Sheldon Garon studies modern and contemporary Japan, with research interests in relationships between state and society, the links between culture and popular economic behavior, and locating Japan within a global or transnational history of ideas and institutions. Born and raised in northern Minnesota, he graduated from the University of Minnesota (1973) and went on to receive a master's degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard (1975) and a Ph.D. in history from Yale (1981). In his first book, The State and Labor in Modern Japan (1987), Garon uses the labor movement in Japan as a lens to examine the country's rapid transition, beginning in the late 19th century, from oligarchic rule to interwar democracy, wartime fascism, and the present postwar order. In Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (1997), Garon analyzes the modern Japanese state's remarkable success at mobilizing its people to act in the interests of prosperity and stability, for instance by holding down welfare costs, saving significant portions of their incomes, and helping to curb religious cults. The book offers new historical explanations for Japan's postwar economic miracle and the nation's current reluctance to embrace American-style deregulation and consumerism.
In his current book project, Professor Garon continues to study the impact of state-directed moral suasion on popular behavior. Fashioning a Culture of Thrift: Promoting Saving in Japan and the World is a comparative history of various governments efforts to encourage saving among their citizens. Comparing Japan with the United States and several European and Asian nations, Garon argues that in their high rates of saving and cautious approach to consumption, continental European countries have much in common with Japan and South Korea, and it is the Americans who are exceptional. Professor Garon is also coediting a collection of essays, Consumer Culture and Its Discontents, that examines ambivalence toward American-style consumer culture in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, and Europe.
Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves (Princeton University Press, 2012).
Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (Princeton University Press, 1997).
The State and Labor in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 1987).
The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia, Europe, and America (Cornell University Press, 2006).