Japan's continuing importance should not need restating, but its future prospects aren't so clear. Serious questions need to be asked about the direction and policies being pursued by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

An important new book, "Rethinking Japan: The Politics of Contested Nationalism," by two senior British scholars of Japan discusses the main contentious issues. Their worrying conclusion is that "the new Japan that is emerging ... will be more controlled, less democratic, less oriented toward peace, more internationally assertive, more inclined to confront neighboring countries, more unequal, more stressed, more concerned to flaunt national traditions reflecting the ethos of a militaristic past, more inward looking and less internationalist than the world became used to in the postwar years."

This is a disturbing conclusion. How far is it justified? The authors, after outlining the political history of Japan since the war, discuss in some depth the changes wrought in Japan's political system by electoral reform and the decline of the factions (habatsu). They draw particular attention to the growing strength of right-wing nationalism in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and stress the importance for Japan of success being achieved by Abenomics.