postal-savings system, one giant piggy bank for the bureaucrats to play with. At the turn of the century, hopes for the future remain balanced between revolution and stagnation. Stagnation is most likely in the absence of a major shock to the system, such as a wholesale economic crash. But revolution could happen. The world is full of surprises – who would have imagined in 1985 that by 1990 the whole of Eastern Europe would have shaken off Communism? It is exactly such a surprise that millions of Madame Defarges are quietly waiting for. Sadly for Japan, a crash is highly unlikely. The chances are that for the next decade or two there will never come a moment when the nation stares disaster right in the face. The water will remain lukewarm, and the public will sleep comfortably in a soup of Chuto Hanpa while their country slowly degenerates. When it comes time to carve the epitaph for «Japanese-style capitalism as a civilization,» the legend on the tombstone will read «Boiled Frog.»


E pur si muove (But it does move).

– Galileo Galilei, said under his breath after he was forced to recant his belief that the earth moved around the sun (1632)

 In contrast to most books by Europeans and Americans on Japan, this one has avoided the words «Japan must» and «Japan should,» for I do not believe that foreigners should make demands on Japan. Nothing is more damaging to U.S.-Japan relations than Washington's noisy insistence that Japan rationalize its financial markets, boost domestic demand, and so forth. It enrages – rightly – politicians like Ishihara Shintaro, who resent American insolence, and it frightens the average citizen, who is aware of how misguided such advice often is. For example, American pressure to «pump-prime» the economy does real damage, for pouring money into public works only exacerbates Japan's worst problem, which is its addiction to government-subsidized construction. Writing this book has not been easy, for many of the issues raised here are close to unknown overseas. It has been challenging to describe in a believable way Japan's cultural trauma, so beyond most people's experience in Western countries that it strains credibility. Yet the situation that I have been describing is all too real, and the hope for the future, I believe, lies in seeing the condition of modern Japan for what it is – only from recognition and understanding will come change. I have written to describe and not prescribe. That said, it would be ingenuous to claim that I have no personal hopes for Japan. For one who loves Japan's culture and its rivers and mountains, the disaster overtaking cities and countryside has been heartrending to witness. I've written this book for my Japanese friends and millions of others who have so far had very little voice in the foreign media, who feel as sad and angry as I do. Although I'm skeptical of Japan's ability to change (the very roots of the tragedy lie in systems that repress change), in my heart I dream of change. Modern Japan is an emotional minefield. Old-line Japanologists, in my view, are so convinced that their duty lies in preaching Japan's glory that these subjects deeply frighten them. People are afraid to open the closet, afraid that the sight of the skeletons inside might undermine what they love about Japan, and fearful, too, lest the high-powered international forums they belong to do not invite them back to future meetings. While this situation has changed in recent years with regard to finance, it is still largely true when it comes to culture. The popularizers of Japanese culture, the people who write about Zen, flowers, the tea ceremony, architecture, design, and so forth, are still writing as if they hadn't noticed that there is trouble in Eden. But there is trouble, and it has happened once before in the past century when a similar process led the nation into disaster. One may easily draw parallels between the collapse of the Taisho Renaissance of the 1910s and 1920s and the Heisei Depression of the 1990s. In both cases, systems of inflexible government and education stifled a generation of freedom and creativity. The same mechanisms that caused Japan to veer off course before World War II – a ruling elite guiding a system aimed single-mindedly at expansion – are at work today. Over the years, foreign observers have looked with envy at the «Japanese paradigm,» in which the goal of the economy is to expand at all costs, and not necessarily to benefit the citizenry. The virtue of this paradigm lies in the sacrifices the people make in exchange for national economic power. But it is time to review this paradigm and take a long look at Japan's concrete-shrouded rivers, shabby cities, stagnant financial markets, Hello Kitty-fied cultural life, and mismanaged resorts, parks, and hospitals, and to see them for what they are. Perhaps Japans twentieth- century history is not that of a nation that has successfully adapted to modernity but one that has twice mal-adapted, with calamitous results. In asking ourselves at the deepest level what happened to Japan, it helps, oddly enough, to look again at ikebana flower arrangement. One day in the fall of 1999,1 broached a question to the flower master Kawase Toshiro. It was something that had long been troubling me: What is the real difference between old-style ikebana and the monstrosities that pass under that name these days? One can regret the use of wire and vinyl cutouts, the way flowers and leaves are stapled and folded together, the way manuals diagram arrangements in terms of exact angles at such-and-such degree – but all of these things, however distorted, do have roots in the tradition. What is the crucial difference? Kawase's answer was that modern flowers lack jitsu – that is, «reality.» Traditional flowers had a purpose, whether it was religious or ritual; people in those days had a mystical respect for the wonders of nature and used their arrangements as a way of seeking and responding to the creative breath of the cosmos. Nowadays, all this is lost. There is no purpose except decoration for its own sake, no inquiring after the nature of plants and flowers themselves. Instead, the flowers are just «material,» not much different from any other material such as vinyl and wire, used any which way to serve the whimsical needs of the arrangers. In short, there is no jitsu, no spiritual purpose, nothing that connects with the inherent forces of nature – just empty design. Kawase's comment was a profound one, for lack of jitsu carries over into every field in Japan today, and can be said to be at the very root of the country's present cultural malaise. The construction frenzy (building without purpose), architecture (design without context), education (facts without independent thought), new cities (destroying the old), the stock market (paying no dividends), real estate (making no returns), universities (irrelevant to education), internationalization (keeping out the world), bureaucracy (spending without regard to real needs), finance ('virtual yen'), cinema (aimed mostly at children, not at adults), company balance sheets ('cosmetic accounting'), the Environment Agency (unconcerned with the environment), medicine (copycat drugs improperly tested), information (fuzzy facts, secrets, and lies), airports (bad for people, good for radishes) – the whole edifice is lacking in jitsu. The gap between Japan's way of doing things and the realities of modern life, both international and domestic, is extreme – there is no other way to put it. It is this that leads me to call Japan a case of failed modernization. Japan's elaborate Dogs and Demons monuments are a sort of defensive bulwark, a desperate attempt to shore up its embattled systems against the crushing weight of real value. The strain can only worsen, yet in the end reality will prevail – the earth does move around the sun. Japan has departed so far from jitsu, I believe, because during the past century the nation did not in fact respond well to new ideas coming from the West, as classical «modernization theory» preaches; instead, Japan has had one long, agonizing struggle with these ideas, and the struggle is by no means over. As in the 1930s, the nation is repeating a pattern whereby huge initial success eventually leads to disaster. In the early stages, Japan finds its own innovative way to do what the West does – and with spectacular results. We should remember that it is only a decade or so ago that the whole world was studying Japanese management, manufacturing, finance, and merchandising techniques. In the second stage, however, these very innovations that amazed the world are carried too far; the whole system goes onto automatic pilot, and the ship runs up on the rocks. The cultural troubles are long-term and chronic. There is a way out, of course, and it's the way of jitsu-getting back in touch with reality. The reality that Japan needs to get back to, however, is not necessarily reality as it is seen in the West but Japan's own moral and cultural roots. As we have seen repeatedly in this book, much that parades as quintessentially Japanese today – for example, money that earns no interest and companies that cannot fail – would be unrecognizable to Saikaku and the hearty tradesmen of old Edo. The manualized flower arrangements are a denial of everything that flower masters taught for centuries; the bombastic architecture a slap in the face to a long tradition of restraint and aesthetic sensitivity; the smiling baby faces an absurd end to the sophisticated adult culture that gave us Noh drama, Basho's haiku, sand gardens, and so much more. Most tragic of all, the construction frenzy that is a core part of today's distorted system is destroying the very land itself, the land that the Japanese have always considered to be sacred. The result of Japan's war with jitsu has been to tear apart and ravage most of what Japan holds most dear in its own culture, and this lies at the root of the nation's modern cultural malaise: people are sick at heart because Japan has strayed so far from its true self. The challenge for the Japanese in the past two centuries was how to come out of isolation and assert themselves in the world, and in this they succeeded brilliantly, to the extent that Japan is now one of the world's most powerful nations. Success came, however, at tremendous internal cost. The challenge of this century will be how to find a way home.

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