Post-Bubble Japan: Akihabara

The end of the Japanese bubble economy was followed by a stale economic growth with the exception in the consumer electronics industry.  In the 1980’s, the leisure activities were focused around the family; activities like excursions to parks or shopping were the common.  As the time for leisure becomes scarce with work or education, however, people start to seek entertainment wherever they can (for example, commuters will read manga or listen to music on the way to work or school).

The market responded to this new individual-oriented lifestyle by providing consumer electronics for entertainment.  Akihabara shopping district became popular to this post-bubble generation, and those who became obsessive with video games and manga were named otaku.

Post-Bubble Japan

Post-bubble Japanese society is characterized by the naturalization of shock. 20th century Japanese history is filled with shocking events, from the atomic bombs at the end of World War Two to terrorist incidents in the 1970s. After the bubble economy collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s, social pessimism reached new heights, peaking with the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack (pictured at right) on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Japanese society has become accustomed to shocks, and shock has been replaced by a search for new identity.

Post-bubble culture, which is developing through the generation that matured in the 1990s and subsequent generations, develops through the various methods young Japanese employ in their search for this new identity: materialism, minimalism, obsession with the past or the future, withdrawal or escapism, and an overarching nihilism. These responses are expressed by the post-bubble youth directly through a surge in youth literature, including acclaimed novelists Kanehara Hitomi and Wataya Risa. In particular, Kanehara’s works have been touted as “shocking,” but largely have failed to actually shock post-bubble Japan.

Japan: Post Bubble Ginza

Ginza is well known for its shopping and its spot in the night. With more than 500,000 inhabitants life is brought to the city. But what if all those inhabitants disappeared? After the collapse of the economy, many people started to stay indoors and spend less, save.

Clothes, food, cars, and all these luxury goods become less desirable during a recession. Combined with the declining forces of natural reproduction, a recession could essentially collapse an entire economy. Through circumstances of unfortunate events strange anomalies are created, like the NEET society, freeters, and other sub-cultural movements. As the economy high tails for the worse and the population declining at a steady rate, the streets of Ginza start to look a lot wider.

Post Bubble Culture

After World War II, Japan underwent large-scale industrialization and modernization, leading to great economic prosperity. In order for this success to occur, the Japanese people threw themselves into their jobs. They worked hard and focused solely on the economy, disregarding the social ramifications wrought by  industrialization.

In the 1990s, with the crash of the bubble economy, social issues became prevalent in Japan. Previously, people valued their work more than their personal lives, so when the job market crashed, their lives were left meaningless. This stressful event, perceived as uncontrollable, sparked the advent of the post-bubble culture we see in Japan today which is characterized by new-age social problems.  Initially, Japanese people developed into social phenomena such as otaku, freeters, and hikikomori as a way to cope with economic stress. Ironically, these coping mechanisms have now become social stressors in Japan.

This is a picture of a strange-colored cactus growing out of lava. The lava, typically associated with volcanoes, represents the destruction caused by the economic crash. New, unexpected things have grown not only from the volcano, but also from the economic crash. Now, Japanese society is unsure about how to deal with these anomalies that have resulted from the collapse of the bubble economy.

Young Women Writers

Japanese

I’m researching the female writer Aoyama Nanae and her Akutagawa Prize-winning novel Hitori biyori (2007). Winning the award at age 24, Aoyama is the latest example of the boom in young women writers, along with prize winners Kanehara Hitomi and Shimamoto Rio, who were also born in 1983. The young female protagonist of Hitori biyori learns about life and grows up as she moves to Tokyo, works at at train station kiosk, and lives with Ginko, a 71 year old family acquaintance. This novel evocatively describes the freeter lifestyle and the despair felt by contemporary youth.

In 2009, Aoyama became the youngest winner of the Kawabata Yasunari Prize for her short story “Kakera.” I’m very interested in this phenomenon and the ways in which these young women are changing the face of the literary establishment.

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Timeline

  • 1983 Born in Saitama
  • 2005 Awarded 42nd Bungei Prize for “Mado no akari”
  • 2007 Awarded 136th Akutagawa Prize for Hitori Biyori
  • 2009年 Youngest winner of the Kawabata Yasunari Prize for the short story “Kakera”

Linkography

“Just 20, She Captures Altered Japan in a Debut Novel” (NY Times, 3/27/04)

  • Post Akutagawa Prize interview with Kanehara Hitomi
  • 金原ひとみの芥川賞受賞者インタビュー

contributed by Rachel DiNitto

Young Women Writers

English

女流作家青山七恵の芥川賞受賞作『ひとり日和』(2007年 )を研究しています。24歳で受賞した青山は、若い女性小説家(金原ひとみや島本理生も1983年生まれの文学賞受賞者)の流行の一人として考えられま す。作品『ひとり日和』では、若い主人公が東京に引っ越し、駅のホームのキオスクで働き、母親の知り合いである71歳の吟子の家に住んで、 生活しながら成長していきます。この本は、現在の日本の若者のフリーター生活や絶望感などをいきいきと描写しています。

青山はまた2009年に短篇「かけら」で川端康成文学賞の最年少の受賞者となり、 この若い女性(少女)達が文学賞のイメージを変えていく現象は興味深いと思います。

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年表:青山七恵

  • 1983年 (昭和58年) 埼玉県に生まれる
  • 2005年 (平成17年) 「窓の灯」で第42回文芸賞を受賞
  • 2007年 (平成19年) 『ひとり日和』で136回芥川賞を受賞
  • 2009年 (平成21年) 短篇「かけら」で最年少で川端康成文学賞受賞

外部リンク

[「女性作家の時代ようやく花開く」浦田憲治、日本経済新聞 2004年1月25日]:から

「年齢ばかりが注目され、どこが新しいのか、わからない」。先日の綿矢りささん(19)と金原ひとみさん(20)の芥川賞最年少受賞に対し、こんな声が出ている。…

今回の受賞作とこれらの優劣を即論じることはできないが、若い女性二人が、初めて同時受賞した意義は大きいといえる。よしもとばなな、山田詠美ら人気作家が築いてきた「女性作家の時代」がようやく花開いたのだから。この二作を芥川賞史上衝撃的な作品とみるよりも、若い女性作家のレベル向上の成果と受げ止めたい。

“Just 20, She Captures Altered Japan in a Debut Novel” (NY Times, 3/27/04)

Post Akutagawa Prize interview with Kanehara Hitomi
金原ひとみの芥川賞受賞者インタビュー


Entry contributed by Rachel DiNitto

Hikikomori (Shut-Ins)

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