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Roland Kelts, “The Soul of Japan“, Adbusters
I am not sure I understand what is going on in this article.
1. Japan has been too influenced by American culture, but also hasn’t been influenced enough.
Murakami Ryu complains about Japan taking up too much American-style materialism, but then complains that Japan only took up American culture in a superficial way. But wouldn’t it be way worse had Japan adopted American style values in a deep and thorough way? Hasn’t Japanese culture been “saved” by only appropriating American culture as surface?
2. The entire idea of Japanese social dependence comes from the defeat of WWII and not over a millennium of Confucian-derived values.
“A Japan shaped by its reliance upon big brother/big daddy America would naturally perfect this form of expression.”
Murakami Takashi — if I was new to this, I would think that everyone in Japan is named “Murakami,” by the way — is obsessed with framing every possible Japanese cultural tendency through the lens of WWII. Sure, the war was an epoch-changing affair and the scars are deep, but I don’t think America suddenly invented the idea of dependence and hierarchical relations and hoisted them on Japan. Murakami seems to complain about all these hierarchical structures — in an incredibly Oedipal American way — and then blames them on America. And then he also goes around saying that Japan is “superflat” — no hierarchies at all.
Then Murakami Ryu says, “The paradigm of Japanese society has changed since the era of rapid economic growth, but our society still provides the same kind of education and corporations are still managed by rules based on norms rooted in the paradigms of that time.”
This is a great summary of Japan’s political issues, but the cause has way more to do with Japanese internal political inertia and social organization than any sort of complex with America.
3. Japan is powerless to do anything about this American influence.
“There are 45,000 American troops here, and American fast food is everywhere. What could we do to stop it?”
For the time being, let’s ignore the fact that there is Japanese fast food everywhere and that there are probably as many Doutors as Starbucks.
I absolutely believe that the United States has had a distorting influence upon the Japanese political process. The CIA secretly funded the LDP until, at least, the late 1980s and put right-wing thugs on their payroll to crush Leftist dissent.
That being said, individual Japanese citizens do have a choice of whether to eat McDonalds or Yoshinoya. All that “fast food” is there because it sells really well. McDonalds Japan just posted record revenues.
In the same way, the Japanese people could have voted for a political party that promised an independent foreign policy from American needs, but the LDP has been given the reigns to the country for almost the entirety of the post-war period. There are everyday lifestyle choices that would help mitigate the American influence, but most people are choosing the status quo. No one seems to be interested in asking why there is such a high demand for American culture and products in Japan.
“And the BBC reported in May that Japan’s Communist Party had swelled to more than 400,000 members, with 1,000 newbies signing on every month.”
So, good, the Japanese, through support of the JCP, are making a political movement against Japan’s participation in the American capitalistic sphere and the nuclear treaty. But if membership is increasing, why did the JCP lose ground in the last Tokyo election? And why do people think they will lose further ground in this month’s big national election?
4. Everyone loves American culture, but there is something shameful about liking American culture.
“Oe admitted that books like Huckleberry Finn and volumes by Walt Whitman first inspired him to embark on his career as a writer. He reportedly bowed his head in apology immediately after making this confession.”
I think the context of that anecdote was that Oe has always been aligned with the Japanese left, but as an American Left-style humanist liberal democrat, he had to feign a certain amount of shame in front of the dominant USSR and China-oriented Socialists. I don’t think that liking Huckleberry Finn is particularly shame-worthy in more mainstream circles. Murakami Haruki wears his American influences on his sleeve, and he’s a hugely-selling author.
5. American culture has lost influence in Japan.
“Younger Japanese are setting the trends that young Americans and other Westerners now follow”
This needs to be highly qualified. Mixi was a Friendster rip-off, and American web culture — other than 4-chan perhaps — has taken very little influence from Japanese web culture. There are probably things that prove the “Japan got to postmodernity before the US,” but net culture does not work as an example.
But I agree with the bigger point: young Japanese have generally lost interest in the U.S. This is totally true — especially in the fashion world. Japanese youth know so little about the rest of the world that there is no way they could harbor an inferiority complex.
So shouldn’t this be a cause for celebration? Isn’t this the end of the psychological crisis? Do any of the artists featured in the piece feel happy about the artistic potential of the latest youth generation? Wasn’t it the complex and dialogue with the West that spurred the creative tension in their work? Would Murakami Takashi give all the money back for his “soul”?