After World War II, Japan spent decades propelling itself to the summit of economic and technological achievement – for what, demands writer and psychiatrist Otohiko Kaga. Approximately 30,000 Japanese a year commit suicide; a million suffer from clinical depression.
Writing in Shukan Post (Oct 22), Kaga, 81, proposes for this frequently noted anomaly an unexpected explanation. Sixty-five years of postwar progress and economic triumph have not altered – but may even have deepened – a fatal flaw in Japan’s circumstances, namely its virtual colonial dependence on its former occupier, the United States.
If anyone had doubted it before, it’s harder to do so now in the wake of the rather blunt way Japan was put in its place this summer, when the now-defunct Hatoyama administration sought to revise terms governing the relocation of a U.S. air base in Okinawa. The existence of foreign military bases itself symbolizes an ongoing occupation, in fact if not in name. Does no one protest? No, laments Kaga, no one does, apart from those living in the bases’ immediate proximity – the protesting impulse having evidently spent itself back in the furious 1960s and ‘70s. What’s left, he says, is the resignation of despair.
The occupation is not just military, in his view, but economic – witness Japan’s economic paralysis on the heels of the American “subprime” crisis and “Lehman shock.”
Another symptom, more ubiquitous and in a sense more insidious, though more often thought of with a smile than a shudder, is that bane of so many English-speaking foreigners here, “katakana English.”
Are we still on the same subject? We are, for “people who lose their sensitivity to language,” says Kaga, “become empty-headed.” Case in point: politicians who “pepper their speeches with katakana English to show off their erudition.”
There are any number of examples he could have raised to demonstrate the grating ugliness of this verbal tic; he confines himself to one: "Sky Tree," the new broadcasting tower now under construction in Tokyo.
Imagine “Japanese, the language of the [11th-century] 'Tale of Genji,' the language of the [8th-century poetry anthology] Manyoshu, so rich in native expressions,” stooping to such a “banal name” for the nation’s tallest architectural structure!
“Sky Tree,” to Kaga, suggests nothing so much as loss of pride, which helps account for the despair he notes at the outset of his article. Think of cleansing the language, he says, as “a first step toward making this unhappy country happy.”© Japan Today