Ominous demographic trends, ineffective governance, the not-if-but-when prospect of another devastating earthquake ... the litany of topics addressed by "Japan: The Precarious Future" will already be familiar to readers of this newspaper. A collection of essays from specialists in relevant fields, the book offers a sobering one-volume summary of where Japan stands — or rather, stood a couple of years ago. Chapters were written between 2012 and 2014, so its coverage of some fast-moving topics already feels outdated. This isn't the fault of the authors, of course, but since the book's forecast horizon was only three to five years into the future to begin with, time is not on its side.

Japan: The Precarious Future, Edited by Frank Baldwin and Anne Allison.
352 pages
New York university press, Nonfiction.

Fortunately, and despite its title, "Japan: The Precarious Future" offers more than just prognostication.

Each chapter functions as a full introduction to the topic it addresses, patiently rehearsing the relevant history and explaining how it fits into the larger picture of Japanese society. Some chapters are explicitly polemic, like Takahiro Fujimoto and Frank Baldwin's argument for a strong local manufacturing sector, while others are more philosophical, like Anne Allison's highly readable "Precarity and Hope" (a sort of distillation of her recent book "Precarious Japan"). The overall message that emerges is both hopeful and unsettling: Japan's problems are far from insurmountable — but big changes are needed, and time is running out.