THE RIGHTS AND WRONGS OF RISING SUN Michael Crichton's hot new thriller is a thought-provoking, if lurid, economic call to arms against Japan. But don't take it as gospel.
By CARLA RAPOPORT CARLA RAPOPORT covered Japan for FORTUNE in Tokyo until 1991. She is now our bureau chief in London.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – You've finally done it. After years of lobbying, you're about to open your company's first Tokyo office. The bags are packed, and you're having a sayonara cocktail party with the neighbors. Suddenly the phone rings. It's the boss. ''Forget Tokyo, Cruikshank. I've just finished Michael Crichton's new book. It's all there. Japan is closed; don't waste your time. This book is on the money -- it even has a bibliography of all those Japan books you keep telling me to read. Go open that second factory in Singapore instead. Weather's better anyway.'' If there was ever a time to stand up to Ms. Big, this is it. But after holding your ground, Cruikshank, do tuck Crichton's Rising Sun (Knopf, $22) into your carry-on luggage. This thriller is full of golden nuggets about Japan. The trick is sorting out the nuggets from the rubbish. A snazzy and successful suspense writer (The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park), Crichton has this time woven a political-economic polemic on Japan into a detective novel laced with kinky sex and high-tech skulduggery. The heart of the mystery: Who killed a beautiful woman whose corpse is discovered on the conference table of the U.S. headquarters of a Japanese company? But never mind who done it. As you quickly discover, Crichton's real villain is Japan and its business practices. As a police officer observes at one point: ''This country is in a war and some people understand it and some people are siding with the enemy.'' From my observation, Crichton's basic depiction of what U.S. business is up against in its battles at home and abroad with Japanese competitors is basically correct. His tales of Japan's dumping tactics, predatory pricing strategies, keiretsu business alliances, and kaizen management techniques all ring true. If anything, he doesn't hit Japan's own brand of racism hard enough. Pay particular attention to the sayings of John Connor, an old Japan hand and retired cop brought in to guide the book's narrator -- one Peter Smith -- through the inscrutable intricacies of this case. Connor's tips on business etiquette and the Japanese approach to truth are better than a shelfful of Guides to Doing Business in Japan. But Crichton ultimately comes off as way too overawed and defeatist about the prowess of Japan Inc. One character ladles out this dubious advice: ''Most other countries have given up ((on Japan)): Germans, Italians, French. Everybody's getting tired of trying to do business in Japan . . . Japan is closed.'' Try telling that to the slew of American companies, including Coca- Cola and IBM, that have been earning big money in Japan in recent years. As for Germany, Japan has been one of its fastest-growing export markets for cars for some time. Italy even runs a trade surplus with Japan. In another episode, one of Crichton's Japan watchers observes that Japan may be setting up a rival to CNN: ''If past history is any guide . . . Kiss the American media goodbye.'' Oh, c'mon, Michael. We're really going to turn off Wolf Blitzer and tune into Yamamoto-san at the Pentagon? Other howlers: Montana and Wyoming are turning into vast Japanese cowboy ranches, Japanese keiretsu will stop at nothing to sabotage one another in overseas markets (if only they would), and scandal is the best way to unseat a rival in Japan. That last one will surely amuse Kiichi Miyazawa, who resigned his cabinet post over the Recruit scandal in 1988 -- and is now Japan's Prime Minister. One blooper gave me a particular thrill, since it was based on my reporting. In 1986 a European Community contact in Tokyo passed me a document written by a Japanese safety and standards body. It proposed a new ski safety standard, which no import could meet, because Japanese snow supposedly was different from snow elsewhere. The story ran on page one of my then employer, the Financial Times, and subsequently around the world. It also turns up in Rising Sun. What Crichton fails to mention is that the proposal was quickly dropped. I raise this not because I want a slice of Crichton's fee from Universal -- or whichever non-Japanese-owned studio makes the movie this book is sure to become -- but because it's important to remind people they can blow the whistle on the Japanese. While the ski issue was quickly resolved, lots of other equally ludicrous rules have kept foreign goods out of Japan. If that happens to you, try wandering over to the Tokyo Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Yurakucho. You'll get a warm welcome -- and may even win your case. I have no problem with Crichton's main point, which is to stop selling off American high technology to the Japanese. I just wish he hadn't felt compelled to paint the Japan-U.S. relationship as starkly as the book's main sex act. Only one side is getting screwed, Crichton relentlessly insists, and that side is not Japan. At times this insistence crosses the line into hatemongering. During my stint in Japan I was always seeking answers to two queries. First, are the Japanese better, or do they cheat? And second, are they changing? The answer to the latter, based on my six years of reporting, is no, not in my lifetime. The answer to the former is harder. They are better organized and more committed, not necessarily to our downfall but to their own success. Read Karel van Wolferen's Enigma of Japanese Power or Clyde Prestowitz's Trading Places -- two of Crichton's main sources -- for a fuller and more balanced picture. AS FOR CHEATING, let's not forget that only 100 years ago -- in the days of the lumber, oil, steel, and railroad barons -- ruthlessly crushing the competition was also a fine American business tradition. We have cleaned up our act, and it's time to force the Japanese to do the same. But that's no reason to write them off as devils.

BOX:

EXCERPT: ''The Japanese think strategically . . . Business is like warfare to them. Gaining ground. Wiping out the competition . . .That's what they've been doing for the last 30 years.''