| Apr 29, 2012

Japanese families on endangered list

The family is humanity’s oldest and most universal institution. But its shape, size, aims and ideologies seem infinitely variable. Japan’s families down the ages have been polygamous and monogamous, multigeneration and single-generation, swarming with children or comparatively, if not entirely, devoid of them. Through ...

| Apr 22, 2012

The weeklies need to expand their worldview

Japan cuts the world down to size. Thumb through the popular weekly news magazines to get the idea. The weeklies pride themselves on broader, bolder, feistier coverage than the daily press typically musters. All the same, theirs is a small, shrunken world. It consists ...

| Apr 8, 2012

Lack of strong ties spurs business of dying alone

New businesses arising to meet new needs tell us much about the times we live in. A cleaning company named Green Heart, for example, thrives on a peculiar expertise. Its website explains: “Sadly, it often happens that unclaimed bodies go long unnoticed. In summer ...

Apr 8, 2012

Purity and pollution in Japan

TROUBLED NATURES: Waste, Environment, Japan, by Peter Wynn Kirby. University of Hawaii Press, 2011, 250 pp., $49.00 (hardcover) Japan “is enmired in waste.” Naturally — what industrialized or industrializing nation isn’t? It’s a ubiquitous problem urgently demanding an elusive solution, studied accordingly by chemists, ...

| Apr 2, 2012

Noda's plan to increase sales tax

There’s no such thing as a popular tax increase. Woe betide the leader who sees no other way out of a fiscal impasse. Such is Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s unenviable plight. A kōreika shakai (高齢化社会, aging society) like Japan’s must fund its swelling shakai ...

Sakura: Soul of Japan

Mar 25, 2012

Sakura: Soul of Japan

“If I were asked to explain the Japanese spirit, I would say it is wild cherry blossoms glowing in the morning sun!” — Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), nativist thinker and poet The cherry blossom is not just another pretty flower. Pause to consider, as you ...

Blooms of death

Mar 25, 2012

Blooms of death

“If only we might fall Like cherry blossoms in the spring — So pure and radiant !” Quoted by historian Ivan Morris in “The Nobility of Failure,” 1975 World War II transfigured the cherry blossom. The 22-year-old kamikaze pilot who composed that haiku shortly ...

Petals 'perfect beyond belief' stir poetic

Mar 25, 2012

Petals 'perfect beyond belief' stir poetic

Two natural facts have had a disproportionate impact on Japanese culture: cherry blossoms are beautiful, and they fall. Cherry blossoms, wrote the scholar-poet and shogunal mandarin Matsudaira Sadanobu (1758-1828), “seem especially suited to the ways of our country, with branches so gentle, flowers so ...

| Mar 25, 2012

Is Japan as busy as it first seems?

Are things what they seem? Can you tell a book by its cover? Does the face reveal the heart? Does your appearance give you away? It does indeed, says brain researcher Yuji Ikegaya, writing in Shukan Asahi. Your deepest secrets are written all over ...

| Mar 11, 2012

The power of bad news

Weekly Playboy magazine discerns among young people a rising interest in Buddhism. This is surprising, given Japan’s well-known “religion allergy” — or not, given that troubled times often inspire spiritual quests. “Buddhism is often considered a doctrine of resignation, but it isn’t,” explains Masaru ...