Sunday, April 19, 2009

Musings on a rainy day and Japan

It's hard to feel enthusiastic about anything on a day like this. It's grey and drizzly, the sky a single sheet of cloud. It reminds me of the weather the day I first arrived in Japan. The sky was solid white, so smooth I could hardly believe it was cloud - it was as if above us was metal plate, painted to vaguely resemble sky, from some future dystopia. And in fact, people often compare Japan to the imagined future. It's not just that Japan controls most of the consumer electronics market, has produced more than its share of technological innovations, and has the most sophisticated toilets in the world. There's a sense, in this consensually homogenous society where the police don't carry guns because the criminals don't either, that this country has moved on beyond the troubles of our still-developing first world.

This isn't true, of course. In some ways, Japan remains fixed in the past. The same political party has ruled, with only minor interruptions, since 1955, and it's solidly center-right. Nativism is at least as strong in Japan as in the US. Leading politicians still spend their time rewriting the events of World War II. Entrance exams are still the primary determinant of college admissions, and employers who look at little more than school name on a diploma provide a powerful disincentive to study abroad. Is Japan a country caught between contesting forces, or a new-age synthesis of tradition and modernity? Or are these both dualistic illusions? I certainly don't know. But both as a case study of the modern world, and as a lens through which to view our own societal development, I think that Japanese society is a fascinating subject. I'm sure I'll have occasion to write more about it in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment