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The United States of Japan (newyorker.com)
344 points by kawera on May 5, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 142 comments



The author's basic premise stands: Japan has undergone a post-industrial transition where the sudden prosperity of post-WWII generations was quickly followed by stagnation of those coming of age later; the shrunken opportunities afforded to the younger cohort leads them towards idle leisure, or anxiety-filled corporate drone work. The nature of consumerism has changed: there's still outward signalling but the goals have coalesced around personal experiences and fulfillment within an intimate group, as opposed to nebulous segments of the society at large. This makes for an interesting comparison with South Korea, where the nature of consumerism has become markedly more extroverted instead.

The economic and demographic points are fair, but the author tries too hard to tie elements of Japanese culture in with American trends. Yes, Japanese animation has mainstream appeal, but not universally. Video games can be pointed to as the most successful cultural export, but enduring appeal of Mario, Pokemon, and Link isn't functionally more different than Lego or Barbie in their respective times. If the world of video games were devoid of the above, they would be more realistic, more violent, with bleak storytelling and morally ambiguous characters, as we've seen from typical Western AAA games, so perhaps ironically, Japan's most influential cultural export is optimist escapism.


I'm not sure I understand the dichotomy you propose at the end; that if Nintendo didn't market to children, no other large publisher would?


Do you view games that aren't ultra violent as childish? Nintendo fills a popular space and no one has been able to get anywhere close to their success in their area.


Well off the top of my head there's Skylanders, Crash Bandicoot, Banjo Kazooie, Minecraft, Rachet and Clank...

There's no argument that Nintendo pumps out some great games but its not like the west doesn't compete in the space.


As much as I hate Disney these days, I've always wondered why they've had extremely limited success stepping into Nintendo's domain -- and why they haven't tried to partner / aquire.


My hypothesis: Nintendo makes games 1. for families, and 2. for themselves; whereas Disney makes games the way they make movies—for each member of a family as separate "channels" braided through the experience, and not really for themselves.

Nintendo make games for families, as in, they think games should still be fun when people of drastically different skill levels—like a parent and child—are playing. Smash Bros has handicaps. Mario Kart has blue shells. Mario Party is skill-based over the short term but luck-based over the long term. It's all in the service of "having fun regardless of skill disparity." That's also why they make the only good "party games."

And Nintendo make games for themselves, as in, for example: they never make plain sequels (even Mario Galaxy 2 had new mechanics and a different level design philosophy) because that'd be unsatisfying to them as players. Nintendo is run by auteurs who care about inventing fun new game mechanics first-and-foremost, with the branding/license that those game mechanics should be "wrapped in" coming later in the design process. Strip all the aesthetic of a Nintendo game off, just laying the game loop bare, and each of their games is still unique.

One way I've seen this put is "Nintendo seems to have the vision of a bunch of parents, each imagining using these games as levers to enhance their time spent playing with their own kids." Nintendo don't make new games to give parents more of the same lever; the levers they produce already have replay value. Instead, Nintendo are trying to give you, as a parent, enough qualitatively different levers that you can find the one (or the several) that's a perfect enhancement to your individual family's bonding time.

---

Now, Disney might know what makes an experience a family can enjoy (vis. movies, theme parks) but I think they follow a different philosophy, where the different people in a family will enjoy the same experience for different reasons. They create their experiences to have individual components that are individually satisfying to separate imagined user-roles, while being benignly ignorable to people who don't fit that user-role.

That works for a movie—it means that as you grow, your transition between roles will mean that the movie has rewatch value. And it works for a theme park—kids just enjoy the components for them, while parents both enjoy the components targeted at parents and vicariously enjoy the components targeted at kids, through their kids' enjoyment.

But I don't know if it works for games. A game that is actually a collection of separate layers, where any individual player will only connect with some layers, isn't going to be hailed as great pretty much anywhere, because the experience won't have been systematically polished for any particular user. Disney Infinity is not "for" anyone. It's for families, but it's not specifically for a particular player in the family, nor is it for the family as a whole in the way a Nintendo game is.

And, because Disney experiences are not really so much for connecting families together in a shared experience, so much as they are providing individual experiences good for each family member, Disney don't try to make games that they'd like to play—because that just means that they'd be biasing their production in favour of the adult experience at the expense of the child experience. So they just focus-group adult reactions, and child reactions, and maybe further split that into parents/not-parents, male/female, etc., and optimize for each of those groups' satisfaction with the experience. But in doing so, they further diminish the thing that makes a game that is "family-friendly" an attractive proposition.

(Disney did used to make some good, memorable games, mind you. In the 8/16-bit era, DuckTales and Aladdin were both excellent. I think this was back when they were forced by cartridge limitations to focus the experience solely on one hypothetical user—one "family member.")


Disney doesn't "make" video games, they license their characters. The Aladdin game on the SNES was made by Capcom. Another great SNES game is The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, which was also made by Capcom. No shocker there; Capcom makes great video games.

The Sega Genesis version of Aladdin was actually made by Virgin Games.


Hmm, for some reasons I remember the SNES version and the Sega Genesis are identical.


Nah they weren't the Genesis version is generally accepted as the better version.


Yep, exactly. Even the designer of the SNES version (Shinji Mikami - who became most famous for his work on Resident Evil) preferred the Genesis version because Aladdin used a sword in the Genesis version and not in the Super Nintendo version.

Apparently from what I understand Sega secured the license for Aladdin and enlisted Virgin Games to do the development. At the same time I guess Capcom owned the general rights to publish Super Nintendo games with Disney characters, so they developed the own Aladdin game.


Disney never really did make games, they licensed out their IP to different companies.

Not sure which DuckTales you are thinking about, but the NES one was made by Capcom.

Frankly all the good "Disney" games first and foremost were mechanically good games that happened to be dressed in Disney characters.


They have :) re: Kingdom Hearts


KH is really just licensing of their content through - Square Enix do the hard work...


Disney had TsumTsum in Japan. It was a HUGE hit here up there with Candy Crush Saga level of popularity.


Parent doesn't speak specifically of Nintendo (even if they mention several of their titles).

The point being made is: if those Japanese games were absent from the market, we'd be left with the more bleak and violent US-made games.


Would we? It seems to me there was appeal to those games - not just random luck that they won out.

Seems like a market hole would exist if we were stuck with "more bleak and violent US-made games", and I doubt your caricature of Americans would allow a market hole like that to exist. :)


>Would we? It seems to me there was appeal to those games - not just random luck that they won out

An appeal yes, but also a cultural fingerprint.

Else we'd see Japanese and Americans doing those kind of games in equal measure.

If the example was with music, few would argue that Brazil and co etc would make more and better samba and the like than the US, or that the US will make more and better jazz or hip hop.

So why not accept that video game genres and styles can also be more cultivated in this or that area as well?


>Else we'd see Japanese and Americans doing those kind of games in equal measure.

But we do. You might have been trying to say that American-made non-violent games do not have such massive success some Nintendo games do but what does it prove? It's about as same as claiming that Swedish music is culturally pre-disposed to saccharine pop because ABBA is the most popular Swedish band.


>The point being made is: if those Japanese games were absent from the market, we'd be left with the more bleak and violent US-made games.

I think that's partially untrue as there are quite few indie publishers in the US, who don't produce violent games.


wow, I liked your point on video games and 'optimist' escapism. Living in Japan right now for a bit and your comment helped me understand more than the article did!


Yes, Japanese culture has filled a gap. If there were more components to Western Culture outside of America's influence maybe it wouldn't be so prominent.

But what, culturally, is coming out of Canada, Europe, Australia, South America, or Asia (outside of Japan)? Not much that is universally appealing.


Canada's done all right in terms of music exports. I don't even know Western popular music all that well and I can name Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Justin Bieber, and Drake - I'm sure there's many more.

Hollywood and American TV has a ton of Canadian actors, which reminds me of the Canadian brain drain article from yesterday - maybe that's not restricted to tech :-)

"Asia (outside of Japan)" I can only speak to India. I'd say yoga and various forms of meditation (TM and some others) are pretty big in the West, as is Indian cuisine. People typecast Bollywood as this exotic industry that churns out musicals with no kissing scenes (both outdated info) but its exports are reasonably influential in the Middle East and parts of Africa. But yes relative to its size, India hasn't had much cultural influence upon the world in the 20th and 21st centuries.


Canada: Rush, Alanis Morissette, Nickelback, Saga and 100's of others. Celine Dion and Justin Bieber are Canadian but having lived in Canada I'd be more than happy if I never heard them again. And with Bieber I had that feeling from the first time I heard him, I guess it is to balance the score after Glenn Gould.


K-Pop has big influence in many Asian countries.


Europe: lots of music (just the Uk, just some pop: Beatles, Bowie), food, fashion, flowers, movies, books.

Canada: music, quite a few good writers for the size of the population, a generally nicer way of life than what I experienced in America.

Australia: I've never been there, so not much to comment on.

South America: food, dance, music, books.

Asia: food, books, dance, and again music.

Oh, and you left out Africa completely, again, Food, Dance, Music, I don't know any writers from there by name.

Funny how those four seem to be pretty common. At a guess, mr or mrs almostApatriot1 you haven't really been to any of those places, and if you have you probably didn't immerse.

If 'universal appeal' starts with 'has to be English and has to feel Western' then maybe only the UK and Australia would suit you. In that case try some Crowded House and have a slice of Cheddar on your sandwich.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowded_House

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheddar_cheese

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandwich


AC/DC is probably Australia’s biggest cultural export


Despite Neil Finn’s claims, you can’t really call Crowded house an Australian band when it’s half New Zealanders and places referenced are largely in New Zealand.


That's a good point. NZ wasn't on the list though so I cheated. Let's add Flight of the Concords then :)


And John Clarke. The Front Fell Off holds its own against anything. https://youtu.be/3m5qxZm_JqM


British music and TV spring to mind as examples of cultural exports that pinch well above their weight.


pinch -> punch

(as in, punch above your weight class in boxing)


Europe’s electronic music and metal scene, the whole raspberry/arduino single board concept, Hong Kong/China’s action cinema, Korea’s romantic comedies...

That’s just from the top of my head. There’s big swaths of our culture that radiates from all around the world.

Now more often than not it will be cloned/absorbed in the US to the point US people won’t care to know where it comes from (and to be honest it’s not a issue).


Clothes fashion and industrial design, for one, come mainly from Europe.


The economic and demographic points seem to lack perspective in some places and in others are downright conflicting.

Take the evidence cited about how NEETs make up 10% of young people. However, the report itself offers one explanation for the numbers. "More than two-thirds of NEETs, in particular young women, are not actively looking for work. The NEET gender gap is larger in Japan than in most other OECD countries as many women in their late 20s withdraw from the labour force to care for children." People leaving the workforce to pursue homemaking and childrearing shouldn't be a societal problem if it's done voluntarily.

On the other hand, in the US, unemployment among 16-19 y/o's is around 14% and among 20-24 y/o's is around 7%. These populations are actively seeking work and unable to obtain it (and not homemaking), meaning that the number of "American NEETs" is likely higher than these numbers. The author seems to suggest that the US is downstream from Japan and that the epidemic of NEET-ism will only get worse, but if the current numbers are any indication, America's NEET problem is far worse than Japan's.

But the differences in unemployment between the two countries seem to be something more systemic. The total unemployment rate in the US has been roughly double Japan's for the past decade. And of course, it is natural that younger populations are hit harder by scarcity of jobs because most of them have little work experience. The author seems to suggest that shifting cultural trends are causing younger people to increasingly choose a life of unemployment. But past generations have had this same class of youth, be it the beatniks of the 60s, hippies of the 70s, or "Jay and Silent Bob" suburbanites of the 80s and 90s. The primary shift is in how this class is presenting itself culturally. Many of these people are simply embracing a lifestyle of joblessness to feel content in the lack of opportunity being presented.

The author cites a lack of human labor as a source of Japan's societal woes, but this is a leading contributor to why the country has what the author calls an "envious" 2.5% unemployment rate. Importing labor en masse from the third world will inevitably limit opportunities for citizens, especially young adults who will be competing for entry level jobs. Furthermore, lower class wages decline, increasing income disparity. The data supports this, Japan has a significantly lower Gini-coefficient (37.9) than the US (47.0). Indeed, keeping migration into the country low is not a source of problems, but instead giving Japan the upper hand on important measures of economic well being.


> People leaving the workforce to pursue homemaking and childrearing shouldn't be a societal problem if it's done voluntarily.

That's a pretty big if, especially given that Japanese regularly comes at the bottom of the table for equality in the workplace. While slowly crumbling in the face of decades of economic decline, the societal expectation is still that pregnant women quit their jobs and stay home with the kids.


Anything I've read suggest japanese women generally prefer leaving the workforce to stay home and raise kids.


Those who don't are still automatically expected to however and stigmatized or discriminated against if they don't conform. When I lived in Japan and taught English conversation at a large company, one of my older male students, whom I became friends with, told me that one of my female students secretly was a single mother. He told me not to tell anyone else. Female employees at this company were basically expected to quit if they married or especially if they had children.

A female student of mine at another large company originally planned to quit soon after she married because she imagined working together side by side with her husband at his family's business. After moving in with her husband's family, however, she found out they expected her to stay home and cook and clean all day (while at the same time her husband's adult sisters went out and enjoyed themselves and did no housework). She then regretted giving her notice to quit at her original job and wished she could keep working there.

Smaller companies I later worked at least had married female employees although I never heard of any of them also having children.


I wonder if there any accurate stats on the split of voluntary vs non-voluntary.


There can be a number of potential, highly involuntary reasons for why that may be the case.

1. Your workplace will marginalize you for having children if you're a woman.

2. The cost of childcare may be so high, compared to your wages, that it makes more sense for one parent to quit their job, and raise the children. See, also: 1 for why there are few stay-at-home dads.

3. Social expectations from your family.


As there can be with anything else. The question is, what is the reality?


I don't have practical experience with Japan, but as I understand, for many years, #1 has been the main issue. In the West, in recent decades, #2 has eclipsed it.


#1 is certainly a big factor, no disagreement. However, I've seen very little if anything that would imply Japanese women have a problem with this. If they do prefer being a homemaker (as I would based on the insane Japanese work culture), there's not really any conflict.


Many women didn't have a problem with not being able to vote in the 19th century, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't a problem or any real conflict.

People temper their expectations to what they can get out of life. It's easier then a lifetime of disappointment.


Even if it's true that the majority prefer being homemakers, Japanese women are individuals, not an amorphous homogeneous mass. Those who do want to have careers and work outside the home shouldn't be discriminated against or forced to resign as soon as they get married or have kids.

One Japanese woman I met's solution to this discrimination was to start her own company (an architecture firm). Others I knew did freelance work such as photography.


I hate to get into these discussions (even though I somehow do :-) ). I can give you my impression having lived here for about a decade, though.

In Japan traditional gender roles are a lot stronger than they currently are in the west. Trans gender (and similar -- I apologise if I am getting the terminology wrong since I'm largely ignorant of appropriate language) culture is widely accepted in the media, but not terribly accepted in wider society yet. The idea that men and women are the same is antithetical to Japanese culture. If you think about gender roles being 1950's American ideals (think "Leave it to Beaver", etc) you'd be pretty close.

By and large Japanese people like it this way. Feminism is a dirty word, even amongst women as it is considered to be "too pushy". Things like wage parity are very slowly being addressed. Sexual harassment is being addressed at a much quicker pace and these days I think the vast majority of people consider it to be completely unacceptable. 10 years ago, when I first came here, I think the attitude would have been more, "It's not good, but what can you do".

When I was teaching English at the local high school, the vast majority of female students said that their ultimate career goal was "housewife/mother". Some of my expat colleagues found this horrifying and even lectured their students not to "waste their life". This caused a minor uprising as Japanese people regard "housewife/mother" to be a very important role in society. Many students were upset about the message they were getting.

Young women in Japan have a strangely powerful position in society. Women in Japan get married very late compared to western countries. This is one of the reasons for the low birthrate. Usually they live with their parents and contribute little or nothing to family income. They work until they decide to have children (usually in their early 30's) and then retire from work. As a woman, your 20's are where you are most free -- this is contrasted with men, where your 20's are where you are least free because you have to get your career going.

In this way young women in Japan control most of the disposable income -- and you can see that in the types of luxury goods. Fashion, makeup, etc are very popular and very expensive. Young women also travel a lot and travel agencies are geared towards catering to small groups of young women.

When women get married, they often have children fairly quickly. They assume the running of the household and handle all of the finances. It is completely normal for men to not have access to any money other than pocket money given to them by their wives. Lately people have credit cards, but again 10 years ago they were quite rare (especially in rural Japan where I live). Men usually didn't even have bank cards. For men, life is work to provide money for the household. For women, life is running the household.

I hope it's a little easier to see that with that perspective being a housewife/mother is a fairly good life. Many young women choose this life because they can't see themselves devoting their lives to a meaningless job that just provides money. You could easily ask what the purpose would be, unless the husband is at home looking after the household.

There are more "househusbands" than there used to be. As I work from home, I see them running errands occasionally. Often they tend to be of foreign origin with Japanese wives. A few years ago the mayor of Osaka actually took paternity leave and stated that all fathers should do so. It resonated well in the circles in which I travel, but I still don't see anyone else taking paternity leave. Maybe in a few more decades.

Generally speaking, men like "men stuff" and women like "women stuff". Being cute and girly is considered a good thing if you are a woman. Being gruff and tough is considered a good thing if you are a man. I don't know if that will ever change (even though I know many people who find it objectionable).


On the surface, this is a good comparison of gender roles within Japanese culture. But peeling the onion reveals complications.

Some women will say they want to become housewives even if they don't. Some women will deliberately act dumb when they go on dates, because they'll get dumped on the spot if they show any signs of personal ambition. If you can cultivate some close friendships with educated Japanese women, you will start to discover some of this anguish hiding behind the smiling faces. (Use the power of your gaijin naivete role to solicit candid opinions.)

The majority of Japanese women probably do share the desires and motivations described in your write-up. But there's a large population of more...professionally willing...women who are kinda trapped by overwhelming social expectations. The whole point here is that those women who might otherwise desire a career (they exist!), and who might otherwise make great contributions to Japan, are instead severely limited in their options.


This is the reason I hate writing on these topics :-). I'm trying my best to describe the situation without judging it. Yes, there are women who wish a career in Japan. Some of my best friends here fit that description. One of my friends works in the same company as her husband and has been promoted higher than him (they started at the same time). They'll have a difficult decision to make if they have children. I haven't talked to her about it, but I suspect that career will heavily impact their decision about whether or not they will even have children.

The situation is slowly changing over time. Women are taking more professional roles. As in the example of my friend, the glass ceilings are slowly disappearing. Her company, a traditional Japanese company, seems to have no trouble recognising her ability and putting her in appropriate positions. There is still a long way to go, though.

Let's not pretend that it's all unicorns and rainbows in the west, though. In nearly 30 years as a programmer, I could chop off all my fingers and still count the number of women colleagues who have returned from maternity leave in my groups on one hand. It's never happened! Every single one of them swears up and down that they are coming back, but every single time when their maternity leave is over: "My husband's salary is enough for us to live on. Child care costs a huge proportion of my salary and I can't find anyone I trust anyway. Plus after a year of looking after my baby I don't want to hand them over to anyone". I'm completely sick of it. We need paternity leave laws (so that the stay at home father is a viable alternative) and we need them now.

Late Edit: I really should point out that there is just as much of a problem for men as there is for women in Japanese society. Men just don't get access to their children because they are expected to devote their lives to work. It is not uncommon for wives to push men to work harder so that the family can have more money. Some men thrive in that environment, but some would really like to be spending time with their families. To a great extent, the government has recognised this problem and it legislates ever more national holidays, forces public officers to take 5 days off at Obon, etc, etc. But the culture is very slow to react. This is Japan. Nobody moves until there is consensus and then everything happens overnight. With all it's problems, Japan is still the place where I feel people are all aligned with the idea of making society a better place. I don't agree with everything here, but I respect the slow but inevitable progress that society makes here. YMMV (and probably will -- my natural attitude was always very close to Japanese ideas even before I knew anything about them. It's one of the reasons I find it so easy to live here).


It is very difficult to know what Japanese people truly desire.

http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Honne_and_tatemae


Hi Mike,

About six month ago you helped me through the "minefield" of eating as a gajin in Japan.

Let's call it a rousing success (it helps if you even like natto, but I digress).

Let me state for the record that your posts are shear awesomeness in contents and the amount of information provided.

Thanks!

BTW: I happen to be in Japan again and just survived golden week. I'm using the most important word you taught me quite often. It's that magic key that opens all culinary doors:

oiishi!


Awesome! I wondered how you got on. I'm super happy! Hope you're enjoying your stay.


Man, I don't know you and just from reading your two replies in this thread I feel like you'd be an awesome dude.


I also don't know him, not personally, that is, but I consider Mike a friend.

Unfortunately I can't find a way to link to the reply I was referring to so here's his Help-A-Gajin-Whos-Shitting-His-Pants-Cause-He-Has-No-Clue-About-How-To-Order-Food-In-A-Weird-Language (he does now) in all its glory (I hope, Mike, that you don't mind. But I couldn't imagine why you would and if somebody who's going to Japan anytime soon reads this. Let me assure you this is all you need if you want to eat well)

I still consider it one of the most incredible things ever happened to me on the internet.

(edited to add: The copy paste formatting is weird, sorry for that)

Anyway, here we go:

"I've gone to several sushi places in large centres, but nothing compares to my favourite place in my home town. It's kind of opposite to my initial gut feeling, but it makes sense in a strange way. In large cities, there are enough people to sustain mediocre restaurants. The top restaurants command really high prices, but you can survive if you are willing to charge less. In small towns, nobody has much money and they all eat at home. If you want to survive, you have to be amazing. So if you find yourself in a small port town, chances are the local sushi restaurant will be amazing. The other really important thing to realise is that really, really great food is often available in incredibly unassuming places. The restaurant will be 50 years old, will be onto it's third generation of master, and will be falling apart on the outside. But the food will be incredible. So it's super hard to tell where to go. A couple of things might help. First you should know a few kanji: 営業中 means "open for business". 準備中 means "preparing" (not open at the moment). The easiest way to distinguish it is to look at the first character. If it looks like a fat guy with his hair on fire, that's open :-) Next, quite a lot of great eating establishments are also drinking establishments. Especially if you want to eat and drink at the same time (which I recommend highly). The thing to look for is 居酒屋 (izakaya -- bar/pub). Not sure how to remember it. Write it on your hand :-). People will be impressed if they see it! Often this will be written on an orange paper lantern outside the establishment. Stay away from things called "pub" or "snack". Those are drinking establishments, but are really hostess clubs and the food is terrible. Another thing to look for is a noren. Here you can see an image of one [0]. When shops are in business, the noren will be displayed out like that. When they are closed, they will either be taken down, or displayed behind a closed window. The best thing to do to find good restaurants is to ask for recommendations from the hotel where you are staying. It's important to indicate that you are looking for an actually good place and not one catering to tourists. It may be slightly difficult to communicate that. The main concern is that because you don't speak Japanese, you won't be comfortable in a Japanese establishment -- especially if you can't read the menu. If you can't manage to get an answer from the hotel staff (often they are afraid to make a mistake), the way to go is simply to have courage and wander into likely looking establishments. Extremely good restaurants don't cater to tourists. They won't have menus with pictures on them. They won't won't won't have menus with English. They won't speak English. They spend all of their time thinking about food, not sales. You have to break down the barrier with your own courage. It'll be fine, don't worry :-) And if it isn't, they will be very polite as they usher you out the door ;-). Some very quick useful Japanese: When you enter, it's useful to say, "Aite imasuka?", which means "Are you open?". If they cross their arms in an X pattern, it means it's no good. Otherwise it's probably OK :-) If they are willing to seat you they will say, "Nan me sama?" (How many people?). Just hold up the appropriate number of fingers. Again, if it's no good, they will cross their arms in an X pattern. When ordering, draft beer is "Nama". Sake is "Nihonshu". Something stronger is "Shochu". But you can probably get away with ordering "Whiskey" or "Wine", etc. Carbonated fruit flavoured alcoholic drinks are called "Sawaa" (sour) or "Chuhai". If you want to stay away from alcohol, the mainstay is usually "ooloncha" (oolong tea). You can also order "cora" (cola), etc. For food, just ask for a suggestion: "Osusume wa nan desu ka?" (What is your recommendation). Whatever they say, respond with "Hai. Onegai shimasu". ("Yes, please") It'll be great. Even if they just asked you a question, by responding with "Yes, please" you will establish that you have no freaking clue what they are saying and that they should just give you food. As you eat, it's good to smile and remark "Oishii!" (Delicious!). Shop owners are very concerned when foreigners enter because they don't know how to please you. If you are visibly happy, they will also be happy. It diffuses a lot of problems. Usually they will give you a lot of special free food (or sometimes they will give you a lot of special, expensive food that you will pay for ;-) But they will love you!) Unless you have food allergies do not ask for substitutions or customisation!!!!! Japanese restaurants can't deal with this. The server's brain will melt. If you press the subject, they will sadly go back to the kitchen where the chef's brain will melt. After a very long time, they will come back and ask what they can possibly do. If you press the subject, they will probably cry. Don't do it! If you have an allergy, say "Arerugi nan desu!" (I have an allergy) and try to describe it as best as possible (Best to have it printed in Japanese before you go so you can flash it to them). Since you were asking about sushi, the kanji for sushi is 寿司. The best sushi restaurants will not put that on a sign because they are the best sushi restaurant in the area and everybody knows it's a sushi restaurant (which is why you need to get a recommendation). Unless you want to try kaiten shushi (conveyor belt sushi -- which is actually quite fun, despite the terrible food) say away from 回転寿司 restaurants. Again, if it has photographs of food, or English menus, it might be good, but it won't be at the top. Also, don't look for modern, glitzy, fancy restaurants. Look for "It seems to have been around since 1950 and they haven't painted the exterior once". But the inside will be nice. Other than than, just relax, have courage and enjoy your trip! The food here is amazing virtually everywhere. On a 3 1/2 week trip you will see and do a lot of great stuff (I envy you going up to Hokkaido -- especially by train). Keep in mind that every small town is incredibly proud of its local produce and cuisine. They will want to impress you with it. Just take it in and appreciate it. If you do, people will respond with more kindness than you can imagine. Hope that helps!"


That sentiment becomes increasingly likely the more hostile the workforce is to you, though.


It is not really hostility to women, but hostility to humans. 10 am -9pm every day often followed by drinking with coworkers.. till last train. vs raising kids. I know what I would choose.


drinking?


Drinking/Karaoke, in order to build a connection with client or bonding with coworker is a big part of Japanese business.

I bet a lot of people don't want to do it, but Japanese culture is not kind to someone who stand out from the group, so...


I think this article is just really trying string together anecdotes to fit a narrative that kind of glamorizes the incentives most people are facing now in the economy.

I find the analysis here much better[0]:

wrt Japan:

"For all its tortured economic history since 1989, Japan has never really had an unemployment problem. Going by its unemployment rate alone, conditions don’t ever appear to be all that out of line. At its worst, in both the dot-com recession as well as Japan’s experience during the Great “Recession”, the highest it ever got was 5.5%. That’s more than it ever was during the country’s immediate postwar history, but nothing that betrays permanent depression."

"But a comprehensive review of its labor market story gives us an entirely different sense than what comes out of the unemployment rate. Though many Economists claim that Japan’s are demographic problems, there is no doubt that those followed its monetary disintegration. If the Japanese are intent on committing demographic suicide, there’s a macroeconomic reason behind it, not the other way around."

wrt US:

"According to the latest figures, the unemployment rate in the US is now down to 3.9%. The reason it crossed the 4% line in April was perfect. Not in the manner of what a 3.9% unemployment should indicate, rather it was all the wrong things that expose the unemployment rate for what it is – meaningless."

"The primary reason for its drop was another monthly subtraction from the labor force. Down for a second month in a row, in April by 236k, the HH Survey managed to increase by all of 3k. The result: a perfectly representative decline to 3.9%."

"There are those who will claim that’s just the labor shortage getting worse. Companies are, according to much of the mainstream media, often desperate for workers. At some point, if the shortage was so bad and so obdurate as to be beyond all capability to correct, then we might expect the pace of hiring to slow. The labor force would languish behind, which many Economists are desperate to attribute to opioids and retirees."

"The problem with that line of thinking is March 2017. For fourteen months now, the unemployment rate has been below even the much-reduced Federal Reserve lower bound for the economy’s central tendency at full employment. That’s fourteen months where labor pressures are building at this extreme. For a labor shortage of that degree (never mind it’s been talked about constantly for three years), a year and two months is an eternity. Even if businesses can’t find enough workers, they would paying through the nose for ones they can."

"And yet, no wage acceleration can be found anywhere. As detailed yesterday, we find more often than not the opposite indication in some of the more comprehensive data. Inside the payroll report, average weekly earnings continue to be depressed just as they have since 2008. The chart above actually overstates the condition of the labor market to a considerable extent, which explains the chart below."

"There is actually very little employment growth. That’s not what you hear in the media, the constant touting of monthly 200k gains or 2mm jobs per year as if either are good numbers. They aren’t, and in fact are very far from being good. Last year was one of the worst years in the US labor market in some time. That plus continuously depressed wage/income growth (why would businesses actually pay more, the stupidity of the labor shortage narrative aside?), there is no reason or incentive for the labor force to expand."

Now the similarities:

"The unemployment rate, therefore, has problems not just in its denominator (participation) but also its numerator. While labor force growth is practically nothing, employment growth is only a little more than nothing. Historically speaking, like Japan the US labor market came to a screeching halt and never recovered. The unemployment rate descends only because that small, relatively minor improvement over the bottom.

Neither are actually keeping up with population growth, which itself has slowed. The result is that a 3.9% unemployment rate is nothing like the one from the year 2000. It is, however, pretty comparable to the low Japanese unemployment rate in how little it describes of the labor market."

No need to worry about any of this in the US though, there are %3 down payment, no income requirements[1] for you to get house, so freddiemac can bundle up these "assets" and "securitize" them… that should keep this economic situation kicking longer :D

[0] http://www.alhambrapartners.com/2018/05/04/three-point-nine-...

[1] http://www.freddiemac.com/singlefamily/factsheets/sell/pdf/h...


> And yet, no wage acceleration can be found anywhere. As detailed yesterday, we find more often than not the opposite indication in some of the more comprehensive data.

And

> There is actually very little employment growth.

Those are both false.

The US has added a million manufacturing jobs since 2011 and the 250,000 added over the last year or so is the most since 1998. The US bled manufacturing jobs non-stop from basically January 1999 to January 2011 (it literally had no positive gain over roughly 12 years). US manufacturing is booming to such an extent right now the production literally can't keep up with demand:

"U.S. Factories Are Showing Signs of Buckling From Demand Surge"

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-02/u-s-facto...

Labor demand is so extreme, we can't find enough truckers and it's holding back the economy:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-09/there-are...

Wage acceleration can in fact be found easily, it's right here:

Chart: https://i.imgur.com/lT00cme.png

"U.S. Private-Sector Wages Lodge Biggest Gain Since 2008"

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-04-27/u-s-emplo...

The prime age labor force participation rate - a critical metric - has shown a strong improvement in the last two years:

https://i.imgur.com/HcuLQHQ.png

So not only is wage growth accelerating, the strong economy has pulled a lot of prime age workers back into the economy. Nearly a million prime age workers have re-entered the labor force in 2.x years.

The U6 unemployment rate is also back to a normal level.


But the article about "factories buckling from a demand surge" also mentions "hiring slowed". The wage inflation chart trended down over the entire period you link, as did labour force participation chart.

The only positive for employment growth in your sources is a government crackdown enforcing sane work hours in the trucking industry, which seems to have caused the transport industry some trouble. Your links are not at all inconsistent with what the grandparent post is saying.


NEET is not synonymous with unemployed. It includes people who aren't in education or training as well. So comparing with the unemployed group in America, isn't a proper parallel.

You would need to compare to people who are both unemployed and also not in school.

Hence the unemployment number of 16-19 year old versus NEETS, would be very skewed as most of those people on those age in the US are legally required to be attending school thus can't be NEETs.


Unemployment rates only include people actively seeking work (actually, this is a common criticism of the figures, since they don't include people who've just given up).


Unemployment numbers in the US don't include students.


The US unemployment rate includes students, so long as they were seeking work at for at least one season of the year.

If you look at it on a month-to-month basis, it is seasonally adjusted, as students typically seek work during the summer [1].

If you look at it, the unemployment rate for 16 year old's is incredibly high---at ~16% [2]. These people like OP said, are nearly universally in schooling and would not be counted as NEETs.

I can't say though how the NEET score is calculated in Japan. If it is so strict as to only include people who have never held a job, education, or training of any kind during the year then it can't be compared to any unemployment statistic as those would typically drop someone if they worked once or gave up.

Either ways, comparing it is bad---which is what the grand-poster is getting at, so I think we all agree.

[1] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/youth.nr0.htm

[2] https://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea10.htm


A lot more profound than I expected from the title. I recommend reading it if you’ve skipped to the comments :)

I was particularly impressed by the comparison the author drew between aspects of Japanese youth culture that developed during the Lost Decade and aspects of “millennial” culture today in the US. I would be interested to see if anyone has developed that further.


I have traveled the world quite a bit, and lately, my impression is: people and cultures are becoming and more similar, probably due to things like social networks that work as amplifier for (mainly western) culture.

What I observe:

- people dressing/styling similar

- same food

- same large retail chains

- music sounds similar (except for the language)

- same TV shows

- everybody looking at their smartphones all the time


Cultural diffusion has increased immensely over the past few centuries, especially in the 20th century, as communication and transportation technologies advanced at incredible rates. The barriers that allowed so many different cultures to develop independently have been greatly reduced.

Entropically speaking, strong mixing is expected with the barriers gone. It's very interesting. I wonder how human culture will continue to evolve over the coming century.


Social networks, but also automated manufacturing and cheap shipping around the world.


This isn't really the main point of his article, but he glosses over one very important point about young people & the work ethic today:

People who get labelled as "freeters" aren't necessarily bouncing from job to job voluntarily. For decades Japanese corporations were labor-heavy because of life-time employment. When the bubble burst, they broke that unspoken promise and shed themselves of thousands of workers.

When things picked up again, instead of returning to that previous promise, they hired temporary workers. No benefits, no annual pay raises or twice a year bonuses, etc. (And no loyalty from these workers)

The Japanese corporate system is set up that you are hired after college at a low salary, but you are guaranteed a steady climb until you can retire comfortably in the end. The corporations pulled the rug out from under that system.

So you now have many young people who have been fully employed at MegaCorp for 3 years, but on a contract basis, never knowing when it will end, never getting a decent raise...

If you read newspaper and magazine articles here you realize there is an enormous sense of insecurity among the 20 to 30 year age group; and so they are unwilling to take risks, get married, buy homes, etc. People are retreating into themselves.

It would make sense that that is linked to minimalism - or at least, a reduced consumerism - but that would only be my own speculation.


Let me add that low-salary that rises is still low.

My Japanese teacher 20 years ago bragged that Japanese CEOs don't make obscenely more money than their employees. I countered that western CEOs may make more but they also pay their employees far far more and generally don't making their employees work 10am to 11pm 5+ days a week.

I'm my particular field I halved my salary to come to Japan and tripled it going back to the USA. Even funnier I was working for a Japanese company in the USA. I worked for 2 large Japanese companies (one with 4000+ people. The other with 300,000+ people). Both had limits of ~$60k a year set by the HR department no matter how much experience. That's less than interns make at Google USA. A typical engineer out of school makes around $20k a year at a Japanese company.

Here's some data on average yearly salaries by job type in Japan

https://doda.jp/guide/heikin/gyousyu/

Here's a page from Sony's job info showing starting salary at $2.5k a month or $30k a year

https://www.sony.co.jp/SonyInfo/Jobs/careers/info/detail.htm...

Random ad for C programmer for device drivers at Panasonic. $52k a year.

https://persol-hrpartners.co.jp/tech/SB070200/orderSearch?or...

In fact even more evidence, if you go to Indeed.jp (a job listing site) the settings for salary top out at $60k a year.

Add to that age discrimination (expected age is often in the job listing)


It is an interesting thing to contemplate, how there really are “leading” and “trailing” cultural activities. I noticed this in Australia how culturally, they were about a decade behind the US (this is not a snipe, just an observation on cultural norms). It is interesting to think that the US is culturally behind Japan. It leads me to wonder if that really will be our future as well, will we go through two lost decades? I fear we very well may do so. There at some point needs to be some method for dealing with the crushing amount of debt the US has collectively accumulated, and with internal “growth” so low (low birth rates as pointed out by the author). I see there eventually being no other choice than some sort of devaluing of currency to relieve the debt situation. The question is, what happens then? Do we go through a period of economic stagnation? If so, what happens to those “left behind”?


> will we go through two lost decades?

Growth rates in US and Japan are remarkably similar.

https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&...

> the crushing amount of debt the US has collectively accumulated

The US has far less debt than Japan.

https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/government-debt-t...

https://tradingeconomics.com/japan/government-debt-to-gdp


Wrong debt. The problem for Japan is the amount of household debt that was accumulated during the 80s (Most of it, as with USA, Australia, and a bunch of other nations, went into housing). This put a hard clamp on domestic consumption. Only being a strong export nation has alleviated the problem until recent years, where SK and China has undercut Japan.


Doesn't mean it's not crushing.


Australia is indeed a decade behind the USA, if you define culture as being “that which comes from the USA”. There’s a lot of uniqueness here that doesn’t get surfaced often enough, sadly. Note: I’m not disagreeing with you! More pointing out a slightly different way of looking at the same phenomenon :)


Can you give some examples of how Australia is culturally 10 years behind the US?


I probably should have been more specific. As with all things, even in the original article, there are both examples of both leading and trailing examples of culture. However, you asked for a specific example. For that, I refer to when I was living in Australia around 2009. What I distinctly remembered, and which still sticks in my mind was male/female interactions and cultural expectations.

In particular, what is “acceptable” in the work place. refer to societal norms as it comes to what is “acceptable” in the work. I recall a situation where a “secretary” was spoken to in such a way that I thought I was in a “Mad Men” episode. She was put down/treated such that if it had been in the US, would have been grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.

What was worse, this seemed to be the “norm” and nothing out of the ordinary. I even recalling talking to a female colleague and her intimadating that this was “par for the course”.

Another cultural difference, which I suspect is remedied by now, mostly had to do with availability of technology. Talking with/being around students and young professionals, at least at the time. It was very obvious that they had less exposure to information through the Internet. This wasn’t due to lack of interest, but more lack of infrastructure. It cost 10X to get the same technologies we took for granted in the US. Also, some things simply would not be available at any price. I really hope it has changed since then, but those are my memories.

All that said, Australia remains one of my favorite places in the world. I have often thought of moving back.


Only 10? Culturally it's a hinterland judging from its output.


Output of what?


I rest my case!

Though I do enjoy Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper, the Triffids, the Go-Betweens, and Tsiolkas -- not much of Australian-specific bunch most of them though.

Cave is mostly a dark take of US blues and celtic folk for example...


Tame Impala and King Gizzard are two new and influential bands from Oz.


Exactly. :-)

If you haven't been tracking Netflix, they have a new export from Australia, a series based on the Monkey King tale from China. It's Hercules-ish, and the accents are...odd.


> "A drop in fertility is virtually a defining trait of industrialized economies. This isn't a bug; it’s a feature."

Interesting to see programming terminology in a New Yorker article that doesn't seem particularly targeted towards a tech audience.


> [W]e're all otaku now.

Are we? Perhaps this is true for the people that write New Yorker articles, and a big chunk of those who read them, but from what I can tell most average Americans use Facebook, play basic app games, watch popular movies, and occasionally read a best-selling book. I don't see or hear about much cultivation of deep, obsessive, specific cultural interests.


Aren't the American otaku basically just nerds? Their "deep, obsessive, specific cultural interests" would be things like DnD, MtG, science fiction and comic books, and their stereotype probably predates the otaku by a few decades.


The original meaning of Otaku is almost identical to "nerd" IMO.


Otaku (lit. “home”)

The word comes from otaku spending more time at home on their hobby than hanging out with their friends, which encompasses things that would be called enthusiast or freak in English too.


That's not true. The word otaku, while it originally means "your home", is used as a polite second person pronoun; "you". When used by men in their 20s it can be considered as too polite, to the effect that it sounds something that a socially awkward people would use. There's some other forms of "otaku speak": using the honorfic "shi" (氏) instead of the commonplace "san". This, too, sounds too formal, and thus awkward.

The word "otaku" to refer nerds was coined by the writer Akio Nakamori in his essays, who used the word to refer to nerdy young males who used awkward language like that.


>Stripped down to its most minimalist outlines (an approach that Kondo would surely approve), a life of uncluttered simplicity represents a fantasy.

What part of it "represents a fantasy"?

It's rather the idea of becoming eventually rich while piling on debt consuming all kinds of crap that's, statistically a fantasy. As in statistically most don't ever get to that.


Not at all related to the article, but visiting Tokyo, it was immediately interesting to me just how similar to NYC it was. The feel was very New York, except stores close much earlier on par with the rest of Asia. And no one has ever seems to have heard of a suit that isn’t black.

A lot of difference of course, but overall it very much felt like New York to me.

As to the article, no doubt that the world is getting smaller. Good and bad.


> no one has ever seems to have heard of a suit that isn’t black.

This seems like a time-warp to the 1930s with a pinch of Henry Ford. "They can buy a suit of any color as long as it's black."


>The feel was very New York, except stores close much earlier on par with the rest of Asia.

Closer much earlier? What time do NY stores closes at?


There is a damn good reason New York is called "The City That Never Sleeps;" many businesses are open 24/7 and the subway is 24/7 as well. In Manhattan you can take care of most of your personal business at 3am.


Depends on the store of course, but many just don't close, or else stay open far later than the rest of the U.S. -- it would be pretty reasonable to go out at midnight and expect to be able to grab icecream, for instance.


Exactly. There are lots of 7-11s in Asia that are 24hr but most stores close early and don’t open again until 10am typically. Compared to NYC where you might find a 24hr pet store.

I did however find the best sushi I’ve had in my life at 1am in Tokyo near a fish market. It’s damn near ruined me on sushi. So the concept of 24hr or open late isn’t unheard of, but most places are closed by 10pm.


I have trouble getting any value from this article, which seems relatively devoid of pertinent facts.

The author wants to claim "Japanization" of America after the Great Recession because of a reduced fertility rate and an emphasis on the experience economy.

But, although he notes that fertility declines are a mark of industrialized nations, he fails to adequately compare the U.S. phenomenon to other countries, to compare and contrast those relationships with the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. In brief: the author presents no cogent argument as to why this is Japanization rather than, say, Frenchification (the French are notoriously anti-materialistic, preferring travel and cuisine to accumulating junk).

This New Yorker article appears to be nothing more than a blog post detailing some personal interpretive lens with no new information or analysis.


The author doesn't make a compelling case at all, and instead correlates the general trend of post-industrial transition to elements of Japanese culture and sensibilities gaining appeal with younger generations in the US. That may be so, but it's doubtful the US can even undergo the same kind of transition as Japan.

Inequality in Japan -- although on the rise -- is famously low, and the income disparity between people with low educational attainment and high educational attainment is not drastic. Taxes on the rich are high, and inheritance taxes also, making it difficult to accumulate and retain large amounts of wealth through multiple generations, which keeps inequality lower. The US has higher levels of inequality, and incomes correlate with a number of confounding factors that amount to structural stratification that's difficult to overcome. Egalitarian stagnation of young generations, kept orderly by generous government safety nets, a process that could easily take place in Japan, or Denmark, or a hypothetical post-boom Qatar, could hardly happen in the US.


Yeah, there are a number of ways that superficially similar phenomena are radically different between the two.

For one, American life delays are heavily attributable to economic uncertainty about basic needs like healthcare, whereas Japan has a healthy social safety net (related to your point about income equality and tax structure).

Effective fertility rate in particular is also radically different. As the author of the OP article points out, Japanese youth are delaying relationships and sex. In America, however, as in most other industrialized countries, the declining birthrate is mostly attributable to birth control, not abstinence.


The social safety net here in Japan is amazing, but the stigma of relying on it is so high that utilization by those most in need is very low, and that taking risks that could potentially lead to needing to utilize it are strongly avoided (among other social reasons for low risk taking).


A lot of Canadians are using birth control far longer than they'd prefer because they're hoping to some day reach a point where they feel economically secure enough to reproduce.


I think that's a little bit harsh because the general points about post industrial societies, especially the changing role of consumption is pretty insightful and important to talk about, but I agree that there was no specific need to tie it to Japan.

What's a little bit funny is that the author literally mentions the Gibsonesque Japan hype of the 80s, with everybody thinking that we'd all be living in Neo-Tokyo in 30 years.

Obviously, as the author notes, it didn't really pan out that way. Some cultural exports of Japan are without much doubt very popular and there are commonalities in culture, but every region and country still has its own way to deal with future changes, and in many cases very different demograhpics. There's no need to reduce it to any generic *-ification.


> Obviously, as the author notes, it didn't really pan out that way. Some cultural exports of Japan are without much doubt very popular and there are commonalities in culture, but every region and country still has its own way to deal with future changes, and in many cases very different demograhpics. There's no need to reduce it to any generic *-ification.

Very true. I think it’s undeniable that certain subcultures arose due to influence from Japanese cultural exports. But it’s a bit of a stretch to call it “Japanification”.


>But, although he notes that fertility declines are a mark of industrialized nations, he fails to adequately compare the U.S. phenomenon to other countries, to compare and contrast those relationships with the relationship between the U.S. and Japan. In brief: the author presents no cogent argument as to why this is Japanization rather than, say, Frenchification (the French are notoriously anti-materialistic, preferring travel and cuisine to accumulating junk).

>This New Yorker article appears to be nothing more than a blog post detailing some personal interpretive lens with no new information or analysis.

It's just a magazine article, not a doctoral dissertation. Lighten up.


Uhh, that's silly, have you not seen his other article on the Japanese Republic of France? /s


Orientalist mystique is doing a lot of the legwork in a piece that you correctly describe as holding true for most advanced Capitalist economies.


The USA and Japan have a very strange relationship.

As far as Asian countries are concerned, Japan has fewer immigrants to the USA than Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea, and India. But Japan sticks out despite the relatively low migration rate.

* The USA in general does have a sense of "the importance of the foreigner" or outsider. Foreigners invite new thought, new culture, and new experiences.

* Japan seems to make an ideal outsider. They're physically on the other side of the world. Their history is basically isolated from "The West" for hundreds, or even thousands of years.

* Yet, with all of that, modern Japan has integrated very finely into the culture of the West. Japanese brands are well-liked (Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Mazda). And as far as I can tell, Japan also likes a number of USA brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, 7-11, Disney, Levi Jeans, McDonalds, Star Wars).

* The media empire of Japan (not movies necessarily, but Japanese anime and Japanese video games, which are popular in the USA) has a lot of synergistic play / counterplay with USA. For example, the "RPG" genre has been shaped by both cultures heavily. While the USA can claim the big-daddy Dungeons and Dragons, as well as Rogue, Diablo, Bauldur's Gate (Canada, but still "Western"), World of Warcraft, and Skyrim... Japan has the Final Fantasy series, Dragon Quest, Legend of Zelda (including Breath of the Wild). There's a lot of influence and synergy between the "JRPG" and "WRPG" genres.

In short: Japanese culture is both familiar and foreign.

Cowboy Bebop is perhaps the best example of what I'm going for. Its a hardcore scifi space opera filled with Jazz: the American-influence on the anime cannot be ignored. But its still an anime with big eyes and the unique "Japanese" drawing style.

The familiarity allows American audiences a degree of comfort, while the Japanese tropes entice us with their exoticness. Its both familiar and different.

And from my understanding: the opposite occurs in Japan. The Jazz and "Americanisms" in the anime are designed to give a bit of an exotic feel for Japanese audiences and entice them. While the Anime tropes are there to give them familiarity.

And that's why its synergy. Familiar to us is exotic for them, and vice versa.

--------

EDIT: And then there's "Power Rangers", the weirdest thing to ever happen between the USA and Japan. Its neither fully American nor fully Japanese. Its clearly "Super Sentai" footage, but the "American Parts" with Johnny / Kimberly / Jason are still core to the series.

Its not just "Power Rangers" either. Transformers, and Sonic. Sonic is a Sega-owned video game character... but a lot of the animation was... American/France. How's that for a change? Outside of the "Sonic X" anime--- Sonic SatAM, The Adventures of Sonic, Sonic Underground, and Sonic Boom are all primarily animated in the West. With the comics done by Archie.


All I can say is, welcome to globalisation. As another comment pointed out, the author hasn't really made the case what's so terribly unique about Japan's influence on the US and vice versa.

Europe has tons of integration with the US, too. J-Pop has their equivalence in a whole range of British or French artists, Mazda has their equivalent in BMW, Sega in Rovio etc. And Europe has similar links with the Japan as the US does with Japan.

Just looks like ordinary globalisation to me.


> Europe has tons of integration with the US, too.

But that's easy to see why. Europe and USA's history goes back to the beginning of the USA's existence. Various European countries (France, Britain, Spain) were colonizing huge parts of what eventually became USA territory in the 1800s. And the original 13-states themselves were a set of British colonies.

That, the language-similarities, the religious similarities (historically Christian)... its no surprise that USA / Britain / France get along today. There's so much that's deeply in common that friendship is almost natural.

The Japanese / USA relationship (and Japanese / European relationship) is unique in that there's no colonial, language or religious relationship between the countries. Japan was never a colony of a great European Power, Japan never really converted to Christianity, Japan never adopted the language of Europeans.

So the very fact that a close relationship could be forged at all should be a surprise!


> The Japanese / USA relationship is unique in that there's no colonial (...)

Strictly speaking, not colonial, but there was that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Japan


You're partly missing the point. It's not just about US vis a vis Japan and US vis a vis the EU... it's that the US/Japan relationship isn't radically different from the EU/Japan relationship, or in fact any two highly developed globalised countries.


The US serves as Japan's military, which is not an unimportant difference.


>Cowboy Bebop is perhaps the best example of what I'm going for. Its a hardcore scifi space opera filled with Jazz: the American-influence on the anime cannot be ignored. But its still an anime with big eyes and the unique "Japanese" drawing style.

Also one of the greatest English dubs of any anime ever.

>EDIT: And then there's "Power Rangers", the weirdest thing to ever happen between the USA and Japan. Its neither fully American nor fully Japanese.

It's not an entirely new phenomenon - G1 Transformers, Voltron and Robotech were all welded together from various Japanese toy lines and series. Robotech wound up being as re-imported to Japan and became more popular than the series that composed it.

And it's probably also worth mentioning the original Western release of Godzilla with Raymond Burr spliced in.



I mean, the US has a lot of bases around the world. We've got bases in Cuba for example, and that doesn't really foster a good relationship with that country.

Heck, there's an Asian country right next to Japan called "The Philippines" which was a US colony for 40+ years.


It's not just military bases in Japan. Our relationship started by threatening to bomb them to oblivion unless they did what we wanted. And when Japan stopped doing what we wanted, we bombed them into oblivion, occupied their country, and eliminated their ability for further defense.


And before that was a Spanish colony for 300 years before that.

Japan on the other hand was an independent nation until said occupation.


Just a minor thing: 7-11 is a Japanese company. There are about 20,000 7-11s in Japan (vs 9,000 in the USA).

It surprised me when I went there—they are EVERYWHERE.


It was acquired by a Japanese company, but it was originally an American company / brand.


Japan has a lot of immigration, if not emigration. Within the country, it is a lot easier to see what is imported into (e.g. Indian food) than exported from Japan.


Off Topic - I do wish magazines that exist for long form articles would build the page so you could use the space bar to advance without covering the top lines with their navbar.

I don't sit and relax with long form story on a Sunday morning on my phone


As one who lives on the internet for work, I have never heard of any of the things mentioned at the beginning of the article which makes me suspicious of its foundation. Years ago, we heard of Japan taking over all of technology due to their innovation and we see how well that went.

It is the USA with the biggest influence on the world, not the other way around, especially short-term fads like those mentioned in this article.


I've heard one interesting hypothesis concerning the paradox that the poor tend to have more children than the rich. You would typically expect the reverse. The poor, unable to provide for more children, should have fewer. And, according to this hypothesis, that's what is typically the case historically. The major cause for the reversal is the consumerist ethos. Those with more money choose to spend it on things rather than children because when "keeping up with the Jones'" consumerist values are in play, having a child is a relative loss. You are much better off buying more stuff.


> "[...] there is little in the way of the internecine strife rending America’s public discourse at the moment. What keeps Japan from flying apart, in the face of ongoing political, economic, and demographic uncertainty? A standardized national curriculum that insures a shared level of basic educational experience? An egalitarian pay ethic, with far less income disparity than there is in the U.S.? A refreshing lack of a 24/7 news cycle or televised punditry?"

The author is trying way too hard here to push their American political agenda. Are they implying that e.g. if we suddenly had an equitable education system our nation would suddenly be at peace?

What keeps Japan from flying apart in the face of uncertainty? I doubt the author would ever admit it as it's not very politically correct (and doesn't fit their agenda), but, before all the superficial options the author proposes, the homogeneous society in Japan is the number one thing keeping their societal fabric strong. Conversely, the heterogeneity of America is a big factor making our situation so tumultuous.

I'm an American currently working in Japan. Japan is awesome, and each day I witness cultural customs or processes that just wouldn't work in the US - and I think in large part it's due to nearly everyone being Japanese and raised with the same values. That's not to say I think America would be better off as a homogeneous society either; America is great in many other ways because of its incredible diversity, though it means we have challenges no other nation has had to face before.

But to ignore the role of diversity (or lack thereof) in the strength of bonds in a society is dishonest and misleading.

Side note: as an expat in Tokyo, I often feel bad for simply existing there. I try to conform to all the cultural norms here, but sometimes its hard to, and I know there are many expats who simply don't care to try at all, and I feel like this is slowly leading to the demise of an awesome aspect of Japanese culture. Indeed the neighborhood I live in, which is the expat neighborhood Roppongi, already seems to have lost some of the Japanese charm - with dirtier streets, rude people, expats being loud on the subway. Most people lock their bikes in this neighborhood now and a friend couldn't find their phone after dropping it at a bar the other day here (almost never happens in Japan - your lost stuff is either where you left it or taped to a nearby wall so you can easily find it). Purely anecdotal but, as I said above, I think the more heterogeneous Japan becomes the more of this culture we take for granted will be eroded.


I think this is one of the most significant reasons why Japan is the way it is, but one of the most ignored. It's difficult, in today's political climate, to accept that maybe immigration and diversity aren't always good things.

I hope Japan stays the way it is for a long time more.


Maybe I am wrong, but I have always perceived that the influence of Japanese culture on America is no longer as strong as it was in the 90s and early 00s. That could be my childhood bias though.


Japanese pop culture (specifically, anime and video games) seems to have become more mainstream in the US across various demographics, likely due to the web and streaming services like Crunchyroll and obviously video games, but also because the generation that held it as a cultural niche has grown up and become the standard bearers for current American culture.

Mainstream pop and rap artists are making anime references in their music now, and plenty of modern animation and movies making nods to it, even adopting the anime aesthetic (like Avatar, Teen Titans and RWBY.)


An interesting opinion. If true, the future holds interesting problems, and I liked that it noted that there are worse things for a society than calmly growing old together.

And as an aside, I find myself very willing to click on any HN submissions linking to the New Yorker. It's website is usually clean, minimal, and seems genuinely intent on conveying an intelligent message to the reader, which is a breathe of fresh air as clickbait and sensationalism seems to only be growing.


>A suicide rate that is one of the highest among industrialized nations.

Please stop saying that. Japan's suicide rate is on the decline and not that high.


>We don’t buy into Kondo’s life-changing magic just because we think Japan is cool; we also buy because our country is, in many ways, increasingly like Japan.

On point.


Hey, is this related to Code Geass?


This article is written from the viewpoint of the US urban dweller.


(All hail Lelouch.)


This is what happens when you write an article about Japan without having any particular understanding of history.

The future of America won’t look anything like Japan because America is not a far flung outpost of an empire in decline. It’s the center of that declining empire. The circumstances of globalized Capitalism do create superficial “cultural” similarities, but if you want to understand the fate of America, you’re better off looking at the current state of countries that were the former the rulers of the Ottoman, British, or Soviet empires. Great Britain became more Indian in the wake of losing its empire as well, but it wasn’t anything like this article describes.


What empire in decline is Japan (or the US) a far flung outpost of, exactly? Japan has about the same population as Britain and France combined, and America has twice that.

I’m also not sure how Britain is relevant here. I think you have might have an interesting point but I can’t see it right now.


Japan is a far flung outpost of the American empire and has been so for its entire post-War history. The occupation forces arrived at a tacit agreement with the former imperial rulers that they could remain in power, so long as they served American interests in the region. This is why Japan received favored status politically and economically over Korea (who were indeed even forced to purchase goods and services from their former colonial oppressors to prop up Japan’s economy).

Something like de-Nazification never happened in Japan. This is who comprised Japan’s Conservative party when the post-War democracy was founded and still comprises it today. Abe Shinzo is the grandson of the former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, who was nicknamed “America’s Favorite War Criminal.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobusuke_Kishi


Thanks for posting about Kishi. I never knew about this aspect of the history in Japan. Went down a rabbit hole reading about things like Unit 731 and Shiro Ishii. Crazy that most of the Unit 731 folks were never charged with war crimes. Hard to believe stuff like Unit 731, concentration camps, and usage of atomic weapons on civilians happened still less than 100 years ago.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731


I don't really know that guy or care about him, but the page doesn't look very well written. There are grammar mistakes and opinions presented as a fact in more than a few places.


>I don't really know that guy or care about him

Then why bother commenting?

Here’s the same info from a non-Wikipedia source, hopefully meeting your grammatical standards:

http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp11.html


This article has a bit of truth and a provocative thesis but with a few notable exceptions it becomes more and more contrived as it winds on. Most egregiously it tries too hard to tie unique Japanese cultural phenomena which can be explained in other ways to universals that don't exist.


>Another societal struggle that Japan was one of the first developed countries to encounter can be seen on the opposite end of the age spectrum, in its large population of unemployed young men and women. A report from 2017 revealed that, in 2015, there are some 1.7 million of them, a full ten per cent of those between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine—a shocking number, given that Japan’s unemployment rate is an enviable 2.5 per cent. Officially, Japan calls these people NEETs (“not in education, employment, or training”) and “freeters” (temps who drift among various short-term jobs). The press has other, less generous terms for them, including “parasite singles” and “herbivore men.” In the early aughts, journalists spilled a great deal of ink on the herbivores’ seemingly unique lack of interest in moving out, getting married, or finding a girlfriend.

It's telling that the author starts out his hitjob on NEETS as stating they're both officially men and women, and finishing with the implication that they're actually all men.

I'd expect better editing from The New Yorker!


>Tellingly, the Japanese have a slang term for people like this: otaku. Literally meaning “one’s home,” the word emerged in the early eighties as slang for young adults who eschewed normal relationships in favor of the virtual worlds of manga, anime, and early video games.

It's hard taking an article seriously when it's wrong on such a basic fact like this. It comes off as someone who has no idea what they're talking about trying to make connections between things to sound informed and enlightening on a subject. Especially when all you need to do is read the wiki article [0]. The word is closer to "geek". How would 銃オタク (gun otaku) fit under the media umbrella of manga, anime, or video games?

[0] https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%81%8A%E3%81%9F%E3%81%8F


The author of the article is a professional translator that has lived in Japan for 15 years. It's hard taking this criticism seriously when your authority here is Wikipedia as opposed to living in-country for a decade and a half.

His statement was in reference to the origin of the term, whose meaning has evolved over the years. Wiki isn't wrong, but neither is the author.


I'm not sure what point you're trying to make, but the very page you link to contradicts what you're saying. The author of this piece has made no error, you're just misunderstanding.

As your linked page explains, "otaku" was an old honorific that became slang for anime/manga/sci-fi geeks in the 1980s.

>The word is closer to "geek". How would 銃オタク (gun otaku) fit under the media umbrella of manga, anime, or video games?

Because, again as your link notes, over time the term expanded beyond its original association with media to mean intense fans of anything. Hence, "gun otaku".

You may want to reread your link, as you seem confused on the subject.




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