[A-List] Japan: a plausible scenario?
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 11 07:40:45 MST 2002
Japan's right rising from Koizumi's ashes
Dragon Dance, by Peter Tasker
Reviewed by Gary LaMoshi
Asia Times, December 7 2002
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's proposed structural reforms could cure
Japan's lingering economic slump - but they could also plunge the economy
from recession into depression. US cheerleading for the reforms, overseas
vulture funds ready to pounce, plus Japan's history suggest a nationalist
backlash if the economy crashes, and growing regional rival China may be
tempted to exploit the situation.
That's the scenario for fund manager/novelist Peter Tasker's new thriller
Dragon Dance, published in English this week after a rousing July debut in
Set in post-crash Japan of 2006, Tasker's fourth novel centers on veteran
rock idol and Upper House member Tsuyoshi Nozawa, described variously in the
book as "a cross between Bruce Springsteen and Benito Mussolini" and Japan's
Eva Peron. Backed by disciples of industrialist Suichiro Morikawa's shadowy
postgraduate institute, Nozawa stands on the verge of the toppling the
political orthodoxy with his new ultranationalist party.
Popular songs advocating his Japan-first policies power Nozawa's mass
appeal. Followers burn their passports and eschew imports. Nozawa advocates
nuclear arms for Japan in place of its alliance with the US. A string of
"accidents", created by Japan's most wanted terrorist of the Red Army
Faction era and her daughter in cahoots with Beijing, blast Nozawa's pet
issues on to the front pages.
Veteran journalist Martine Meyer, fluent in Japanese and karate (she doesn't
unleash her fists of fury here, though perhaps in the movie version ... ),
finds herself at the heart of the Nozawa story through a series of exclusive
interviews for her Tribune newspaper, part of the global InfoCorp media
empire, and a series of e-mail messages from a secret admirer foreshadowing
Meyer labors to unravel the mystery as Nozawa's political stock rises
relentlessly. Similarly, readers will find themselves furiously turning
pages toward the surprise conclusion. Tasker has crafted a compelling yarn
that mixes politics, economics and international intrigue.
People in the finance world know Tasker as a fund manager who, like his
journalist character, is fluent in Japanese language and culture. His
previous three novels have all featured stronger connections to Tasker's day
job in the financial world than Dragon Dance, but in some sense the roots
are the same. "As a money manager and a writer, you have very different
responsibilities," Tasker said in an interview with Asia Times Online. "But
both draw from the same core of knowledge, experience and instinct. In both
cases you have to be sincere and call it the way you see it.
"I see my novels as another way of getting to the 'Japan story'. I'm also
conscious that they should stand as novels, hopefully entertaining to people
who don't know or care much about Japan."
One complaint about Tasker's novels from Japan-savvy readers is that his
romans a clef leave the clefs on the table. Even the Japan-challenged will
easily identify Dragon Dance's ubiquitous Starjacks coffee chain and
InfoCorp chairman Warwick Fletcher, his son Mark the CEO, and Fletcher
pere's wife Jenny Leung, a Chinese national half his age who tries to
supplant Mark as the mogul's corporate heir. Her attempt to win over Mark
while her husband lay dying provides the novel's finest comic relief.
These recognizable figures enhance the novel and its power rather than
detract from it. Dragon Dance doesn't descend into literalism as it seeks to
rise to literature. Above these devices, the plot twists through London,
Shanghai, and Beverly Hills but centers on metropolitan Tokyo where Tasker,
an Oxford graduate, has lived 20 years. The novel gives a strong sense of
Japanese culture and attitudes, and it strikes a deep, largely unexplored
chord from Japanese history.
Dragon Dance draws potential parallels from Japan's Showa era where
misguided government policies in response to an economic crisis in the 1920s
led to military rule and imperialism in the 1930s. Ultranationalism could
again emerge from the ashes of economic disaster, based on "a substratum of
particularist belief - we, the Japanese, are different from the rest of the
world - that exists right across the political spectrum", according to
"Ordinary citizens are apolitical but intensely proud of their nationality
and culture. Postwar, this was channeled into economic achievement, which
was never really about getting rich and pursuing happiness, but establishing
the credentials of Japan as a great nation. Now that the wheels have come
off the economic miracle, that pride and energy has to find another mode of
This cultural nationalism finding its expression in a slickly marketed,
venerable rock 'n' roller doesn't seem far-fetched to Tasker. "In a
media-saturated, celebrity-obsessed society, politics melds into showbiz,
and showbiz melds into politics. These days to be a successful nationalist,
you can't be some po-faced theoretician. You have to be a brand, as Pim
Fortuyn was in Holland."
Tasker is also critical of US policy-makers for becoming so closely
identified as advocates of Koizumi's potentially devastating economic-reform
policies. "There's always been a predilection for conspiracy theories here,
and that the US is pushing Koizumi to crash-land the economy in order to
benefit vulture funds is a view now heard from normally quite sensible
people, businessmen and mainstream politicians."
In Dragon Dance, celebrity demagogue Nozawa paints the US as a bully
thwarting Japan's destiny. Whether that destiny leads to (literally) violent
shifts within Japan and to China ascending as the major power in the
region - and the most trusted one internationally - is a major focus of the
book. It's not a bad focus for policy-makers in Japan and across the globe
either; Tasker's novel provides one frighteningly reasonable and readable
scenario to ponder.
Dragon Dance, by Peter Tasker, Kondansha America, 2002, New York. ISBN:
4-7700-2948-9. Price: US$22.95, 272 pages.
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