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Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation (Vintage Departures) [Kindle Edition]

Michael Zielenziger
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

The world’s second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America. But its failure to recover from the economic collapse of the early 1990s was unprecedented, and today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends. Japan has the highest suicide rate and lowest birthrate of all industrialized countries, and a rising incidence of untreated cases of depression. Equally as troubling are the more than one million young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society, and the growing numbers of “parasite singles,” the name given to single women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children.

In Shutting Out the Sun, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan’s rigid, tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality and the expression of self are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Giving a human face to the country’s malaise, Zielenziger explains how these constraints have driven intelligent, creative young men to become modern-day hermits. At the same time, young women, better educated than their mothers and earning high salaries, are rejecting the traditional path to marriage and motherhood, preferring to spend their money on luxury goods and travel.

Smart, unconventional, and politically controversial, Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan’s stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

After its 1990 economic crisis, Japan entered a period of stagnation and has yet to recover. Although at first limited to finances, this depression slowly spread to the country's political system as well as its national consciousness. One extreme example of the problem is the more than one million young men who have given up on school or employment, spending their days in their cramped apartments. In this well-researched and well-organized book, journalist and scholar Zielenziger reveals how these men ("hikikomori") are both a symptom of and a metaphor for Japan's ennui. With compassion and vigor, he presents close-up portraits of the hikikomori, while grounding their stories in the political, economic and historic realities facing Japan today. Zielenziger also suggests that women who avoid marriage and children, men who drink too much and both men and women fetishizing brand names are additional signs of the mass confusion and discontent. Seven years as a Tokyo bureau chief for Knight Rider newspapers has given Zielenziger the necessary access to this closed culture, though his exposé is bound to be controversial. His inclusion of both small details and the big picture makes the book as intimate as it is revealing. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

At the end of the 1980s, Japan's future seemed bright. A leader in the technological arena, Japan seemed poised to become the world's next superpower. Twenty years later, that promise has faded, and the once-influential nation is in crisis. Journalist Zielenziger, who has lived in Japan for 10 years, set out to discover why. Much of the focus of this engrossing, comprehensive work is on the clash between older and younger generations and on how the former's inability to let go of tradition is stifling the latter. Japan's rigid education and work systems have created a class of young people known as hikikomori, who literally shut themselves up in their rooms. Through interviews with several of these young men, Zielenziger reveals how the pressures on Japanese youths cause some to give up and retreat from society. Young women, too, are rejecting traditional roles and choosing careers with foreign companies over marriage and children. A piercing, astute look at how a society's refusal to embrace change is detrimental to its younger generation. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 573 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400077796
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 6, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0028MBKKM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,664 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eclipsed... February 5, 2007
By Kgar
Format:Hardcover
While reading Shutting Out the Sun, I found myself at times in admiration of Michael Zielenziger's insight and also perplexed by his conclusions. I've made many japanese friends and visited the country multiple times. While no expert, I can certainly say that my interest in the country and its culture, is beyond casual. I have my own theories (and first-hand experiences) with many of the concepts of the book. Mr. Zielenziger is foremost a newspaper man and his pavement-pounding, investigative journalism is deserving of five stars. However, his conclusions in the second half of the book bring the whole work down a peg and sound more like the "cocktail-party theorizing" that I imagine goes on amongst international correspondents.

The first 92 pages of the book are intense and revealing as Zielenziger explores the dark world of the hikikomori (young Japanese who withdraw from society, not leaving their rooms). He interviews the doctors, the parents, and even the hikikomori themselves. He ties their plight into the overall societal and economic problems of the country as a whole. He describes how certain problems and behavior are particular to Japanese society. He does this very throughly and convincingly. Then on page 93 Chapter 6: Careening Off Course Zielenziger, uh... careens off course! The chapter shoots off into a 30 page crash course on Japan's post-war economic history. Then later another chapter doing the same with South Korea. He runs through the history of Christianity in South Korea. He compares Japan to South Korea. He compares Japan to China. He compares Japan to America. With the exception of chapters like "The Cult of the Brand" and "Womb Strike" the second half of the book falls wildly short of the first.

Who cares if China is more open to foreign investment?
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Foreign press correspondents who choose to write a book about Japan fall into two categories. Some start with a general idea and try to build a demonstration around that broad intuition - for example, that the economy will set into decline at the very time when it was booming (to borrow from Bill Emmott's The Sun Also Sets), or that Japan is run by an Iron Triangle that is hollow at the center (as Karel van Wolferen demonstrates). Others take a different approach and try to gather as much information as they can about a narrow subject - Tokyo underworld, for instance, or Japanese base-ball, or the plight of princess Masako.

Michael Zielenziger tries to combine the two approaches. He starts with the ordeal of the hikikomori, those youngsters who live in complete social isolation, shutting themselves away from the sun, closing their blinds, and refusing to leave the bedroom in their homes for months or even years at a time. He then broadens his topic to the fate of the whole nation, arguing that Japan has entered into depression mode and now faces gloomy prospects. He provides an interesting comparison with South Korea, where a vibrant civil society found the way to recover from a severe economic crisis.

Hikikomori are a problem that is specific to Japan. Those reclusive young adults, mostly men, suffer from what specialists call a social disorder, not from a mental illness that could be diagnosed and cured accordingly. Indeed, their plight find echoes in Japan's founding myths: according to the fable of Japan's creation, the sun-goddess Amaterasu once hid in a cave and plunged the world into darkness after her unruly brother ravaged the earth and despoiled her gardens and temples. Only through songs and merriment could she be coaxed from her deepest isolation.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and difficult to put down October 23, 2006
Format:Hardcover
While it was not written necessarily with that intent, this is one of the best assessments of Japan's contemporary search for meaning and identity that I have seen in a long time. Disparate trends involving the hikikomori, depression, suicide, the parasitic singles and the crass materialism in acquiring expensive European bags are integrated and understood as symptomatic of a more basic struggle for national direction.

I recall earlier works such as Neil McFarland's Rush Hour of the Gods to explain Japan's explosion of religious sects after WWII when the Emperor was demystified. I recall the explosive growth of the Nihonjinron literature in the early 1970s when Japan tried to determine if it was possible to be Japanese and Western at the same time. Now, this work is another benchmark suggesting that an entire generation may have been lost due to the inability of Japan to reconcile with its past and create hope for the future.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good start, but... November 26, 2008
Format:Paperback
When I lived, studied and worked in Japan in the early 1980s, I began to pay more attention to those Western writers who critiqued dimensions of what was still, at that time, the "Japanese miracle", such as Jon Woronoff. Ethnocentric, very probably. But their unpopular critiques shed light on dimensions of Japan's society and economy that I had begun to detect independently and that were unwelcome by those Westerners who mixed in expat society and interacted only with a Japanese elite, as well as by Japanese who cherished this new status in the world. As a result, I was probably less surprised than many of these individuals by the prolonged struggle to recover from the excesses of those years.
It was with that background that I picked up and read Michael Zielenziger's book and read the critiques on this page. Just because it is written by a Westerner does not make his observations less valid -- that argument is part and parcel of the "ware ware Nihonjin" or "we the Japanese" phenomenon that the author himself describes with amusement: the astonishment that someone who has lived for a decade in the country can utter a simple, declarative sentence in Japanese, for instance. Sometimes, as inhabitants of other countries have realized, an outsider can focus more clearly on parts of society that others neglect, miss or choose to ignore as uncomfortable. They have less at stake and can afford to be frank (crucial in writing about Japan, where "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down").
It's in this context -- Zielenziger's description of the plight of many disaffected younger Japanese and his analysis of what may be causing this -- that the book is a valuable addition to the list of works about contemporary Japan.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Clueless in Tokyo
The way the author describes Japan, you'd think that it was a third-world country. Relentlessly negative, he often contradicts himself, ranting about the loss of Japan's... Read more
Published 2 days ago by MY
5.0 out of 5 stars great insight supported by stats
First three chapters of the book on hikikomori, which are also used to describe the book as a whole, have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of it. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jane
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but repetitive
I don't read a lot of non-fiction. The only non-fiction I normally read is collections of personal essays, so this was a little bit of a struggle for me. Read more
Published 4 months ago by ulianne
4.0 out of 5 stars OUT OF HERE
A critique of contemporary Japanese society which, the author opines, suffers in large measure for not having come to terms with its defeat in WWII. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Thomas Dunn
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but overstates its thesis claims
Much of the analysis is heavy handed and overstated, nevertheless the book is a worthwhile read if you are interested in the topic.
Published 8 months ago by Zebuila Dean Shaffer
5.0 out of 5 stars great book about obscure subject
This not only teaches a lot about the hikikomori and related disorders, but sheds some light on Japanese culture to which we're not usually exposed. Read more
Published 11 months ago by FekketCantenel
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite good.
So few research books available on hikikomori and modern social trends in English generally so this is a good starter for any non-Japanese interested in the countries horrendous... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Imo
5.0 out of 5 stars Shutting out the Sun
I'm still reading this and discovering so many new concepts and surprises about the culture of Japan. Good insights based on deep considerations.
Published 13 months ago by Joan Regan
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, I certainly read it several times.
A really great look at a part of Japanese culture that most Japanese would prefer remain hidden, but some parts, like the bits about parasite singles and other Japanese rat-race... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Butsurigaku
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough though Shaming View of Modern Japan
As a whole, I found that Zielenziger admirably covered a broad range of issues facing modern Japan. I had anticipated that the book would only cover the topic of hikikomori, but I... Read more
Published 23 months ago by Stacey E. Lovett
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