For the last week, Tokyo’s ultra-toxic levels of pollen have destroyed my stamina and health, and I can do little more than sit around my room, reading a somewhat new book called Japan’s Changing Generations: Are Young People Creating a New Society? (Ed. Gordon Mathews and Bruce White) between sneezes. The problem with most academic works on youth culture is that the writers are essentially two or three decades removed from whatever they’re writing about. They may perceive their own mistakes about Glay members as trivial, but I start cribbing score and by the end I’m pretty sure they basically have no idea what they are talking about. Who wants to read a book about the Rolling Stones written by the WWII generation?
But enough of my ageism: There’s a pretty interesting essay by Kotani Satoshi in the book with the cranky title: “Why are Japanese youth today so passive?” He brings up some very interesting points about why the counterculture failed to change Japanese society like it did in the West:
1) The Japanese Left in the 1960s chose Marxism rather than Liberal Democracy as its rallying philosophy, which left little room for real adaptation into society. When revolution didn’t happen in an increasingly rich Japan, they either could do a 180˚ back into the workforce or drop out completely (or equally likely, be lynched by their own comrades.)
2) The Japanese economy’s unprecedented growth of the ’70s and ’80s further perpetuated traditional gender roles instead of leading to a critique. Men were able to supply enough income to their families so that women could very easily stay full-time housewives. There’s a deeper message here: The “conservative” Japanese system could easily show great proof of success through rising incomes all the way until the early ’90s. How could the counterculture convince people with fatter paychecks to change horses in mid-stream?
A Correction: In the past I’ve written that Japanese student protesters mostly went straight back into society, but that was only true for the ’60s Ampo-era protesters. The more violent late ’60s variety were summarily blacklisted from major companies — a practice that the Supreme Court legally upheld in 1973.