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Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation (Vintage Departures) by [Zielenziger, Michael]
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3.6 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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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: 904 KB
  • Print Length: 354 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 4, 2009)
  • Publication Date: May 6, 2009
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0028MBKKM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,851 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kev on February 5, 2007
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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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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Format: Paperback
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 traditional beauty amidst all the vending machines and souvenir shops and yet in the next paragraph criticizing ryokan (Japanese inns) for not offering more choices for breakfast! (143-144) Often relying too much on stereotypes, the author's description of life doesn't account for the experiences of tourists who flock to the country to enjoy its many charms as well as those who have spent serious time in the country and actively participated in a a variety of communities. Certainly Japan has its problems--and many of Zielenziger's observations are accurate. But he comes off sounding like a clueless foreigner at times who wasn't able to grasp and appreciate the nuances of Japanese culture.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I do not give out one-star ratings lightly. I read several books a week, rate them all on GoodReads, and this is the first one-star rating I've given out.

The author seems to know a little bit about about a lot, but not a lot about even a little bit. Instead, he seems to have formed a bunch of opinions/stereotypes about Japan and everything he, the wise Occidental, finds wrong with it. Then, toss in a few carefully chosen quotes from authors whom he treats like objective sources (for example, Frances Fukuyama, a darling of the far right), and suddenly his view is not actually an opinion--it is a medical diagnosis.

Zielenziger also constantly confuses correlation with causation, itself not a crime, except where you make it your goal of the book (seemingly) to determine the cause of the hikikomori issue. Instead, the book turns into a long rant about Japan and everything it is doing wrong, because it is not doing everything that the United States is doing.

Some choice quotes:

(Referring negatively to the U.S. leaving many war criminals in political positions post-WWII): "This is just the opposite of our current policy in vanquished Iraq, where the Americans summarily fired all Sunni Baathists loyal to the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Wrong. They fired ALL Sunni Baathists, regardless of loyalty to Saddam Hussein's regime. And, while Zeilenziger thinks that this was an objectively good decision, pretty much every single knowledgeable speaker on the Iraq War has universally condemned this move as short-sighted and poorly planned.
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