and post-1945 years. Though undoubtedly of interest to some readers, this highly theoretical and mathematical chapter seems somewhat out of place among the historical, ideological, cultural, and policy issues that dominate the rest of the volume.

Despite the book's title, the term modernization does not appear in the index, nor is it defined precisely in the text. This would be a trivial point were it not for the variety of interpretations of the modernization process among the various authors. Several chapters refer to the different forms of Japanese capitalism, a subject that has periodically been highly controversial. The story of Japan's economic and social development has necessarily been complicated by the fundamental cultural differences between Japan and Europe and by the combined, though often conflicting, influences of German and British economic ideas and policies. A related and recurring theme is the tension, if not incompatibility, between Japan's feudal past and the drive to industrialize. In contrast to British writers of economic and social development, Japanese authors often discussed the nature of civil society, a concept usually, but not invariably, derived from Adam Smith. Another recurring theme from the late nineteenth century until well into the post-1945 period was the question [End Page 402] of the proper role of the state in economic development. A further example is the changing impact of Marxism, which has periodically had a major influence on Japanese economics. Here, as elsewhere, the volume stimulates reflections on features of Western economic, social, and intellectual history that many Western historians of economics customarily take for granted.

As might be expected, the number of authors contributing to such a broad theme over one and a half centuries necessarily leads to some repetition. But this is a short book considering its subject, and it contains a useful general bibliography and specific references, mainly to English-language writings, accompanying each chapter. Though more than a textbook, it will serve admirably as an introduction to the subject, especially if read in conjunction with Chuhei Sugiyama and Hiroshi Mizuta's Enlightenment and Beyond: Political Economy Comes to Japan (1988) and T. Morris Suzuki's A History of Japanese Economic Thought (1989).

A. W. Bob Coats
University of Nottingham



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pp. 402-403
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Archived 2005
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