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Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 19, 2006
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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.
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
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Top customer reviews
I'm looking to widen my understanding of Japanese culture, so I bought this book at .01 cent on the used market. I feel it's just as important to examine the darker aspects of a culture (as unpalatable to the eternallly-optimistic-brightsided crowd as that may be), as well as its best aspects. So while quite a few found this book lacking or inaccurate, I still think there's great benefit to weighing Zielenziger's "negative" portrait. It was especially his very wide view of the greater Japanese economy that was much appreciated. This book being published in 2005 during the height of the boom in the US, it's somewhat ironic that at the time of this review, the bank of Japan has instituted negative interest rates.
Quite frankly, I can't imagine painting a happy picture of a country whose economic predicament limits the choices and the futures of its citizens. If the book comes off as pessimistic, it's because the reality is quite stark, which makes it realism, not pessimism, and that's a critical difference. Had Zielenziger chosen to focus on what he found great about Japan, very little is going to obscure the real statistic of a declining population.
If anything, the phenomenon of hikkikomori brings to mind the haunting mouse experiments in overpopulation conducted by Calhoun (which in part inspired O'Brien to write The Secret of Nimh, for those who like useless trivia.) I mention it only because in Calhoun's experiments, mice who chose to no longer participate in the overcrowded mouse utopia withdrew in similar style to the hikkikomori, and the mice who withdrew were dubbed "the beautiful ones". Coincidence? But I digress.
In the end, an easily readable book on the subject, and I would read more from this author.
First three chapters of the book are on hikikomori, which are also used to describe the book as a whole, but these chapters have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book. It is like two separate books in one.
This is an economic and cultural analysis of the declining Japanese economy supported by statistics and the author's own views. It also draws stark comparison with South Korea. I had no idea there were such fundamental differences in their economies and people.