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May 16, 1993|CHARLES SOLOMON

IN THE REALM OF A DYING EMPEROR: Japan at Century's End by Norma Field (Vintage: $12; 280 pp.). The daughter of an American father and a Japanese mother, Field blends personal reminiscence with an examination of the role of dissent in a conformist society. She focuses on the legal and political controversies surrounding three individuals who dared to suggest that the sacrosanct Emperor Hirohito might bear some responsibility for crimes committed during World War II: an Okinawan businessman who burned a rising sun flag at a public ceremony, a housewife who sought to have her husband's ashes removed from a Shinto memorial, and the popular mayor of Nagasaki who questioned the Emperor's role in his annual peace message. Field uncovers hidden reservoirs of resentment, anger and grief beneath the unruffled surface of traditional manners, and suggests a more individualistic mentality is beginning to challenge the rigid tenets of Japanese society.

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