Friday, August 10, 2007

While I was down in Maryland last weekend, my friend Bill loaned me a copy of a book on hikikomori, parasaito, and other Japanese social maladies, entitled Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation. It proports to be a book on how Japan is wrecking its recent generations, but the book actually delivered is not quite what was promised.

For one thing, the author isn't very good. He's the very model of the New Republic-style neo-liberal - shallowly pro-market in a dogmatic, narrow, and unconsidered fashion. A ship without ballast & a shallow keel, he gets blown about by sudden gusts, more enthralled by metaphor than details or depth. In comparing Japan and the Japanese with the West & Westerners, or even the Japanese & the Koreans, he exaggerates differences. The Koreans aren't nearly as individualistic as he portrays, the Japanese not as conservative. He has a remarkable blind spot for politics & leftism in general. To read his take, you'd think the political riots & unrest of the sixties hadn't happened in Japan. I was amused when he obscured the political affiliations of a prominent female Japanese politician (presumably a higher-up in the Socialist Party, from context) who kept divorcing her long-suffering husband for bureaucratic reasons.

As Bill warned, the author doesn't spend nearly as much time as you'd expect on the actual social issues in question, preferring to regurgitate shallow and biased pomposities about Japanese business practices at considerable length. The research is shallow and bare-boned, and I left the book with no more confidence in the common wisdom about hikikomori than I had beforehand. And really, that's all that's offered - a regurgitation of common wisdom.

In the end, it's a crap book. It gets worse as the book gets closer to the end. You can really tell that a journalist wrote it - it's essentially a very long thumbsucker with random factoids thrown into the text to fill out the length, stitched together with poorly-thought-out opinions, prejudices, bias, and over-worked metaphors. I wasn't surprised when he mentioned in passing in the acknowledgments that he's worked in Northern California all of his life. And that last revelation about his pet hikikomori having retreated to his room, drugged to the gills by his overprotective and hostile mother - good lord, what a thing to drop in passing as you're leaving the book! Very "Carrie" or even "Misery" - something Stephen King at any rate, and it left me wondering what these parents do with their hermit-children when nobody is looking.

One thing in passing - using Takashi Murakami as your example of popular anime "cool"? How sodding San-Fran/NYC effete snob can you possibly get? This is the Warholesque tool who picked up the big-eye technique to wow the gallery-folk. Real people don't care about what the Andy Warhols do in their expensive little lofts. Murakami isn't an "anime artist", he's the art-world equivalent of Ben Dunn.

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