Nous ne sommes pas Charlie: Voices that mock authority in Japan muzzled


For those who think political satire doesn’t exist in Japan, take another look at the now-infamous performance by the Southern All Stars on NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” New Year’s Eve concert.

Sporting a Hitler mustache, lead singer Keisuke Kuwata took what most interpreted as a dig at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his jamboree of historical whitewashers.

“Textbooks run out of time before modern history, the part we most want to know,” sang Kuwata in “Peace and Hi-Lite.” “Why do people forget the stupid, tragic things we did in the past.

“Raising fists will not open hearts,” he went on, calling the villain at the heart of the song “the emperor in the emperor’s new clothes,” and asking, “Didn’t we have enough (of this) in the 20th century?”

Given the political climate, and the fact that nearly half the households in the Kanto region were tuned into the show, it was a brave piece of political theater. It was also pretty rare.

Japan has few political comedians and no satirical magazines or cartoonists to speak of. There is no Charlie Hebdo, “The Daily Show” or The Onion, the U.S. satirical magazine; no “Monty Python” or “Spitting Image,” landmark British comedy shows that mercilessly lampooned the powerful.

Openly mocking politicians is often considered bad form. Satirizing the Imperial family is not only culturally verboten — it’s dangerous. Kuwata came close when he pretended at another concert last year to auction off a medal he received from the emperor.

British writer Will Self describes satire as the “deployment of humor, ridicule, sarcasm and irony in order to achieve moral reform.” The test, he says, is to apply H.L. Mencken’s definition of good journalism: It should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” It should also leave the subject looking, well, as ridiculous as possible.

There is a long tradition of using jokes to undermine the powerful, which is one reason why you don’t hear many in North Korea — not in public, anyway.

So why does Japan seem to have largely abandoned the field? The question often invites cultural cliches: The craving for “consensus” and the fact that Japanese people supposedly consider social order more important than abstract concepts of free speech and human rights.

Those explanations miss another reason, however: intimidation. Challenging power, even with humor, is risky, as Kuwata found out. Predictably, right-wingers hated his stunt and picketed his management company, forcing him to issue a desultory mea culpa.

For lovers of satire, that sad denouement was all too typical. Student Yamato Aoki, who made people laugh when he set up a website poking fun at Abe, also apologized for causing offense — the whole point of satire. Not surprisingly, Abe didn’t get the joke. The thin-skinned prime minister criticized the website as “despicable.”

Tough guys are surprisingly sensitive to criticism, too. Filmmaker Juzo Itami was famously beaten and slashed across the face by the yakuza in 1992 after he satirized them in the brilliant “Minbo no Onna” (“The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion”). Itami gleefully overturned years of cinematic mythologizing by portraying the mob as stupid, venal and weak.

If there was a tipping point in the war on satire, we might pick December 1960. Chuo Koron magazine published a landmark parody in which the narrator dreams that left-wing revolutionaries take over the Imperial Palace and behead Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko in front of a cheering crowd. After watching the Imperial heads roll, the narrator has an angry exchange with the Meiji Emperor’s wife.

The dowager empress tells him he owes his life to the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, who “saved the country” by surrendering unconditionally on Aug. 15, 1945. “How can you say that, you shitty old hag?” says the narrator. “Damn you! Our lives were saved because people around your grandson persuaded him to! Unconditionally!”

The satire — unthinkable today — provoked fury in the Imperial Household Agency, and among ultra-nationalists, who demonstrated daily outside Chuo Koron’s Tokyo offices. Finally, on Feb. 1, 1961, a 17-year-old rightist broke into the home of Chuo’s president, Hoji Shimanaka, killed a maid with a sword and severely wounded Shimanaka’s wife.

The incident had profound consequences for freedom of the press in Japan. The author, Shichiro Fukazawa, went into hiding, Shimanaka apologized repeatedly, Chuo Koron pulled in its horns and other publishers followed suit. Bungei Shunju magazine balked at publishing the followup to Kenzaburo Oe’s anti-rightist novel, 17, and no mainstream publisher ever dared to publish such a satire again.

Ironically, Fukazawa wrote the piece to warn about the radical left, according to the editor who replaced Shimanaka at Chuo Koron.

“It was a story about the terror of revolution, but what remained in the mind was the visceral image of the crown prince and princess’ heads flying,” says Kazuki Kasuya, who helmed the magazine until 1978. “It was a mistake to publish such an inflammatory article during what was a revolutionary situation in Japan. The article itself was the problem, not the reaction to it.”

Japan faced another crisis 30 years later with similarities to the one now faced by France: a dangerous, well-financed death cult that attempted to set up its own caliphate, intimidated and attacked journalists, and reacted murderously to being lampooned.

Aum Shinrikyo used elite lawyers to muffle the media and intimidation to silence critics. It tried to murder several journalists, including freelancer Shoko Egawa, before gassing the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.

“In many respects, Aum is the prototype for al-Qaeda, and its devotion to mass murder, its religious base, and its attachment to modern technology,” wrote U.S.-based reporter David Kaplan in 2007.

Once again, it was lone iconoclasts like Kuwata who called them out. Cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi and ubiquitous TV commentator Dave Spector were among the small number of those who began to ridicule them. As a result, they both famously ended up on Aum’s assassination list. “They didn’t have a sense of humor,” Spector recalls laconically.

Spector says there is little desire in Japan for political satire.

“They’re too comfortable with each other here,” he says. “Abe is taking media people out to dinner all the time. Japan is so small you run into each other all the time — it’s not like Washington, where you never see those people.”

Most people understand why Kuwata apologized, he says: appeasement. “It’s his management company that issues the apology — it’s a way of getting the rightist groups off your back, because they don’t stop. People here are savvy enough to know that if you don’t apologize, they keep going — just move on.”

The lack of a major forum for mockery has pushed those in Japan with a taste for edgy, offensive humor to cyberspace. Thousands of tweets have been posted since last Tuesday lampooning Islamic State with digitally altered photos of the two Japanese hostages and their Islamic State tormentor.

In one, the knife in the hands of the man widely believed to be “Jihadi John” has been replaced with a camera on a stick as he takes a selfie. Another shows the jihadist using his knife to carve meat from a kebab stand.

As The Washington Post noted, with two men facing a gruesome death, the hashtagged images “may seem silly, perhaps even reckless.” But they also, perhaps unconsciously, tap into a long tradition of poking a stick in the eyes of people who would otherwise have us cower in fear.

Naturally, the tweets have provoked controversy and criticism. It seems that many people like the fact that Japan’s humor is generally considerate and respectful. The problem is that some people in power don’t deserve respect. Or consideration.

Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • kyushuphil

    Sure, consensus has been long in Japan — but so have been many free minds.

    The difference now is the cult of materialism. TV advertising, and other venues of ads, don’t just sell brand name items. They also present the ads in contexts that suggest human values as an extra part of every purchase.

    So we don’t have just physical objects (and services) for sale, but more ominously the profound lies that freedom, popularity, friendship, good marriage, happy family life, and many more human emotional needs all come with the package.

    This absolves schools of having to do anything themselves with human values. So schools don’t. They have become relentless factories, assembly lines, where nobody learns to write an essay, have a point of view, see another human, or raise a question.

    Schools can ignore the human because, in this modernity, materialism itself, consumerism for all demographics, does everything. That’s the great lie, the beguiling promise, to which all schools surrender.

    Who can expect any humor in a nation so totally besotted with the most gross and vulgar lies ever marketed?

    • Oliver Mackie

      As you may recall, I am, along with yourself, a great believer of teaching self-expression through writing. There are points where we differ though. First, to insinuate that there is no humo(u)r in Japanese society is disputable. The style of mockery displayed by Charlie Hebdo seems to me to be more reflective of the greater acceptance of aggressive behavio(u)r in Western society, rather than an indication of a greater prevalence of humo(u)r. Equally disputable is the claim that Japan is particularly besotted with materialism. Indeed, comparing the scales of remuneration at the top and the general attitude among all sections of those who reign and/or rule of mistrust of those who through business or politics seek personal enrichment, rather than promotion of the nation, points to a much more balanced approach to material concerns than in Europe or North America.

      It is also important to note that describing Japan as a consensus society (though, to be fair, you note many free minds) is controversial, given that there has been no word in the Japanese language equivalent to ‘consensus’, until the recent adoption and absorption of the English word, resulting in a katakana derivative.

      • kyushuphil

        Thank you, Oliver.

        As to the materialism in Japan, please check out Miyuki Miyabe’s “All She Was Worth.” Though this is not sociology, but a work of fiction, it reports on contemporary reality. And here, not only is the pressure for name brand items great, but the burdens from accompanying consumer finance debt packages are often suicidal, murderous, too.

        Consensus having lacked a term for it in Japanese? Please note kyō-chō-sei 協 調 性 .

        Also, you may enjoy a book by Boyé Lafayette de Mente, “The Japanese Have a Word for It.” It’s chock full of many more terms for the cautions, evasions, and deferrals in Japanese business life, due to the massive need for consensus baffling to many outsiders.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Thanks for your response.

        “As to the materialism in Japan, please check out Miyuki Miyabe’s “All She Was Worth.” Though this is not sociology, but a work of fiction, it reports on contemporary reality. And here, not only is the pressure for name brand items great, but the burdens from accompanying consumer finance debt packages are often suicidal, murderous, too.”

        As you may have guessed, I don’t count a single work of fiction as indicative of evidence for a sociological generalization. Not because it’s ‘fiction’ but because it is simply the observations and impressions of one individual. As an example of a far more reliable source, I refer you to Patricia Boling, “Private Interest and the Public Good in Japan” in The Pacific Review 3:2 (1990.) It may well be the case though that we are focusing on different things. It seems that you are looking more at consumers of others’ earnings (i.e. youth and non-working men and women) as well as consumers of their own earnings who have no dependents (single working men and women) whereas I am focusing more on the earner-and-provider types (working men and women with dependents either through marriage and/or parenthood) as well as the culture of adult social status in general.

        Please note that 協 調 性 is usually translated as “cooperation/cooperativeness” or “accomodation/accomodativeness” not “consensus.” Whilst de Mente’s book are maybe good enough for visitors or medium -term residents, they are not good enough for rigo(u)ous sociology. The fact that an observer such as he has made a list of terms for activities that he sees as components of what he chooses to label as ‘consensus building’ doesn’t mean that his label is correct. He is making the error of applying to Japan somewhat indiscriminately a term for an activity observable (perhaps) in his own culture.

        The late Chalmers Johnson, who had a highly distinguished 50+ year career as a Japan/China/Korea expert, a career for the totality of which he was fluent at the highest level in Japanese and involved continuously in discussions on sociological, political, and economic issues with academics, journalists, writers, politicians, and bureaucrats in Japan, wrote the following in 1995:

        “It is astonishing to record that there is no standardized term in Japanese for “consensus,” given the fact that it is probably the most commonly used expression in English to describe Japanese “decision-making,” and the first trait that the foreign novice is taught about the Japanese political culture. Some writers approximate it with “manjyou-itchi-shugi” or “enman” or “douchou”, while others use variations of “goui,” “soui,” and “doui”. The approved solution to this problem today appears to be the use of “konsensasu.” The lack of a widely accepted term for consensus in Japan may suggest the need for foreigners to use caution in arguing that it is prevalent there.”

        [Note I have had to use a different writing convention than the original text for elongated vowels in the Japanese terms he refers to and may have made mistakes.]

      • kyushuphil

        I’m taking all your cautions under advisement, and thank you for them.

        I work with youth. I’ve read widely in the literature of Japan, and find many of Japan’s great very astute in their chafing at what among too many is timidity, reserve, holding-back, and unquestioning deferral to authority.

        This climate — I don’t care if Chalmers Johnson had a single word for it or not — weighs onerously on many, for many reasons. It keeps Japanese women down — for their access to work and promotions they don’t even rank in the top 100 countries in the world.

        And it bites worse for youth. Too much mindless regimentation in schools. Too much pressure for short-term info and limited-logic gauging tests. Too much bewilderment at the onslaught of materialism. And virtually no preparation for them by any schools of such things as essay writing, which could afford many some contexts, some perspective, some personal management.

        Instead, Japan’s youth have nearly three times the suicide rate as American youth.

        The human speaks eloquently in literature — and Japanese, many, in great literature, have seen and decried these leavings of modernity. Great film, too. If you have no room for this, the human, in the rational world of numbers, stats, charts, graphs, and other forms of what you limit as “evidence,” I sigh.

        I sigh as a former U.S. Army translator/interpreter of Vietnamese, 45 years ago, when I saw rather first-hand how all the experts (Rand Corp., ugh!) proved dismally stupid, totally stupid, because they, fancying themselves “the best and the brightest,” “whiz kids,” all so rational, sticking only to measurable numbers, in their turn then, too, left out the human.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Thanks again. You write well, and with a passion and sensitivity which is laudable. I also recognize and truly appreciate your experience and how it shapes your opinions.

        By the same token though, please rest assured that those of us who prefer the clarity of communication enabled by more ‘academic’ prose don’t fail to consider the humans behind the numbers (so to speak.) The data is important though, as it enables us to engage with reality rather than possibly inaccurate extrapolation from personal experience.

        – I don’t know where you get your figures that youth suicide in Japan is three times that of the USA. The data I’m looking at (for 2012) shows 1.8 times, if one defines ‘youth’ as 15-34. The most recent data I can find on 15-19 year-olds is from WHO 2000 and shows a lower rate in Japan (at 6.4) than in the US (at 8.0.) Please advise your data source, it would be most appreciated.

        “I work with youth.”

        Me too.

        “I’ve read widely in the literature of Japan, and find many of Japan’s great very astute in their chafing at what among .too many is timidity, reserve, holding-back, and unquestioning deferral to authority.”

        O.K. but what may suit (or conversely make chafe) the upper echelons of the literary ‘elite’ in Japan may not suit (or make chafe) everyone in Japan. (I have no authors I can refer to, but I do remember many years ago Ryuichi Yamamoto stating that he couldn’t bear to live anywhere in Japan except Nishi-Azabu. Great to have such preferences if you can afford them.) You would be hard pushed NOT to find a literary/academic elite in any culture that does not have a large tendency to decry the popular and political cultures/mentalities (Marx being the most notable example, perhaps.).

        There is also a danger in coming to see what you personally desire or consider ideal as the only acceptable way to do things. The dangers are then a cultural-imperialist way of thinking and the diagnosing of those who continue to operate differently as somehow in need of ‘curing.’

        I am sure that you will counter that your experience in Japan of trying to encourage and nurture an alternative approach/mindset among youth has been received with enthusiasm and gratitude by those you have assisted. I wouldn’t deny that. But what changes to Japanese society that would result in, if performed on a mass scale, is unclear, and might likely result in a sum-loss from some viewpoints. The ‘West’ has long since lost it status as a role-model for many, myself included (and I speak as a parent of two young children.)

        “Too much pressure for short-term info and limited-logic gauging tests…….. And virtually no preparation for them by any schools of such things as essay writing, which could afford many some contexts, some perspective, some personal management.”

        Agreed for Japan. (Took out the bit about the onslaught of materialism, though.) And the trend in the USA is not away from this either…

      • kyushuphil

        The main thing I’ve been working for is a program in essay writing where students from different cultures may connect more humanly and culturally with each other.

        I don’t have any personal anything I’m pushing on anybody — the whole point of the essay writing I’d like to see is its opening to more abilities, more literacy, to see, quote, and connect to others — at many levels. High culture. Pop culture. Their choices. (It’s one great heritage from America to be open to many and many new vernacular sources — film, theater, poetry, music, fiction.)

        Having said this bit more as to my aims, and values, I can applaud you for being open, as you say, to the human “behind the numbers” — except when I see you in the same sentence dissing the personal in order to vaunt “data” which are important “as [they enable] us to engage with reality” over and above all that messy, flawed humanity.

        Oliver: no, no, no. Humanity, with all is messiness, errors, contradictions, ideology, incompletions, ethnic hatreds, blinkered, stereotyping language — all that is reality.

        I mean, really, you scoff at effete intellectuals who want to live in plum communities — but then position yourself in your own superior — clean, orderly, numbered — world.

        Oh well, that’s what corporate academe does to all — all those departments, all so isolated from all others.

      • Oliver Mackie

        I wrote:

        “The data is important though, as it enables us to engage with reality rather than possibly inaccurate extrapolation from personal experience.”

        You wrote:

        “I see you…..dissing the personal in order to vaunt “data” which are important “as [they enable] us to engage with reality” over and above all that messy, flawed humanity”

        I clearly wrote with less-than-perfect clarity. I am not dissing personal. I am reluctant to accept that one’s own experience is the ultimate reference point for anything other than…..one’s own experience. Certainly if in one’s circumstances there are people who (to take the topics under discussion) are feeling the onslaught of materialism or with the climate weighing onerously on them, then fine, and one should do what one can to help – as I see you are doing. Highly laudable.

        But that is very different from making sweeping assertions about, for example, the whole of society, i.e. your “nation so totally besotted with the most gross and vulgar lies ever marketed.” Indeed, you seem to freely mix up dramatic-sounding generalizations (as above) with notes about significant exceptions (e.g. your reference to many free minds.) My point about data is not that it is any substitute for the messiness of reality, simply that it gives us a better picture of what type, where, and is ultimately perhaps suggestive of why the messiness is there.

        That is, of course, if it really is there and not a figment of imagination created by cultural lenses. One simply can’t go on about the way that, in contrast to society X, society Y exhibits a quality which leads to higher youth suicide if the youth suicide rate is actually lower. To reiterate, this doesn’t mean that any ‘messy’ individual I may encounter who needs my help to prevent their suicide won’t get it, but it does mean that the suicide in question may not be attributable to some aspect of society.

        Regarding intellectuals, we are both using them. I have nothing for or against intellectuals per se. I was referring to particular individuals and pointing out precisely what skills and experiences they had which meant that we may trust them on certain issues (e.g. the term consensus.) You were using a category of intellectuals (writers) to assert that a certain aspect of Japanese society is like a cancer.
        It is my experience that intellectuals run the gauntlet, everything from narcissistic worms who spout nothing but pretentious drivel, to caring rigo(u)rous thinkers who make compelling arguments. I will judge on a case-by-case basis, but will strongly tend towards skepticism from such sources unless convinced otherwise.

      • Sam Gilman

        Well put. Data substantiate, the personal illustrates and humanises. If essay-writing on society is properly done, it is a good interweaving of numbers and stories that complement each other.

        If data are a challenge to a view of humanity or a society, then either not enough effort is being made to humanise the data, or one’s view of humanity or the society in question is at fault. Reality, accessed skilfully through data, is far more subtle and nuanced than popular prejuduce would have it.

      • Oliver Mackie

        You put it better (especially the last sentence, especially the second half of it.) Thanks.

      • kyushuphil

        Thanks to your patience, we can agree to disagree.

        Data may show large tends — may show where exponential differences occur: how many cars on the road, how many sales after an advertising campaign (and among which consumer markets), how much cesium 137 or strontium 90 is in the soil, in the fish in the sea, or in mothers’ breast milk.

        In looking at the data, however, we differ. You hold any single individual unable to be any “ultimate reference point for anything other than…..one’s own experience.” I say you are thus discounting great writers and other artists who can see more than the rest of us.

        Large generalizations about society or culture, and their effects on us, may bother you, . But the best of great writers make these out of most detailed, precise, specific engagement with pain. Things hurt. They ask why. They tell us. We remember them — often for centuries. We call this body of wisdom the humanities.

        As you say, such individuals vary greatly in their skills, their abilities to see and express what they see. They “run the gauntlet.”

        So while I thank you for your patience in being willing, at least theoretically, to see the greater contributions in some, I wonder, in your work, if you could ever quote Junichirō Tanizaki, Yosano Akiko, Sōseki, Higuchi Ichiyō, or Masuji Ibuse along with any data you cite?

        That’s a question. Visionaries all, they have all seen larger contexts in which data dwell. They have all chafed at the ways in which such things as needs for status quo consensus allowed authorities and that same status quo to go on doing great damages.

      • bravesfandevotee

        I have disagree about the suicide rate in Japan. Many times the suicides in Japan are labeled accidents too save face for certain families with money or power. Sometimes even common families will do this. In this aspect, Japan is very much some people in the Middle East, where saving face is more important than love and sometimes even family.

      • Oliver Mackie

        You can disagree all you like but what you asserted was pure speculation, based on what I can only assume is hearsay of cultural stereotyping.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Listing suicides as accidents to allow collecting on life insurance policies is a well-known pattern in American farm areas. The idea that suicides in Japan are commonly “labeled accidents to save face for certain families” is inconsistent with the common claim that because Japan is not a Christian country, suicide does not carry the stigma it allegedly has in such countries. The saving face argument is also inconsistent with the common claim that the samurai tradition of seppuku validates suicide in Japan. Specialized literature on suicide in the US almost invariably states that US suicide data is unreliable and substantially understates the suicide rate.

      • KenjiAd

        Interesting discussion about consensus. I’m a native Japanese speaker, but familiar with the meaning of consensus as is used in America.

        I think that the Japanese word closest in meaning to consensus is soui [総意] (or goui [合意]).

        But I agree that soui/goui is different from consensus. The reason is that the way soui/goui is reached in Japan is, more often than not, not by consensus. Someone decides a certain decision is soui/goui, when no one objects it.

        Say you are in a meeting. The boss proposed something and asked everyone if it’s OK. Everyone nods. That’s soui/goui; at least that’s the kind of image these words convey.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Exactly the lines I was thinking along. In English the term consensus refers to people’s opinions being similar enough to pursue an agreement or course of action because they agree or come to agree sufficiently to be able to vote/decide/agree/permit without having to do so against their inclination/opinion.

        On any given negotiation, I feel that that there is no more likelihood of people’s inclinations being similar in Japan than anywhere else. But in Japan, any disagreements so great as to potentially derail cooperation have to be dealt with behind-the-scenes before the official gathering to formally endorse the decision already reached. Even if people don’t object significantly or indeed at all, they still need to be consulted, as otherwise they may not cooperate simply for the reason of having not been sufficiently included (a kind of tantrum, perhaps.) Additionally, there are cases where even though people object strongly, if their objections simply cannot be addressed sufficiently, without totally derailing the whole process, they may be under pressure to agree because they were sufficiently listened to.

        Thus nemawashi, so often described by outside observers as ‘consensus building’ is in fact different. It is not a case of reaching consensus, it is a case of reaching ‘agreement’ in the sense of eliminating any willingness to veto or publicly denounce the decision, whatever the means used to reach that point (it may well be persuasion, it may well simply be ‘payoffs’ of a non-financial kind, like incurring a debt of gratitude.)

        The difference between the two is of course well-known to Westerners, there’s nothing they can’t understand about this process, but labeling it as consensus-building is incorrect in the proper sense of that English term

      • Aileen Kawagoe

        I believe a good measure or index of materialism(and incidentally humor) is to examine comparatively TV commericials on key terrestrial/national and the most watched TV channels. I have been watching these in every country I go with great interest for decades. We can observe that TV commercials in the US, Singapore, HK, still largely emphasize and play to sentiments of the “cool” factor, elegance and oppulence, power and prestige. By contrast, such ads are rare in Japan, most ads are in fact extremely funny or silly, down-to-earth, feature the lowest common denominator of society, the housewife, the bumpkin, the salaryman, the bumpkin. Even when they are products of brand name companies. I find the conmercials highly creative, more subtle and appealing to a broad range of emotions and across crossssections of humanity. (This does not extend to cable TV however, where ads seem to be made to totally different standards entirely…yawn). The same may be said of Japanese movies, they show a broader range and are more subtle, like European arthouse movies, rather the more formulaic crowdpleasing movies of Hollywood…that incidentally are much more obsessed with money, power, sex and materialistic themes, despite the much deeper pockets and resources of the Hollywood industry. So assuming the media are a mirror of a society’s aspirations and obsessions, by these indicators which society is truly more materialistic?

      • kyushuphil

        I like your comparisons. Very nice observations.

        I think that, to judge materialism, we can’t just count it or weigh it. That is, its amount, quantity, or quality don’t suffice to see its concomitant costs.

        To see it plus its effects, I think we need to see what resources people also have as alternative to it. We can give them credit, then, for extra venues of escape — other areas of their personality they may grow and rely on instead.

        In Europe one things people have in many cultures is some small farm that grandparents own. A great release valve, that.

        In America there’s just the sheer openness of space in many areas. The great national parks.

        Still, I hear what you are saying about the sinister element there, in the U.S., both in the commercials and in Hollywood formula product.

        In Japan, I’m not so sure. I see schools being about as infantile as you commercials being charming, easy, light. I see schools challenging no one personally. Virtually no essay writing, for instance. The regimentation leading to stress-filled, high-stakes tests may be intense, but none of it challenges any human growth or questioning that I can see.

        And you? What areas of Japanese culture afford respite from the charming materialism? Personal hobbies? Visits to shrines? The poetry contests some newspapers sponsor?

      • Aileen Kawagoe

        You keep talking about materialism, whether branded goods or otaku, I don’t know anyone like that. Our wardrobes are small, we have one pair of shoes, boots, each, though I don’t see why you should be directing personal questions at me. Most Japanese families around me are like us, we are modest in our upkeep, for us we spend our time gardening and tending to our kitchen gardens, during our spare time we take our kids camping, to the mountains, skiing, to the forests, traveling to Hokkaido mostly, or on our off days, we like to do stuff with the kids, carpentry or craft, basketry and such. And yes, we like to visit shrine and historical villages and architecture. And yes, Japanese are still very good with their hands, and so we have lots of hobbies making stuff. I walk an hour daily to the supermarket and my kids an hour to and fro school, we don’t drive everywhere like Americans with their cars, from time to time we chat with our elderly neighbours, and all of them around the block know and stop to chat with my kids and we exchange fruit that we grow and sometimes home canned jam and other bakes. Japanese community is not as close knit as it used to be in the metropolis, but we still do a lot together, like clean up the neighbourhood parks, and people voluntarily go to clear up lawns, pick up the trash, drains, go on traffic or patrol watches for the kids and in case of suspicious characters. When we walk in the hills nearby, people are gardening in their rented lots, and farmers will chat with us and teach us stuff. Younger generations are more into their pets than gardening, but they all meet on the roads to chat. So what materialism to speak of?

      • Aileen Kawagoe

        Re farms, many Japanese even in the cities, have a parent or a relative from rural areas still. My neighbour for example, gives me every now and then green tea from her father’s farm in Shizuoka. My kids’ friends who are close family friends and playmates have parents who own rice farms. We have an uncle who upon retirement from the city started a farm in Hokkaido, we are ofte invited and given gifts of jam and other stuff. Japanese still have a lot of roots and ties to their land, and their curriculum builds in ties to farmers, all kids go and harvest sweet potatoes, plant and harvest rice, etc. as for writing, I am charmed by all the stories and essays they write about their investigations into fireflies, beetles from the woods, summers spent on grandparents’ farms or fruit groves. Farming, forestry, fishing are a strong part of Japanese culture, so nearly everybody knows somebody involved in one of these, only they are a fast greying generation. Not so different from Europe particulary France, but yes, Japanese farms are much smaller scaled, it’s often intensive farming on small plots, but Japan has more forest than most people think, 66pct of all land is forest, wooded, not far behind of Finland or Norway. More volcanoes and mountains and hotsprings, so naturally hotspring visiting is probably the no. 1 popular activity with Japanese. Livable residential space or land is at a premium because much of Japan is occupied by steep mountains, or land that has faultlines running through it, but it is not the fault of Japanese that they have to flock to crowded cities and have to some extent toxic lifestyles. They make do with what they have better than Westerners do. What do Japanese children learn or know? Compared to other affluent Asians, they are more acquainted with their acorn woods, seasons (cuz they walk to and fro school in typhoons, blizzards, rain or shine), know the dangers of forest fires, earthquakes, volcanoes, coastal formations and tsunami disasters, their insects and folklore stories and understand much of their landscape, compared to Chinese or Southeast Asians for example. If the game consoles and social media dont take over to zombify the minds of generation Z, then Japanese young still have a bright future. And when you spout your stats and figures about suicides or resources, don’t forget, like the world often does, how many disasters Japan suffers every few years, nobody remembers that many of the suicides are due to the impecunious circumstances people or families find themselves, or due to loss of a family member to a tragedy or disaster. An American exchange student told me the Katrina-struck community/economy still hasnt been able to recover, nobody ever makes allowances or estimates of the toll that has had on the Japanese population, I think at least half or two thirds of the suicides are related to the phenomena. Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Japanese have no soul just because they seem to have no voice, not the same thing. Introverts usually have more soul anyway.

      • kyushuphil

        I wonder: to whom might you be addressing this “reply”?

        In the notation above the “reply,” it says you’re sending it to yourself. This makes it strange when you begin scolding: “And when you spout your stats and figures about suicides or resources, don’t forget, like the world often does, how many disasters Japan suffers every few years, . . ..”

        This supposition, that suicides tie to natural disasters, may be true. It may also be true, as you also surmise, that “many of the suicides are due to the impecunious circumstances people or families find themselves [in] . . ..”

        Yes, maybe true, too.

        Add also the stress from deaths and injuries due to industrial disasters.

        Many possible reasons — along with the stress from consumerism and debt that Miyuki Miyabe cites in “All She Was Worth.”

        Do you know of a good book in Japan looking at all this?

        You write so beautifully, Aileen, of young people, nature, and communities. Please continue to draw from this, such local specifics, such lovely strengths of vision.

      • kyushuphil


        Your family, your life, sound as decent and civilized as the finest I’ve met and known in many countries.

        The fact that you don’t rely so totally on a car touches me most.

        I’ve lately been reading “”Farewell to Nuclear, Welcome to Renewable Energy: A Collection of Poems by 218 Poets,” published by Coal Sack Press here in Japan.

        Most all the poets are Japanese, with down-to-earth, humane values such as yours. All feel as far from the materialist world as do you. But they know there is such a world, one run by liars in high places, stoked by nuclear power plants, a massive consumer finance industry, highway lobbies, shopping malls and advertising. And these 218 are as appalled by the damages this modernity does as they are embarrassed that they never, till 3-11 imagined how monstrously the consumerism modernity had been ruling.

      • Gordon Graham

        old man forsaken by the tendencies of youth # out of it
        A Poem

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      I’d like to see it demonstrated that there is any more of a cult of materialism in Japan than there is in the US or the UK. In point of fact, the widely cited “brand consciousness” of Japanese consumers has declined very substantially in the 40-plus years I’ve been in and out of Japan. I think anyone who raises this issue is guilty of extremely ethnocentric, even racist thinking. It’s OK for Americans to be brand conscious but not Japanese. Do you really think that Americans buy a Mercedes Benz or a BMW solely on the basis of performance? Do Americans buy Apple products solely on the basis of performance? Look at some of the specialized trade publications about advertising and marketing in the US and get back to me on the Japanese cult of materialism.

      As for Japanese schools, you are utterly clueless, to put it bluntly. I have two children in Japanese public schools (age 14 and 11). What you describe is nothing like the reality. There may have been a time when your generalizations might have had a smidgen of vality but that time is decades ago. Do a search on “Common Core” and “testing.” In the last couple of decades US public school teaching has come to be dominated by “teaching to the test” to a degree that vastly exceeds anything Japan ever had and which it certainly does not have now.

      • kyushuphil

        Calm down, Bull.

        Nobody’s making any exceptionalism claims as to J. consumerism, compared to that in U.S.

        And, yes, U.S. and J. ed may equal each other in insanities of testing — and thus dropping arts in U.S. schools, never developing essay writing in J. schools.

        Next time you start a sentence with “You . . .,” please check your blood alcohol level.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I don’t drink alcohol and I did not start any sentences with you.

      • kyushuphil

        Last sentence of first para begins with “You.” It’s implicit — no other pronoun for the subject is possible there, where it begins, “[You] look at [whatever].” This is giving me a command, followed by another command in same sentence, that “[you] get back to me.”

        First sentence of second para also relies on “you” as its grammatical subject (though this time sentence itself starts with brief adverbial phrase. And the “you” starting that para exists only for the puffery to deliver an adjective label: “You are [such-and-such].”

        If drinking doesn’t explain this bombast, this arrogance, rank egotism, claiming of things another set up as straw man has never said, then maybe spirits ought beckon as calming humanizer

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        I am not an English teacher so I must presumably bow to your expertise in the English language. As for bombast, what is this if not bombast? “And here, not only is the pressure for name brand items great, but the
        burdens from accompanying consumer finance debt packages are often
        suicidal, murderous, too.” And, what about this? “Who can expect any humor in a nation so totally besotted with the most gross and vulgar lies ever marketed?” Or, perhaps I am mistaken and you were not talking about Japan, but rather the US. The Vietnam War and the invasion of Iraq were both marketed with “gross and vulgar lies.” If you were talking about the US in terms of consumer credit and “gross and vulgar” lies, I will fall on my rubber sword immediately in abject apology.

      • kyushuphil

        Yes, as for myself, I plead guilty to purple prose.

        As for the lies in the Nam war, the worst were not “gross and vulgar” but, rather, genteel, rational, systems’-delivery confident, methodical, serene — from the Rand Corp. to all the other nice think tanks to the Pentagon and many White House cabinet departments, too.

      • kyushuphil


    • Aileen Kawagoe

      Obsession with brand name materialism is so passe, something associated with the pre-Bubble era, I’ve lived in middle class residential neighbourhoods for over ten years, and see no evidence of the chase after brand name goods, Jp might buy such goods as gifts for relatives and friends, but for themselves are more likely to shop for the affordable range like Uniqlo and Muji. Public school kids have always worn uniforms and are not allowed watches for the reason that they don’t have to show off or become obsessed with brand names, no partying culture either, so daily life expenditure is much more modest and less materialistic than Western cultures, as far as I can see.

      • kyushuphil

        Sales figures for the most chic — and expensive — brand name fashions from France, Italy, and America still remain monstrously high in Japan, even if not among those in your circles.

      • Gordon Graham

        The Gucci store in Ginza has roughly 30,000,000 people from the greater Tokyo area to attract. One would assume they’d garner a few sales.

      • Aileen Kawagoe

        The branded label goods sales cater mostly to Chinese tourists, and other wealthy Asian visitors, which is why when bilateral relations are bad between the countries, there are plenty of figures and statistics to show the boutique business cannot survive with these tourists.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Indeed. There was even a spate of articles in English a couple of years ago pointing out that young women in Japan had gone off brand name goods in a big way.

    • Aileen Kawagoe

      “…where nobody learns to write an essay”. This has been repeated so often, it seems a truism. But I have children in public schools, and there is a great deal of writing, and expressive and descriptive writing, essays done in the normal course of learning. What is true is that there is no essay component in national tests, or the Center entrance exams. But the criticism about multiple choice exams format applies equally to both the US and Japan, which are the only two countries in the world which have exclusively MC national entrance exams. On the other hand, individual universities and faculties in Japan hold their own entrance exams, and some require essays. As to essay writing skills, my observation is that having left essay writing out of national testing circuit has a number of benefits. We presume that making essay writing a test subject means more creative minds, but what it creates is an entire industry of copycat essay writers, thousands of O and A level children in the UK and commonwealth nations rely on model essays, Cliff Notes almost from the beginning of schoollife. By contrast, when I listen to Japanese children read their essays (or I read those on the schoolwalls), they are refreshingly “real” childish voices, yes, full of naivete, but that mirror real feelings, thoughts and observations…very different from the cookiecuttermolded Asian and essays of the UK. Last month, the education panel has submitted recommendations to the Education Minister, a revamp of the entrance exam system is expected in 2020, which will now include essay writing as well as written answers to exam questions. Japanese have been always sensitive to criticisms of the West, but sometimes addressing these do not address underlying causality, and reforms like merely introducing essay-writing into exams will only bring new problems, and we will have younger and younger generations who will not only study content to the test, but now also write essays to testing standards. Currently, students write for self-chosen topics, themes and with a great deal of freedom from standardized assessment. They also write newspapers and are encouraged to write for prefectural and national essay contests, yet now critics are driving one of the more enjoyable and freely creative areas of Jp education into the testing arena. It would have been better to have merely introduced essay writing, focusing on expository, debate and discussion skills at the high school levels and introducing a critical thinking exam like the CRWA test, instead of reworking over those great aspects of the Japanese education system that actually work. The Japanese lower elementary public school system is actually a wonderful carefree system still free of testing constraints and pressures, any pressure comes from the quarter of the “shadow education system” which comes from individual parents who feel pressured to prep their children to pass the entrance interviews to private or escalator schools. I have to agree with Japanese Bull Fighting on the stereotyping statements that have been made. The system here barring pre-college prep years, actually is potentially less prone to “teaching to the test” than all of the OECD top performing Asian nations, and the UK. PM Abe’s new drive to higher English standards for eg., has immediate unintended consequences, with most private schools now announcing that English has become a testable entrance requirement, this only drives the testing prep mania further and further down to earlier grades, always penalizing the poorer segments of society. Many of the stereotypical criticisms by Westerners of Japan seen here are driven by a superficial understanding of Japanese society, and when heeded in an equally superficial manner bring about bandaids, not solutions, worsening the plight of Japanese students and exacerbating the problems they face on the psychological front.

  • Max Erimo

    I find there to be very little humour in Japan. The so-called comedians “owarai-geinin” have very limited repetoires.
    At schools nobody is taught to think critically or even to think. Pass the exams, given the expected answer in an interview, do not deviate from the script. Robots.
    The current situation is a perfect subject for the very important Japanese morals classes. How about posong the questions to students,
    “Do you think the terrorists will release the hostage and why?” and secondly
    “Do you want the terrorists to realease the hostage and why?”
    This will show clearly that the Japanese students have no concept of the big picture outside their windows. A very scary thought.

    • KenjiAd

      At schools nobody is taught to think critically or even to think. Pass
      the exams, given the expected answer in an interview, do not deviate
      from the script. Robots.

      There might be some truth in what you wrote, but your characterization of Japanese students is hyperbole (“nobody is…”). I was educated in Japan and at one time was a faculty at an American university, so I do feel I know something about differences in student attitude between the two countries.

      First, of course students in Japan are taught to think critically, at least at college level or higher. What we are not actively taught, compared to typical American college-level students, is how to express ourselves, particularly in spoken language.

      Perhaps partly for cultural reasons, Japanese students are not as actively encouraged to speak out as are American students. Japanese students are invariably bad at this even in their native language.

      Second, as to your second sentence – “Pass the exams, given the expected answer in an interview, do not deviate from the script.” Now what you said is not restricted to Japan. I’m sure you know many American students practice hard for SAT. Also Job seekers in America are advised to rehearse the “right” answers for standard interview questions.

      • Max Erimo

        Not being American, I can’t comment on what maybe the practice there, but where I come from we were taught to show our individual qualities to distinguish us from the pack.

      • Schools in Europe too are frequently criticized by business leaders as “exam factories” that churn out students unable to cope with life beyond the classroom.

    • Ah, the old racist canard: “Japanese are robots.” As for the “no critical thinking skills” meme, that’s actually been called into question in formal studies in recent years.

      To quote the FT article from April of last year, “Countries that excel at problem-solving encourage critical thinking”:

      The OECD published an assessment of the problem-solving skills of teenagers around the world. About 85,000 teenagers in 44 countries and regions took the tests, where the challenged students to see if they could think without using rote memorization, and to deal with and solve problems that were unfamiliar, had incomplete information, and surprises.

      Students from the main western European countries – England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium – all performed above the average, as did pupils from the Czech Republic and Estonia. In the rest of the rich world, the US, Canada and Australia also performed above average. But the laurels were taken by east Asian territories; Singapore and South Korea performed best, followed by Japan, and the Chinese regions of Macau and Hong Kong.

      That result poses a challenge to schools in the west. Critics of east Asian education systems attribute their success at maths and science to rote learning.

      But the OECD’s assessment suggests that schools in east Asia are developing thinking skills as well as providing a solid grounding in core subjects.

      • Internet Terracotta Tiger

        Good to read your response, Eido Inoue. I don’t think constantly snarking, criticising, and complaining all the time has anything to do with freedom or individuality, I think willingness to work with others yet offering constructive criticism where needed with dignity, respect, and tact is a sign of maturity. It’s one area where I find Japanese society has a lot to offer. Respect is often a two-way street, and the increasing trend among some North Americans towards snarky, disrespectful vulgarity isn’t necessarily more “free” than efforts to address differences of opinion with some dignity.

      • Internet Terracotta Tiger

        It could also be argued that some of the same tiresome, passive-aggressive racisms and highly predictable snarking are a little bit, umm, … conformist!

      • kyushuphil

        Good. Maybe we’re ready to up the essay writing.

        The OECD international testing shows Japan, and other Asian countries, doing super in math thinking, science thinking, and critical reading skills. So why not add on to this with really good teaching in writing — frequent writing, many kinds of prose?

        Many Japanese know about their fellow countrymen’s skills in the things OECD tests. Yet they remain impatient with how too many of their fellow countrymen are reluctant to ask questions — especially if it means making any authorities uneasy.

        You know this, yes? If you ask, I’ll give you a few basics in those Japanese calling for higher personal standards, less conformity. They are not racists, by the way.

      • Toolonggone

        That’s a typical description of education by business newspaper. Making a generalized assessment based on limited sample (85,000 teenagers from 44 countries= 1,931 people per country). And no information about student’s socio-economic demographics. That’s how people in the power like to judge how country is doing in education–instead of how students in each country are doing. Reason why many people are skeptical of PISA.

    • Japanese Bull Fighter

      Your picture of Japanese schools is simply false. It is blatant stereotyping. I have two boys aged 14 and 11 in ordinary Japanese neighborhood public schools. What they get is nothing like what you describe.

      Test passing is much more of a feature of American education than it is of Japanese education. Since the introduction of “Common Core” and “No Child Left Behind,” American education has become dominated by “teaching to the test.” There is an immense critical literature on this. You can find it for yourself. Don’t take my word for it.

      And, speaking as a Japanese, I find a sweeping generalization like “robots” highly offensive, even racist.

    • Toolonggone

      That’s exactly what is happening in the US education system today. Many states across the nation are implementing meaningless state-standardized tests or so-called PARCC(with a seal of approval by Pearson) as early as second grade. In some states like Florida, they even plan to test kindergarteners!!! Many kids are forced to sit in for hours to take the test–not once. Not twice. SEVERAL TIMES a year!!! That’s why parents are instigating OPT-OUT movement across the nation.

  • J.P. Bunny

    While not a fan of this social media stuff, I’m glad that it allows some people to express their opinions through satire. What passes for humor here is jumping up and down, yelling, and smacking each other on the head, by so called TV personalities. Everyone and everything else seems to be off limits. There are plenty of politicians here that are on a par to Sarah Palin, but never will we see them lampooned.

    • Aileen Kawagoe

      Critics of the Japanese typically make assumptions like just because the Japanese do not engage in black humour, sarcasm and cynicism, or satire or public heckling, that they are incapable of independent thought, critical thinking etc., this totally insults their intelligence and is patronizing to say the least. Has it occurred to anybody that these are mere literary conventions or communication strategies of a Western system, and therefore culturally loaded values? They are rarely practised by Japanese or other Asian societies, not because Japanese /Asians are incapable of critical thought and analysis, but because they contradict other social values such as general consideration, social manners and ideas of what amounts to fair and genteel discussion). Newspaper forum discussions or editorials therefore focus on ideas and reasoning rather than resort to hot air hyperbole and obtuse metaphors that distract and mislead, or satire which basically is a form of published gutterpoet-styled aggressive personal and unfair attack which the object of attack is seldom able to defend himself/herself from. It seems to me, that by advocating the Japanese adopt all of these Western communication strategies and instruments, all the West wants to do is to transform all that is unique about Japan and the Japanese into a paler version of itself.

  • KenjiAd

    For political satire to exist, there has to be a sizable population who would consider politics to have some entertainment value, like sports. Japan doesn’t have that population.

  • Japanese Bull Fighter

    This article begs an obvious question. Are societies with a substantial amount of media satire better societies than those without? I don’t remember satire stopping the Vietnam war. I don’t remember satire stopping the invasion of Iraq. I haven’t seen satire stopping the shooting of young black guys by white cops. Satire didn’t stop the CIA for using torture. Satire didn’t stop the NSA for engaging in massive surveillance. An alernative interpretation would be that some countries have a large amount of political satire because (1) there is so much more to satire and (2) that’s about all you can do because otherwise people are essentially powerless.

    • J.P. Bunny

      Satire itself may not stop wars and invasions, but it can certainly bring issues to light, issues that may have gone unnoticed. “….my constituents don’t know how to read but thy can’t help seeing them damn pictures.” Boss Tweed would certainly agree that satire can have a major impact on society/government. People can’t change the wrongs of their society unless they know what’s going on in the first place, and satire is a great way to do just that.

    • Steve

      You raise an interesting point. Satire can indeed be interpreted as a way to let off steam as there is nothing else available to the populace. It could also be argued it is used by elites to control the citizenry given its usages in this way. Just look at the country purported to have the most vibrant black humour and satirical bent- The UK. Since the parliamentary system came in they have had no revolutions overthrowing power, still have the aristocracy and class system………. BUT,
      do you really think that is why satire is severely lacking in Japan (in the media and public square at least)? That there is not as much worth satirizing here as in”countries with substantial amounts of satire”? Because Japanese people are not powerless like the good folk in the UK? Come on, really?
      I would argue the japanese are just as in need of satire as anyone else, its not a western concept, but rather a universal human need. Remember, as you and I intimate here, satire is bottom up, sticking it to your betters, those in power (who are often arrogant to think they have a god given right to be there.) It might be all we got to take em on, but its all the Japanese have got as well! Think sempai-kouhai. Often sempai are capricious and order their kouhai about just because of the luck in the order in which they were born. A kouhai who answers back in such circumstances is being satirical, and I’d say all pwer to them!
      So the “obvious question” should be why is political satire so rare on japanese TV? I’d say it was because its a closed shop and the elites don’t want the people to start thinking about whether they are born to rule. The people haven’t had the chance to exercise this “funny bone” properly in years and thus don’t realise the need.
      The elite might still rule if there was more satire in the media here, but they’d get less passed the people and they’d have to keep on their toes more.

      • Japanese Bull Fighter

        Good question about satire on TV. I don’t know. When I first came to Japan, there was some satire on TV. I regularly watched a program called Geba Geba. Japan had political satire in the form of cartoons in the 1920s and before. Political protest signs still use caricature. But why there is nothing like Spitting Image on Japanese TV, I have no idea. I certainly wish there was political satire on TV. It would be a good way to sharpen my Japanese language skills. I also have no idea why there seems to be little or no satire in manga format. As time permits, I’ll see if there are any studies of satire in postwar Japan. There are academic studies of late 19th and early 20th century political cartoons but I don’t recall seeing anything later.

  • Internet Terracotta Tiger

    The implication that Japan is conformist and North America isn’t, after 30 years in Canada, a year in the US, and four in Japan is quite lost on me. What exactly about just about every guy between age 13 and 30 wearing a hoodie and a baseball hat on backwards isn’t conformist? How about every guy between 13 and dead having to show real or faked interest in yesterday’s game to prove he’s “one of the guys”? Huge queues of cars at third-rate coffee chains, where people line up for almost an hour for truly awful coffee drowned with cream and sugar so you don’t have to taste the coffee? Some homeland for those of us who would lecture to the Japanese or to anyone about conformity!

  • Aileen Kawagoe

    Not relevant to Jp materialism. Branded goods are no longer sought after by locals, they cater to wealthy Chinese and other Asian tourists, which is why whenever bilateral relations are tense or in a slump, business concerns rise and there is always a lot of videoclips of the empty shopping boutiques.

  • Aileen Kawagoe

    It might help us all to remember that we did not fashion (error corrected) the structure nor the heritage of the complex world we now live in. Rolf Dobelli’s book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” is the best book I could remember for discussions such as this, I would recommend especially his chapters of false causality, correlation and also hindsight. How easy to blame every ill and tragedy like Fukushima on the lack of critical thinking or even the alleged greed, corruption of its politicians and bureaucrats. Where does the root cause begin, with the poor thinking of politicians, gov officials during Fukushima, with the flawed design of the American nuclear reactor, with the fact that nuclear was the only option Japan it had after the various oil crises it had in order to survive, or the capitalistic free trade system which has the West banging at its door to buy its nuclear and other trade products, or should we go further back, and say if Japan didn’t feel the need to work so doggedly hard according to the opportunistic and conquering capitalistic principles in an industrial world and financial system built upon the critical thinking? of the West? Where does the blame or cause lie? How could we have foreseen the once clean and green nuclear could have imploded in Japan’s face? Yes, easy to say upon hindsight. It was because of nuclear energy that Japan with its great carbon emission reduction record was the best choice at the time to host the Kyoto Protocol where nearly every nation back then signed to reduce its carbon emissions footprint, only the US and Cuba I think it was back then refused to sign? Ironically now the US is beating down Japan’s door to reduce its carbon footprint, which it cannot do at the moment ever since it has had to shut down all its nuclear reactors since Fukushima and rely on the less green options to power its energy grid. With Russia and China cutting acting in international waters to cut off Japan, everytime it discovers new maritime resources, we should be able to understand there are limits to critical thinking as a catchall cause-and-effect for solving problems and complex events. In effect, hindsight is actually something no human has. So now, we, and especially poets, now with hindsight hanker for a non-nuclear landscape, no cars, non material world to leave as few of our carbon footprints as possible. Japan has a good record of replanting and reforesting its forests, but even so, it merely buys timber from Borneo and elsewhere depleting others’ resources. Without materialism and greed, how many shops and industries and services in Japan would go bellyup immediately and in the short run, how many more suicides a year. Easy for poets to pen, and while try for a more sustainable landscape we must, not so easy for the rest of us who must eat and man our shops. Easy for disgruntled foreigners and Nobel Prize winners to jump a “sinking ship” saying Japan’s woes are due to the lack of critical thinking of its people, even though it was still really built upon the back of dogged hard work and tight cooperation of its people. Japanese society and the roots of its problems are not so black and white, its solutions not so simplistic as to be solved by merely adopting critical thinking of the West, if it were as simple as about having more critical thinking and freedom and free trade, one would think America should have been able to solve for example, its own gun and homicidal troubles with its many free and critical thinkers by now, a problem which kills more preschoolers than suicides kill all of Japan’s youths and young adults in a year. I don’t have to have the last word here, but I do get tired of hearing trite old phrases blaming Japan’s lack of critical thinkers for everything, from why it isn’t no. 1 (who says it has to be no. 1 anyway?), for its lack of innovation, for WWII, for Fukushima, etc, etc. In any event, with or without educating more critical thinkers, there is a very real inconsistency between being able to rise up to the 21st century challenges of the competitive world of churning out and innovating more products that the world wants, and turning our backs on it and yearning for the simpler, more uncluttered, and less earth-and-soul damaging life.

  • Rebane

    Japan is not a democracy yet. Period.

  • GBR48

    You might want to look at this another way, as many news media have now ‘gone Japanese’ in a desperate attempt not to upset anyone whose standpoint may be backed by firepower.

    The murders in Paris certainly cleared up a few things. First of all, if you want to get things done, kill people, because it works. The craven cowardice of news media around the world in surrendering their hard fought national, legal rights to muslim complaints and threats, despite not being muslim nations and not being bound by Islamic law, speaks volumes.

    Having raised a white flag, desperate not to cause offence to one group, surely journalists no longer have the right to offend any group. Why should Japanese newspapers feel they can upset the democratically elected government of Japan or challenge state secrets legislation passed by it, when they won’t upset a group who form a tiny minority of their population and whose offended state has absolutely no status in Japanese law?

    Why respect journalists when they are cowards? Why trust what they publish, when it will have been filtered so as not to offend specific groups? Why should muslims get special treatment? OK, no members of the LDP are going to threaten to kill people, but surely they deserve at least the same rights when dealt with by the media as those whose beliefs are alien to the Japanese nation and who represent a tiny minority of its population.

    So from now on, can we expect any story that might offend anyone to be spiked, or just those that offend people whose opinions have the backing of murderers and criminals?

    In the response to the Charlie Hebdo incident, journalists around the world can hang their heads in shame. Their industry died that day, and they are responsible for that, not Islam.

    Those in France who picked up a gun and went out to change the world by murdering people succeeded, far more than the Islamic State (or any army) has, probably in recorded history, and far more quickly. And if anyone has any doubt about how to make a difference, the sword is considerably mightier than the pen.

    Or to put it another way, the bad guys won. And they won easily.

    If the response to the Third Reich in 1939 had been this cowardly, every parliament building in Europe would today be flying a flag with a swastika on it, from its roof.

  • Roan Suda

    I suppose I enjoy juvenile tastelessness as much as the next fellow, but
    the fact that the Japanese do not have anything comparable to “Spitting Image” is surely not simply due to the “right-wing” boogieman that foreign journalists love to scare us with. As for The Daily Show, it is not “the establishment” that Jon Stewart attacks; in fact, he is quite comfortable with it. His views are almost entirely predictable: lefty elitist. How many laughs would he get if he made fun of, oh, let us say, Obama’s pal Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi, Planned Parenthood, or the gay lobby? What David McNeill really seems to want is not genuine satire but more “progressive” propaganda. When was the last time the Japan Times published a cartoon that did not lampoon the Abe government or an editorial that was not squishy “liberal”? Why is the Asahi Shimbun (approvingly) described as “liberal” and other publications as “right-wing”? (Incidentally, McNeill refers to the “Meiji Emperor’s wife.” Surely he means Empress Teimei, the mother of the Showa Emperor, who, as it happens, worked behind the scenes against the war.)