Is Japan Today the Future of the West?

Tokyo Nightlife
Tokyo Night 8 – Frank Peter Lohoff (2007)

While the West struggles with its absence of meaningful culture and asks whether hipsters represent the end of western civilization, Japan may already be ahead of the curve in the realm of stagnation and decay.

Feelings of alienation and pessimism abound in Japan in spite of the “cool” cachet the Japanese have in the West thanks to the Harajuku Girls and films like Lost in Translation. The new youth see little hope for a better future and little meaning in the present. As hipsters of the west find irony to be an almost bankrupt currency after two decades of use, the Japanese have already graduated to retreating to virtual reality and suicide pacts.

Roland Kelts takes a deeper look at Japan and its cultural crisis in We Grew Up Too Comfortable to Take Risks:

The combined effect of this assault on the global consciousness is a vision of a contemporary Japan exploding with energy, inventiveness, color and light – qualities we generally ascribe to youthfulness: actually being young, or perpetually feeling that way. Many foreigners see in today’s Japan the face of the future.

But inside the country, specters of darker hues shadow the horizon: an aging population and a declining or stagnant birthrate; an expanding class of young, part-time workers (freeters) with checkered resumes and scant skills; and so-called NEETs (“Not in Employment, Education or Training”), with their CVs and skill sets suspended in mid-youth. Stories of pathological young shut-ins (hikikomori), who withdraw into their bedrooms and virtual worlds to avoid the real one, and internet suicide pacts, through which young loners meet one another online in order to kill themselves in the bricks-and-mortar world, have begun haunting headlines at home and abroad.

“There doesn’t seem to be much optimism,” says literary translator, author and University of Tokyo professor Motoyuki Shibata. Shibata’s current classes are made up of what he calls “the first generation in modern Japan to grow up without the sense that things would get better.”

“We’re the risk-averse generation,” a 20-year-old female student at the University of Tokyo explained to me. “We grew up too comfortable to take risks.”

Read the rest of the article at this link.


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3 Responses to Is Japan Today the Future of the West?

  1. vodkasoda says:

    Roland Kelts’ study of Japan appears in his book “Japanamerica”:

  2. vodkasoda says:

    The photo above is by Frank-Peter Lohoff. Here’s his profile:

    http://www.lightstalkers.org/frank_peter_lohoff

  3. Mike says:

    Those wacky Japanese.

    I don’t think we’re very far behind. In a lot of respects we’re already there. One of my oldest friends has gone hikikomori on it – I try to visit him every now and then to snap him out of it; but we usually just end up getting drunk and having a laugh.

    I loved Lost in Translation. It both moved and tickled me, and it’s the only romantic comedy I’ll admit to having seen and enjoyed to my mates. Thanks to Bill Murray for that.

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