The world's second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America as the leading global economic powerhouse. But the country failed to recover from the staggering economic collapse of the early 1990s. Today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends, notably a population of more than one million hikikomori: the young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society. There is also a growing numbers of “parasite singles”: single women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children.
In this trenchant investigation, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan's tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan's stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.
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Customer Rating: Summary: Neither a Detailed Case Study, Nor A Convincing General Explanation of Japan's Plight Comment: Foreign press correspondents who choose to write a book about Japan fall into two categories. Some start with a general idea and try to build a demonstration around that broad intuition - for example, that the economy will set into decline at the very time when it was booming (to borrow from Bill Emmott's The Sun Also Sets), or that Japan is run by an Iron Triangle that is hollow at the center (as Karel van Wolferen demonstrates). Others take a different approach and try to gather as much information as they can about a narrow subject - Tokyo underworld, for instance, or Japanese base-ball, or the plight of princess Masako.
Michael Zielenziger tries to combine the two approaches. He starts with the ordeal of the hikikomori, those youngsters who live in complete social isolation, shutting themselves away from the sun, closing their blinds, and refusing to leave the bedroom in their homes for months or even years at a time. He then broadens his topic to the fate of the whole nation, arguing that Japan has entered into depression mode and now faces gloomy prospects. He provides an interesting comparison with South Korea, where a vibrant civil society found the way to recover from a severe economic crisis.
Hikikomori are a problem that is specific to Japan. Those reclusive young adults, mostly men, suffer from what specialists call a social disorder, not from a mental illness that could be diagnosed and cured accordingly. Indeed, their plight find echoes in Japan's founding myths: according to the fable of Japan's creation, the sun-goddess Amaterasu once hid in a cave and plunged the world into darkness after her unruly brother ravaged the earth and despoiled her gardens and temples. Only through songs and merriment could she be coaxed from her deepest isolation. But modern recluses, often pampered by their over-protective mothers, have little incentive to leave their seclusion and face the society that often rejected them as teenagers.
What is the connexion between the sorry case of these individuals who seek refuge in the isolation of their room and the state of Japan as a nation? First, as a social disease, the hikikomori phenomenon must have social causes. The author hints at a few of them: the traumatism of war and defeat, which may revisit grand-children after having skipped one generation ; the lack of moral purpose and self-direction, when the pursuit of material wealth delivers emptiness rather than inner contentment ; the heavy conformism of a group-centered society that lacks tolerance for deviant characters ; the structure of dependence that, according to psychiatrist Takeo Doi, characterizes Japanese men's relation to their mother, etc.
At a deeper level, the author suggests that the absence of monotheism and the lack of a universal religion in Japanese culture may explain Japan's ethical relativism, the situational nature of its moral values, and the lack of compassion for victims. Elderly ladies have to fight their ways to find a seat in the metro, and homeless people camping rough in Ueno Park are usually fed hot soup by Korean Christians, not by native Japanese. I wish the author had developed this intuition a bit further and explained why, in contrast to Korea, Christianity never took hold in contemporary Japan. One obvious reason, judging by novels from Ayako Miura, Toyoko Yamazaki or Kappa Senoo, is that Christianity was considered as alien and anti-patriotic in Japan, whereas it became closely associated with the movement for independence and then with democratization in South Korea. But to my opinion, there is nothing intrinsic in Japanese culture that defies or rejects Christian beliefs, and Japanese make superb Christians. Anyway, a few pages on this topic would have been welcome.
So is Japan really a hikikomori nation? For Zielenziger, many Japanese behaviors can be attributed to the deepest desires of this island country just to be "left alone". Japan's isolation has not stopped with the end of the sakoku era and the opening of ports to foreign influences and exchange. Japan remains a closed society, admitting little strangers and forcing strong individuals to either conform or flee into exile. At the national level, America's embrace has the effect of barring the country from going out on its own and finding its place under the sun. But the author pushes the analogy too far, and provides a picture of Japan that is far too gloomy and pessimistic. His attempt at providing a detailed case study of a social phenomenon and to link it to a broader explanation at the macro level fails on both counts. In my opinion, Japanese contemporary novels or movies are better at capturing the zeitgeist than this journalistic account, and reading it to the end was by and large a waste of my time. Customer Rating: Summary: go live in Japan for a few years... Comment: and you will find this book tells the truth. I've been here a little over 2 years and I can vouch that many of the problems described in "Shutting Out the Sun" do exist. And rampantly.
Of course I teach English here (what else?!) and have had students tell me straight-up they sometimes use our lessons as psychiatric sessions. Why? Because they could never trouble their friends with their mental issues. It's easy and freeing to just unload them on some foreigner.
Another Japanese person I knew wanted to eat a rice ball on the train, while we were riding together. It took about 10 minutes of my prodding to get her to finally do it. Why wouldn't she? Because you aren't supposed to eat on the train. When she finally succumbed to her hunger she still kept looking all around the train, as if she were guilty of some heinous crime! I've also seen salaryman do this, even going so far as to hide the food in their briefcases then go in for timed attacks.
I couldn't imagine being myself, being Japanese and having to live in this society. It's no wonder half of these people decide to just say: "Screw this," and walk out. Whether physically or emotionally. Everyday it both infuriates me and breaks my heart. Customer Rating: Summary: An interesting insight into current Japanese trend and outlook Comment: I find this book to be very informative on the current trends of hikikomori and unmarried, young Japanese women, while providing a look at how these may have evolved. The details provided shows that the author has done tremendous research into Japanese culture, and I enjoyed learning what he comes to expect of Japanese culture.
Customer Rating: Summary: "We need more black ships" Comment: A back cover blurb calls Michael Zielenziger's book a "trenchant investigation." I think it's right on the mark. It's an invigorating mixture of shoe-leather reporting, social science and essay. Despite the title and initial focus on the 'hikikomori' phenomenon, the author makes informed observations and eye-opening conclusions about the country as a whole. It's a good companion piece to Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Modern Japan, a seminal look at the lack of accountability in the Japanese system.
I found myself dog-earing page after page. I especially liked Zielenziger's reporting on Masahisa Okuyama, the founder of the very un-Japanese-like KHJ, a support group for families of hikikomori. Zielenziger relates that Okuyama believes that only foreign pressure (applied by people like the author and this book) "will force Japan to seriously confront its own societal dysfunction." Okuyama likens Zielenziger and his fellow journalists to Commodore Perry and says "You foreign journalists are the most important black ships. We need more black ships."
On a grander scale, Zielenziger describes a country "careen(ing) off course precisely when the age of information, intelligence and flexible global production utterly disrupted a more rigid industrial order."
Exactly. Remember when the Japanese model was one that struck fear into the hearts of businessmen around the world and it was held out as something to emulate? So much for the that - the author vividly describes a new world order in which country after country leaves Japan behind. Of special note are a couple of excellent chapters comparing South Korea to Japan - of that country's day of reckoning with its IMF-induced chaebol defaults of the late 1990s and its people-induced transformation since then. Why could Korea accomplish what Japan could not? Zielenziger - a self-professed 'secular Jew' - builds a credible case that it's due to the deep roots of Christian faith in South Korea.
I spotted one whopper of an error in this otherwise excellent book - identifying an Enron protagonist as 'Jeffrey Fastow' (merging Jeff Skilling and Andy Fastow) - see p. 101 of the paperback.
Additionally, when writing of South Korea's '386 Generation,' Zielenziger assumes they're named as such due to their technical savvy, i.e., that the moniker refers to Intel's processor. While it's a play on that, the '386' number is a formula referring to those Koreans who were in their 30s when president Roh Moo Hyun was elected (the '3'), went to university in the eighties (the '8'), and were born in the sixties (the '6'). Customer Rating: Summary: Valuable though a flaw underestimating the economy Comment: A book review on
Shutting Out the Sun- How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation
by Michael Zielenziger
Since so-called bubble burst in the beginning of 1990s, Japan became to be surrounded by various problems the society had not experienced before. Prevalence of Hikikomori or depression found in wide range of generation from teenagers to 40s( which the author defines as adjustment disorder), brand name obsession and formation of gcult of brandh , population decrease and gwomb strikeh, increase of long-term unemployment and homelessness, and remarkable surge of committing suicide are those problems that are particularly conspicuous. Occurrence of those problems were partly born as a result of long lasted stagnation after bubble collapse. But many of them seem to be beyond such temporary phenomenon. Rather they are considered to be gadjustment disorderh of Japanese society itself, which is facing entirely new stage of the history different from relatively happy and easy time of gcatching uph.
With keen and uncompromising eye, which might be particularly possible for a foreign observer ,the author has taken up detail of those questions in a coherent way. Despite of some distortion caused by too much western thinking( a part of which is discussed below), his observation and analysis is deep and comprehensive enough. It is not giving any prescription to heal the malaise as the author himself admits, I can say, at least as diagnosis, the book has performed a good enough success. Not only I can recommend the book as a textbook introducing contemporary Japan to visitors, but also I recommend Japanese to read it in order to have basic and comprehensive understanding of the malaise we are now facing, though it is really bitter matter.
The book, however, could not be exempted from problems.
In particular, it has flaws in its methodological simplicity taken by the author, which has eventually caused underestimation of Japanese economy.
As such methodological simplicity, two points are especially important..
One is simple contradistinction between manufacturing based economy and service(or software) based economy. The author asserts that since contemporary economy had already become service-based economy, such a nation like Japan supported by manufacturing power only is losing momentum in the world economy. It is true that the significance of service industry in contemporary economy is ,getting more and more important. But it never means that present economy can run without manufacturing. Rather it should be a complex and sophisticated mixture of both sides of industry, which doubtlessly explains the very weakness of US economy troubled by the hollow industrialization and eventual trade deficit problem for these days. Japan, on the other hand, despite of her weakness in some service industry, is still gaining advantage in several manufacturing sectors as automobile, high-tech parts industry or even in wide area of steel production, which ,fortunately or unfortunately, helps Japanese conservatism to be maintained.
The next, and perhaps more serious, methodological flaws found in the author, might be his too simple contradistinction between collectivism and individualism. A stereotyped understanding about Japanese collectivism is [email protected] in his argument.
However, there are variety of collectivism in Japanese reality, different in how much the group teamwork respects individual role in the group, and in how much oppression it puts on each group member according to the lack of individual respect.
While there are very tight and inflexible type of collective work organization widely found in Japan, which more or less oppress individual freedom of each member and are rightly blamed by the author as causing Japanese problems in many ways, there are another type of teamwork in Japanese workshop, where each individual role is more respected though repeated and close communication linkage in the work is considered to be vital. Well-known Toyota system, particularly their QC system, where QC team work is going on through repeated suggestion given by each individual member and causing Toyotafs worldwide business success basically, might be typical example of such sort of flexible and dynamic collectivism. But effective working of more flexible working of this dynamic collectivism is not limited only in automobile industry. In many of highly sophisticated area of machinery parts production, such type of team production, called as gintegrated production systemh (compared with gmodule production systemh)by Prof. Fujimoto of the University of Tokyo, is widely found in Japan, which explains still sustained tough competitiveness of those Japanese industries.
Contradistinction between individualism and collectivism itself seems to have crucial flaws of reductionism . Both individual spontaneity and relationship with others are indispensable for all living. So that any organization of living people should have both of distinctive individualistic base and effective communicative linkage between members.
While many bad type Japanese business organization do lack individual base, some American counterpart might have problems of too much individualism devoid of necessary communication and teamwork among employees.
Another simplicity in the authorfs economics is found in his inclination to put different national economies in relatively simple antagonistic relation, though he has well enough understanding of the contemporary globalization. This simple approach bears a little danger of misperception when it is taken up regarding recent economic relation between China and Japan. Because both economy have enjoyed recent development mainly depending on close interwoven relationship, despite of chilly political relation going on synchronously.
Off course more outstanding is Chinese industrial development than Japanese. However, here more important, though sometime overlooked by superficial observers, is such rapid and skyrocketing industrial development of China could not be without depending on another skyrocketing importing of highly sophisticated parts mainly from Japan. Though I myself have written about the issue in the recent article*, I donft dare to quote them here because it might be too long. But such expansion of Japanese exporting to China ( Actually Japan is only one country who could have trade balance with China including Hong-Kong) not only stimulated Japanese industry but also contributed greatly to the recovery of recent Japanese economy as a whole.
*Kenji Tominomori Self-Organization of a New Economic Order Based on East Asian Quadrangle
Let me give one brief point here.
Chinese industrial success in recent years was enabled by mainly two factors. One is
foreign direct investment (main actor here is Taiwanese business), another is so-called module production system which is assembling production system based on separated commutable parts. As module production develops , it becomes more and more dependent on highly sophisticated parts which requires intimate integrated cooperation of various skilled workers. Japan still have great competitive advantage in this point.
Above analytical flaws naturally led the author to not a little underestimation of contemporary Japanese economy. The question here is how should we modify his principal and right arguments on Hikikomori or other structural malaise of present Japan , Especially to question whether recent economic recovery that has been not so much expected by Zielenziger is significantly contributing to solve gJapanese Malaiseh must be most crucial.
However, my answer to the question is basically negative. Hikikomori, depression and other adjustment disorder do not seem to have decreased meaningfully. Although recent economic recovery diminished unemployment rate slightly. Many of those unemployed for long months(or even over 3 years in not a little case) have not yet found next working chance due to closed nature of recruitment system of the business particularly for experienced(not new school graduates),which is causing such as increasing homeless or suicide commitment. gCult of brandh or gwomb strikeh are still as the author analyzed.
But yet economic recovery might be better than nothing, though it works to encourage recovery of conservatism to some extent on the other hand. Because economic recovery can supply energy source in tackling with problems only if the society has intention to do it.
The question here is how it could be. We need some affirmative discussion to arise on such way. Now I donft have any sufficient idea yet on the point. But several remarks I would give here for further discussion.
One thing is that western style solution could never work effectively here.
For example, so-called Koizumi reform that was greatly influenced by neo-classical school economists has not contributed in solving Japanese malaise, it rather worsened the problems. Advocating free labor market by them gave freehand for business to execute lay-off that had been a sort of taboo in Japan before. But whereas gexith only became liberalized ,hentryh still remained closed, which apparently worsened long term unemployment, the most serious root of many problems contained in Japanese malaise.
Instead of such western style way, reform based on Japanese virtue would be not only more possible but also more successful.
Dynamic and more flexible teamwork such as found in competitive industries like automobile or part production could be a way on this line. This type of teamwork is more based on individual spontaneity actively raising suggestions to the relevant team. Thus it differs greatly from tight and inflexible collectivism oppressing individual team member. As such teamwork developed in those industries facing with fierce global competition , openness and free competition toward global market may be indispensable for hopeful prevalence of the system.