The Guardian, the British newspaper, once again visits the “troublesome” problem of sex (actually the lack thereof…) in modern Japan.
As with hikikomori, young Japanese are finding social contact increasingly difficult and “bothersome.” Is it any wonder the country’s population is sinking….?
Kudos (or omedeto) to Larissa MacFarquhar for a compelling piece in the New Yorker this week on Ittetsu Nemoto, a Buddhist priest who counsels hikikomori and other Japanese contemplating suicide. She has touched on many of the same themes I wrestled with in Shutting Out the Sun.
The piece can be found here:
Nothing has been so tragic about Japan’s “plight” in the last decade than the fitful mental health of Princess Masako, the Harvard-educated beauty who so beautifully personified Japan’s possibilities — and potential openness to the outside world — until being afflicted by a series of undisclosed “disorders” that have largely kept her from public view.
I have long assumed that Masako-sama suffered some sort of emotional breakdown after being finding herself “trapped” inside the maze of secrecy run by the Imperial Household Agency. Instead of being a potentially influence senior diplomat, she is, instead, sidelined as a “silent spouse” to the Crown Prince.
So it is worth noting that Kyoto News agency reports that, on her 49th birthday, the princess says “she is making efforts to recover with support from doctors and the public.”
You can read the full report here:
Like the social isolated hikikomori who have been the focus of much of my past work, Masako is another “victim” of the deeply embedded confinement of Japanese society.
The Washington Post carried a post this weekend suggesting the “last optimists” in Japan were finally abandoning ship. You can read the piece here:
Alas, the key “cog” in this piece is Jesper Koll, a long-term resident of Tokyo who says: “If you speak optimistically about Japan, nobody even believes it. They say, ‘Oh, in 600 years there will be 480 Japanese people left. The Japanese are dying out and debt is piling up for future generations.’ Japan is an easy whipping boy.”
Alas, what the Post doesn’t point out is that Koll and other “professional” foreigners who live in Japan and work in the financial sector are PAID to be optimistic about Japan. There is no equity market for foreign investors in Japan unless someone makes a “bull” case. Koll and Kathy Matsui, for many years the chief “gaijin handler” for Goldman Sachs, could make predictably optimistic (and flawed) assumptions about Japan for years and years without ever being “called to account.”
My favorite of these constructions is that “Japan is turning the corner.” That being the longest corner ever recorded…!
The reality –as the Post is finally learning to accept — is quite a bit more downbeat. But we covered that in our book. The Post reviewed the book when it was published. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/09/18/AR2006091801192.html
Maybe writers assigned to Japan should read it, too.
Shutting Out the Sun has been in print since 2006, but except for the names of new Prime Ministers and the shocking devastation (and subsequent malfeasance) triggered by the earthquake and tsunami of 3/11, little of the malaise that I wrote about more than a half decade ago has really experienced fundamental change.
That’s unfortunate for the world, and, alas, too bad for Japan.
But, you know, it’s hard to keep recycling negative news…So mostly I’ve moved on to tackle other issues primarily. For a while I worked on issues related to China and innovation for the Monitor Group, as recently I’ve become Managing Editor/Thought Leadership for the UK-based Oxford Economics group. http://www.oxfordeconomics.com.
But as time and temperament permit, I’ll try to add some thoughts here to the latest issues and my concerns about Asia and Japan.