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'Japan has no future' is a widespread if not universal feeling

28 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

In 1975 the monthly magazine Bungei Shunju published an essay provocatively titled “Japan’s Suicide,” written by a scholarly group provocatively named “Group 1984.”

The postwar years had been good to Japan. From rubble to “economic miracle,” symbolized by the shinkansen and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, had been a giant leap. The next decade brought shadows. There was the “Nixon shock” in 1971, the “oil shock” of 1973; the air was toxic, and some began to wonder, “Are the good times over?”

Still, Group 1984’s forebodings seemed extreme. Suicide? Quite the contrary, said prevailing opinion. If any country seemed moribund it was the U.S., not Japan. Postwar Japan was young; the U.S. – mired in Vietnam, wracked by dissent – prematurely old. The West as a whole saw its sun setting. The East, Japan at its head, confident and disciplined, would shape the future.

Japan’s 1980s were euphoric. The nation had the golden touch. It was positively frothy with high spirits. Japanese electronics, Japanese cars, Japanese food, Japanese manga – the world couldn’t get enough of things Japanese. And Japan couldn’t get enough of the world. Young people in particular, flush with cash from a swelling bubble economy, traveled abroad, carried foreign brand name bags, decked themselves in foreign fashions, drank imported wines. 1984 came and went, scarcely noticed.

Bungei Chonju’s essay languished, forgotten. In 2012 the magazine reprinted it. Things had changed. Maybe everything had. The 1990s brought the party to a close. The bubble burst. Japan reeled. Strapped corporations froze hiring. College graduates got stuck with part-time jobs on part-time pay – for life in many cases. Worse was to come. 2011 brought nuclear meltdown. What had gone wrong? What hadn’t?

In its last issue of 2022 Bungei Shunju revisits the theme of “Japan’s suicide.” Only now it’s not just Japan. The entire world seems to be committing suicide.

The most pressing problems Japan faces are global. Democracy founders, autocracy rises. Peace gives way to war – as in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – or warlike preparations, as military budgets soar, Japan’s included, in response to rising fears of something apocalyptic – “1984”-like – just around the corner. Then there’s global warming, a suicidal predicament if ever there was one, no timely solution in plain sight.

Bungei Shunju sees an analogy in the fall of Rome to barbarians in the 5th century AD. Japan’s 1980s were in its view the modern equivalent of Roman “bread and circuses” – keep the masses sated and bloated on cheap entertainment while things spin out of control into unheeded ruin. The warning it sounded 47 years ago resonates now, perhaps, as it failed to then. 

“Japan has no future” is a widespread if not universal feeling, the magazine finds. One-third of its population is elderly, one-third of its work force part-time. We told you so, Bungei Shunju says in effect. Viewing the ’80s with hindsight as it had earlier viewed them with foresight, it sees the exuberance of the time as disease in germ. Mass culture it declares fun but empty, reducing thought to impulse, joy to speed, music to noise. Mass production gave everybody everything, mass consumption generated a “culture of disposability” that corroded appreciation and, incidentally, manifested itself in the workplace in the form of workers themselves becoming “disposable” goods, hired as needed, laid off when not.

Japanese democracy had something “fake” about it from the start, the magazine alleges. A one-size-fits-all education favored the average at the expense of the gifted and the challenged. Be like everyone else or rot, was the implicit message. One-party rule, all but unbroken since 1955, heightens the impression of conformity – or indifference – triumphant.

The 1970s and ’80s were proud decades. The postwar ambition to catch up to the U.S. economically grew bolder still – why not be number one? The eminent American scholar Ezra Vogel saw it happening as early as 1979. His bestseller of that year, “Japan as Number One,” was subtitled, “Lessons for America.” The teacher-disciple relationship seemed on the point of being reversed.

How Japan went from there to here is a question to engage future scholars for decades. For now, Bungei Shunju wonders how – or whether – Japan can reverse its decline. The prognosis is not good. The immediate postwar period was worse but the nation was young. The young then are today’s old. The young generation dwindles steadily, numerically speaking. Times are changing drastically, and the youthful vigor that thrives on change is not in evidence. Might advanced technology – robots, artificial intelligence and the like – fill the vacuum? Some hope it will, but Bungei Shunju is doubtful. It may well raise productivity, it says, but is likelier still to throw masses of people out of work. Who, in that case, will be the consumers?

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

28 Comments
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It has a future, just a bleak one.

Japan is basically on the downward path to the poor country it was before the economic bubble of the 80s and 90s.

Reversing the stagnation of the already poor salaries would go a long way in turning the country around, but of course, this will never happen. So people will stop having kids, stop buying expensive items, etc..

Japan is even no longer an appealing destination for people from poor countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. They are just trading one poor country with bad working practices for another....and at least they get treated like human beings back home!

-9 ( +14 / -23 )

Sad to see that the post-war young generation, while succeeding in booting out people like Kishi back in the sixties are not only now in their eighties and at the end of the rope, but are in that very position because they spent the 60 years in-between supporting their LDP who got them there...

The writing was on the wall for a whopping sixty years of scandals of all sorts and sizes. It's one of these what goes around comes around type of stories with the public/voters playing the part of the dimwitted fall guys...

Sad, real sad.

-10 ( +8 / -18 )

No future when you see every election Japanese choose same party over and over again while complaining.

-1 ( +15 / -16 )

Japan has no future' is a widespread if not universal feeling.

Yeah along with the rest of the world if we continue down our current collective path.

2 ( +12 / -10 )

There can be no future for Japan without China in the equation.

-18 ( +6 / -24 )

If they remove the rot of the LDP and their civil servant cronies, force retirement on any politician ofr public servant over 65 and there may be some shoots of change. Whilst the LDP remains in power nothing will change and the current 250% debt to GDP (highest in the world) will only get bigger!

7 ( +13 / -6 )

In my many travels to Japan I have compared it to a beehive. Worker bees dedicated to the 'collective', without the freedom of independent thought. And we all know - at least those of us who appreciate apiarists' work - what is happening to the world's beehives.

0 ( +10 / -10 )

To be honest don't know if Japan or the world ever had a future. We are all serfs at the end of the day. Always was and always will be.

-3 ( +9 / -12 )

@tora I agree with your post! We come we go, we never know!!!

To be honest don't know if Japan or the world ever had a future. We are all serfs at the end of the day. Always was and always will be.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

The only thing Orwell got wrong was the date.

Japan has more of a future than Brexit Britain, which is undeveloping at a rate of knots. If you are an ex pat Brit, you are better off staying in Japan.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

“Japan has no future” is a widespread if not universal feeling, the magazine finds.

Good to know that I'm not the only one that thinks that. But talking to many Japanese people the feeling is the same.

One-third of its population is elderly, one-third of its work force part-time. 

That means that one third are full time workers. And people wonder why the economy is hurting?

Japanese democracy had something “fake” about it from the start, the magazine alleges.

Absolutely.

A one-size-fits-all education favored the average at the expense of the gifted and the challenged. Be like everyone else or rot, was the implicit message.

In a society where the gifted can't shine and the challenged can't get the help they need, there will be so many left behind making Japan uncompetitive on the world stage.

One-party rule, all but unbroken since 1955, heightens the impression of conformity – or indifference – triumphant.

Hence the reason " Japanese democracy had something “fake” about it " notion

No future when you see every election Japanese choose same party over and over again while complaining.

Exactly.

To be honest don't know if Japan or the world ever had a future. We are all serfs at the end of the day. Always was and always will be.

Good point

David had the best point though.

Japan is basically on the downward path to the poor country it was before the economic bubble of the 80s and 90s.

And it seems that acceleration on the downward path is the trend.

Reversing the stagnation of the already poor salaries would go a long way in turning the country around, but of course, this will never happen. So people will stop having kids, stop buying expensive items, etc..

My opinion is that people here have more or less given up and are resigned to their fate. That's the feeling I get.

Japan is even no longer an appealing destination for people from poor countries like Vietnam and Cambodia. They are just trading one poor country with bad working practices for another....and at least they get treated like human beings back home!

Exactly. No one is coming here anymore. It's very telling when you can't even attract people from severely underdeveloped nations to come and work for you, and from what I'm hearing, the English teachers are also packing up and going home. The general consensus being the inflation is not just a blip but the canary in the coal mine warning of dire days ahead

-5 ( +9 / -14 )

Japan had benefits that other large economies didn't during its heyday:

Easy access to western markets, especially the US market

Low expenditure on military during the Cold War

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The whole world has probably always been on this path, but more access to information has helped us all see how bad it all really is. We are all slaves to wealth hoarders and the ruling class. They own all the houses we rent, control how much money we get for our toiling in their Satanic Mills and then decide how much they'll take back through taxes, rent and setting food, fuel etc prices. Even if you own your house you're really just renting it from the bank and the land from your government. Back in the naive times people thought robots and AI would help humanity, but just like this article mentions it's just going to put people out of their jobs. It's automating things the rich don't want to do and the rest of us can just die. That's the way it's always been.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

How do Japanese feel about the Plaza Accord sending Japan's economy into long-standing doldrums?

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Millions of people from all parts of the world wants to come to work, live in Japan, but there are so many restrictions that there are less than 3 million foreigners living in Japan. Japanese population must seriously think about the future of the country, despite being so safe, so secure, why most couples hesitate to have children, to grow their families? Open the doors to immigrants may boost the population and create a new Japan for the future generations, more connected to the world instead of being an isolated island.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I find myself in agreement with nearly all posts or reaction by Amy Rustin concerning Japans society and economy.

Japan has past the point of no return and is beyond recovery. It is a socialist state where government keeps all the non performing mastodont holdings alive. Toshiba a case in point but just one of many.

I left having no intention to go down with the ship.

the biggest problem is denying reality, ignoring facts and cheating on just about everything. Even on clams as it appeared in a jt article a few days back.

i would advice all foreigners except those married to a Japanese to get a one way ticket out

-6 ( +5 / -11 )

People have been lamenting the present, and foreboding the future, for thousands of years. Sometimes it is warranted, sometimes it is not. I still prefer my lot to what it probably would have been long ago.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If a society is going to collapse/enter extremely choppy waters, I'd still rather be in Japan than in many other countries I could name, including all the other 6 members of the so-called G7.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Any society in which the members are famous for hard work and high education levels has a future.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

It's a shame the future is measured by increasing the population and material wealth. I just finished watching a Japanese youtuber handmake a pair of leather boots, was amazing to watch his skill and the care he took in a single item that would be cherished by the future owner for years to come.

Hopefully the cram school, peer pressure and safe corporate stooge days are over and a more independent and creative future awaits Japan.

The craftsmen built japan but it has stagnated under the corpocracy that exists now.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Japan might be sinking (chimbotsu), i.e., in decline, but it's garbage to say it is committing suicide.

Everyone who understands sustainability says life as currently lived in rich countries is unsustainable, so its all going to change anyway. Things that are "unsustainable" don't get "sustained".

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

That means that one third are full time workers. And people wonder why the economy is hurting?

No, that does not mean a third are full time workers. The economy is hurting but not based on that calculation, lol!

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

The most pressing problems Japan faces are global. Democracy founders, autocracy rises. Peace gives way to war – as in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – or warlike preparations, as military budgets soar, Japan’s included, in response to rising fears of something apocalyptic – “1984”-like – just around the corner. Then there’s global warming, a suicidal predicament if ever there was one, no timely solution in plain sight.

This could itself been written by the global death cult. Every single tick on this check list of doom is nothing new.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japan seems more and more isolated, broken and unable to fix itself.

Each time there is some crisis in the country, the country just remains broken, with rushed actions that just make things worse.

The bubble left the country with Zombie companies, that continue to get funds from the government, even though they have been non profitable for decades.

The Fukushima Disaster left nuclear power and energy policy in the country in a limbo, not really getting rid of it, but not bringing it back at all, with no real direction where energy policy will go, and just paying for plants for more than a decade that are just not being used at all.

The measures for the covid pandemic destroyed the country's booming tourism industry and left the country with crippling anxiety. Kids in junior high or senor high are about to graduate without ever knowing the faces of their teachers or fellow students. Now they feel embarrassed about removing their masks, and everywhere you go, even alone in the woods, people continue to wear masks.

Revenue of the central government is in an all-time high, but somehow money isn't enough, rising taxes with an stagnated income per capita means that the quality of life in Japan continues to go down every year.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

I never saw "the eminent American scholar Ezra Vogel," author "Japan as Number One," as particularly eminent or insightful. Rather he was a dogmatic grandstander who refused to see gravel problems undermining Japan's prosperity.

I focused on what I new best--the then vaunted Japanese schooling system--and as an educator saw it's short comings. It was a mentally (and often physically) violent system that centered on a particular robotic student and ignored the rest. There was a correlative of opposites, the austere pupil on one hand and the devil-may-case consumer on the other. The families and university students were partners in sloth: Mom and dad and the kids spent lavishly and the university student slept his and her life away in class. The corporations spent most lavishly on prestige items like Pebble Beach.

Hubris, like drunkenness, has to meet a crashing end. And it did. Welcome to the long hangover.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I forgot to mention the LDP, the ipso facto lords (and a small number of ladies) of this monopoly of power. In a few words, they have proven themselves ineffective in solving the economic disasters of the 90s and 2000s.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

One more thought. The revival of the Socialist Party would do a great deal to spur genuine debate. Then the LDP would get the grilling it deserved. Much sloth and corruption would be laid bare for the Japanese public to see and to protest. The lost generation of workers left to part-time jobs or no jobs at all. Tohoku and disastrous nuclear power schemes. And the danger of the Moonies who have had a free hand in hurting too many people. And--the current mindless military buildup. We need an opposition party with teeth to save Japan.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

No, that does not mean a third are full time workers.

do the math

The economy is hurting but not based on that calculation, lol!

The economy is not hurting. It’s screwed

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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