December 15, 2009


Japanese Obsessions (ROGER COHEN, 12/15/09, NY Times)

our factors have contributed to this: wealth, postmodernism, conformism and despair. Japan is rich enough, bored enough with national ambition, strait-jacketed enough and gloomy enough to find immense attraction in playful escapism and quirky obsession. [...]

[T]he Japanese have settled into a postmodernist ennui, an Asian outpost of that European condition, but in a more dangerous part of the world. When I noted to a senior Mitsui executive, Osamu Koyama, that China would soon overtake Japan as the world’s second-largest economy, he said: “That’s O.K., we’ve been telling people for years we were No. 2, ever since we overtook Germany, and it hasn’t given us much benefit. Our status is coming down.”

Events have imbued the Japanese corporate warrior with a new insouciance.

It coexists with a tremendous conformity. On Sundays, when traffic is closed around the imperial palace, I saw lines of people waiting for pedestrian lights to change even though there were no cars. Smiling deference can seem so uniform as to constitute a gleaming wall. I can see how the urge to escape from this homogeneity could be strong.

Finally, gloom seems rampant, a national condition. I couldn’t find anyone ready to tell me the worst is over or that Japan, or jobs, would bounce back, despite the bracing recent election of Yukio Hatoyama that ended a half-century of rule by the Liberal Democrats. Hatoyama has called for a new era of “Yuai,” or fraternity. He’s talking about Asian community as one way out of Japan’s self-marginalization. But any excitement seems muted.

So what’s left for this comfortable, perfectionist society of narrowed ambition is otaku escape, the games I found myself playing to fool exhaustion as Chinese dumplings adorned the treadmill.

MacArthur wins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2009 7:12 AM
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