The Outnation

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In THE OUTNATION, journalist Jonathan Rauch suggests that Westerners in general and Americans in particular have misjudged Japan and her residents in too many ways not to merit his protests. Like St. Paul in the New Testament, he finds himself looking through a glass darkly, only to experience a sudden illumination that transforms his understanding of the alien world he daily surveys.

To Rauch, Western apprehension of the way Japan operates is best illustrated by the analogy of the three blind men and the elephant, each of the men touching a different part of the animal and each assuming he knows the whole animal. The blind ones, of course, represent Westerners who, having some passing or even long-term exposure to Japanese society, have yet to capture its essence.

Rauch, however, for all his pains and for all his striking revelations of what Japan is all about, must wrestle with the same dilemma: how to describe a large island nation next to none in world prestige and economic power that believes itself to be something entirely different—small, ignored by the world and vulnerable, a nation at the mercy of foreigners.

Rauch tries to get at the myths Westerners have either invented or borrowed from the Japanese and in so doing comes up with some striking findings, the chief of which seems to be that it depends which Japanese you talk to: some will go along with the Western idea of Japan as a two-tiered society which crushes individualityin headlong pursuit of corporate success, while others find Japan to be a fair, open, democratic, caring society. Thus, Japan remains an enigma even to the Japanese themselves, and Rauch realizes how futile is his attempt to decode her essential mystery.