Japan’s tormented relationship with its modernity

Tokyo-street-fPankaj Mishra at Caravan:

VISITING JAPAN THIS YEAR, however, I felt pulled back in time. I had over-prepared, in a way, for this trip, reading widely, and seeking out authorities on the country, for several years. Still, I was surprised and often baffled by its isolationism, over-regulated economic regime, monopolies and inefficiencies—visitors will find it easier, for instance, to procure a data connection on their smartphone in Laos than in Japan, and a SIM card for voice calls is simply unobtainable. The Japanese were still rich. But why did their houses look so flimsy, their supermarkets so poorly stocked, and their public architecture so unprepossessing? As early as the 1920s, Japan was introduced to the material culture of capitalism, and its attendant phenomena: the consumption of cars, radio, films, magazines, the rise of the nuclear family, and the commercially motivated exaltation of youth and romantic love, and Western mores; it was also then that a popular culture grew around the new urban middle class, featuring the ubiquitous so-called salaryman (sarariman) and the hard-working white-collar women—moga, or modern girls, who were, in the overheated Japanese male imagination, as prone to retail kisses as Western clothes.

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