Quote Japan

Interesting, odd, outrageous or informative quotes about Japan

Quotes from reviews of Shutting Out the Sun

These first few are actually from ones featured on Mikey boys very own blog:

 ”Mr. Zielenziger’s work is strongest when he presents his extensive interviews. His analysis of his findings, however, isn’t  always so convincing. The book presents a hodgepodge of explanations for Japan’s problems — with themes ranging from religion to rice cultivation — and occasionally reaches for overstated or broad-brush conclusions. His take on Japan can at times appear excessively gloomy. This may in part explain why Mr. Zielenziger is careful to criticize America and its foreign policy, as if to ward off any accusation that he believes the West to be superior. But such digressions are merely distracting.” Wall Street Journal

“Zielenziger’s focus on the authoritarian nature of Japan’s group-based society sometimes needs to be balanced with more reference to the positive motivations that lead individuals to accept the authority of the group. Many individuals have successfully achieved what they see as their personal goals by working within this social structure. Moreover, it can become easy to forget that the unique social dynamics and values in Japan are problems not because they differ from more familiar Western thinking, but because they have yielded dysfunctional results within that society.” The Mercury News

“Zielenziger introduces individual “hikkikomori” cases in sympathetic but quaintly novelized vignettes: “When he cracked open the door to my office that morning, I felt as if a rare and delicate white dove had fluttered in.”

But once he realizes he’s not Sidney Sheldon, the author does get some good work done,…

…But from here on in, the book chimes to the sounds of a familiar refrain: the one about Japan stifling the individual, keeping up appearances, and being a “homosocial monoculture” devoid of diversity. We hear about people not getting hugged enough and seldom telling each other “I love you,” and suppressing their needs and desires. In one of the most playful, consumeristic and hedonistic societies on Earth, many of these allegations simply don’t ring true.

What this all boils down to is yet another American writer complaining about the fact that Japan isn’t American enough. Another point he finds fault with is the government’s policy of shoring up banks and businesses, rather than letting them collapse. Here he recommends U.S.-style free market competition to weed out the weaklings in the economic litter. Although he compares the Japanese government’s economic over-protectiveness to the mothers of the “hikkikomori,” Zielenziger is less willing to recommend equally drastic measures to deal with them. But the implication seems to be that, once Japanese society had been further Westernized, its intense sensitivity and misunderstood individualism will bloom in unexpected ways.

Zielenziger follows a long line of Western commentators who see Japanese culture as something of an aberration, as an accident of history that is in the process of being replaced by Western norms. He justifies his attitude by his unsupported assertion that “the Japanese are not biologically different from anyone else any more than the snow that falls on Mount Fuji differs from that atop Mount Rainier,” which basically means that what’s good for Americans is good for Japanese. But many of Japan’s problems come not from a failure to Westernize but from too much Westernization. This is revealed by the main problem that his book uncovers: the attitudes of Japan’s young women, who are always too busy to get married or never meet “Mr Right.”

Most societies can carry a sizable proportion of “useless males,” but it is essential for a country’s survival that most women get married at a good childbearing age. Zielenziger unwittingly reveals that it is the eclipse of Japanese traditions like strong parental authority and the omiai (arranged marriage) that has undermined demographic stability. Imported Western notions of feminism and romanticism, combined with Japanese women’s perfectionism, means that increasingly few Japanese women get married in time.

While Zielenzieger’s book is a call for Japan to come out of its bedroom and plunge into the fast flowing rivers of globalization, Japan, like the “hikkikomori,” will continue to have its fears. But, unlike the “hikkikomori,” those fears might be justified. ” Japan Today

“…Alas, “Shutting out the Sun” leaves readers in the dark about Japan and its future. Not far into this deeply flawed and monochromatic portrayal of contemporary Japan, we read that Japan, “lacks the same values, norms, and modes of thinking most inhabitants of advanced and prosperous nations today associate with modernity.”

And that, in the post-World War II era, Japan “systematically stifled change and resisted innovation.” Zielenziger’s Japan is thus fundamentally backward, rigid and inexorably stagnant, driving its people to despair and dooming them to unfulfilling lives. The troubled hikikomori are a metaphor for a dysfunctional society and a cudgel to flail at it.

This relentlessly despairing assessment focuses on the various pathologies of contemporary Japan but dismisses, marginalizes or overlooks the sweeping transformations, innovations, dynamism and cascade of reforms that don’t fit the narrative. Zielenziger uncritically accepts a casual projection that there are 1 million hikikomori, one that seems designed to get media attention. Focusing on this dysfunctional 1 percent as the basis for assessing Japan resonates with an agenda. The Japan that emerges from these pages suffers the consequences.

One winces as Zielenziger serves up the usual cliches and stereotypes. Here, yet again, we encounter a monolithic Japan, a society of miserable conformists where diversity is stifled in a book brimming with sweeping generalizations. This caricature of Japan is put on the couch and subjected to superficial psychoanalysis. Demonstrating that you find what you are looking for, by examining Japan from the perspective of severely depressed people, the author constructs a depressing society.

Zielenziger shakes his head in wonderment about things he observes in Japan that make no sense to him, regaling readers with tales of phenomena that happen “only in Japan.” One could add to that list a book wanting to be taken seriously based on analyzing an entire society based on the perspectives of its recluses. It is hard to imagine a publisher proceeding with a similar project on Britain or Germany, but for Japan there is that special genre for the weird and wacky.

While constantly reminding readers that nothing ever changes in Japan, and that mechanisms of social change are short-circuited, he presents much evidence that undermines his thesis. For example, in a country where norms and values allegedly do not change, he summarizes rapid changes in marriage, divorce and birth trends. He also explains that employment practices are changing dramatically. In detailing these significant changes in family formation and work, the author unwittingly portrays a Japan that he can’t reconcile with his stagnant story line.

The author’s fascinating interviews with a range of Japanese, some are dysfunctional, some are doing well, most are critics of contemporary Japan, also refute his analysis. He has stumbled onto Japan’s growing diversity and a number of well-informed Japanese eager to express their views and take issue with the powers that be and the way things are. Surely what they say is important, but it is also important to see what they represent — individuals who demonstrate independent thinking and rejection of conformity. Their very existence reveals just how much is changing here and their concerns are not unique to Japan.

In Zielenziger’s Japan, the hikikomori, unmarried women, childless and sexless couples, suicides, alcoholics and name brand addicts are all lumped together. He asserts that they share a rejection of the “authoritarian mind-set that still drives Japanese life.” But, would unmarried women really identify with the hikikomori?

Plowing through this dreary story of a nation sinking into the abyss, the reader is left to ponder how Japan has managed to cope with the various social ills shared in common by other advanced industrialized nations. Is it really doing so badly in comparison to other societies? Are most Japanese really mired in despair? Are there no efforts to address the substantial problems he highlights? Are values here really unchanged over the past 60 years?

More egregious and implausible are the ways that he seeks to deploy the hikikomori as a metaphor for Japan’s future foreign policy. In his view, Japan will become a national recluse, withdrawing from the international community. He also compares the U.S.-Japan relationship with that of an overindulgent mother dealing unsuccessfully with the problems of her troubled child. And, like hikikomori who violently lash out at their parents, the author worries that a pessimistic and self-absorbed Japan will embrace a fierce and violent nationalism. He shrilly warns that by propping up this national head-case the United States risks driving the rest of Asia into China’s sphere. Indeed. Prozac anyone?” Japan Times

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