Christopher Harding opens his comprehensive new history of Japan with the image of the novelist Jakucho Setouchi placed on the psychiatrist’s couch in the mid-1960s by Heisaku Kosawa, a pioneering figure in the introduction of Freudian psychoanalysis to Japan.

The reception — lukewarm as it was — of psychoanalysis in Japan is a specialist topic of Harding’s, one that he infuses at intervals into this stylish history of modern Japan, as if placing the nation itself on the psychiatrist’s couch and sagely taking notes on the national narrative. Sometimes with spectacular success, other times unleashing the monsters of hell, Japan has neurotically struggled to cope with the demon of “modernity” over the past 150 years.

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