Modern middle-class life, you could reasonably argue, generates more happiness among more people than any other ever conceived. It has been extravagantly derided — as bourgeois, soulless, spiritless, narrow, boring, mindlessly acquisitive and so on. But back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when 90 percent of Japanese proudly identified themselves as middle class, the prevailing feeling was of past sorrows overcome en route to an ever-brightening, ever-expanding future.

Japan’s “name alone evokes modernity,” enthused the U.S. newsweekly Time in 1983 — “dials, lights and numbers.” It was bursting at the seams. Tokyo’s Akihabara was “probably the world’s most fiercely competitive market for electrical goods. In hundreds of sprawling stores and cubbyhole shops festooned with brightly colored banners proclaiming bargains, customers can buy almost any type of vacuum cleaner or video-cassette recorder, refrigerator or radio, humidifier or home computer. … At one store can be found 205 varieties of stereo headphones, 100 different color television sets and 75 kinds of record turntables.” Those were the days!

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