Alex Kerr’s Dogs and Demons is a seminal study of how the combination of bureaucrats, politicians and business interest can use self-interest to destroy the future of a country. That country is Japan. Kerr’s account is poignant, incisive, brutal and beautiful at the same time. He draws upon both ancient and modern Japan to paint a picture of a country without zoning or sign control, pollution regulation, a country which has destroyed its forest, rivers, and sea coast. Kyoto is transformed from the ancient city spared by the American bombers in World War II into a shabby, trashy city with ugly apartment blocks, bulldozing the green spaces, and tearing down the ancient wood houses that once defined Kyoto. The allied bombers would not have done a better job. Kerr takes the reader through the inside world of inside dealing where civil servants and big businesses work together, share ownership, and control over budgets and resources. The stench of corruption rises from these relationships and the damage done from the conflict of interest is difficult to calculate.
Kerr describes the elite’s war on nature in Japan:
“Take the ideology of ‘An Archipelago of Disasters’ and marry it to ‘Total Dediction.’ Sweeten the match with dowry in form of rich proceeds to politicians and bureaucrats. Glorify it with the government-paid propaganda singing the praises of dam and road builders. The result is an assault on the landscape that verges on mania; there is an unstoppable extremism at work that is reminiscent of Japan’s military buildup before World War II. Nature, which ‘wreaks havoc’ on Japan, is the enemy, which rivers in particular seen as the ‘true ban of Japanese life,’ and all the forces of the modern state are made to focus on eradicating nature’s threats.”
This is an angry, elegant, compelling book; rich in persuasive detail and antidote. Kerr has spent more than 30 years in Japan. He started as a schoolboy. His fluency in Japanese is unrivalled by all but a handful of foreigners; his passion, insight, and dedication to Japan matched by none. If you wish to have your eyes opened to the inside, secret Japan and what has happened in that country since World War II, this is the perfect book. It will be impossible to close your eyes to the reality once you’ve read it. The book has caused a storm of controversy in Japan. And Kerr is frequently asked to speak before various groups, public and private, as he was the first to ring the alarm bell.