We are not doing an annual look back piece this year, because nothing really happened in Japan. But maybe that is what makes Japan so great right now.
There is much truth to the already clichéd global meme that 2016 was an awful year. But as the time came to put together our annual look-back piece, we came to the question, could the same thing be said about 2016 in Japan? And more generally, could anything be said about Japan at all?
Really, did anything that happened in Japan compare in scope to the Rise of Trumpistan, Brexit, unabated climate change, the non-stop deaths of musical pioneers and celebrities, terror attacks, and police shootings? SMAP breaking up was perhaps the “biggest story” and barely qualifies as news. “PPAP” is basically “Bottom Biting Bug” for a more net-savvy generation. So many things on the political side — the potential abdication of Emperor Akihito, Abenomics, South China Sea tensions — seem to be far from any point of resolution that would engender useful writing. There are optimistic movements towards women achieving greater participation in society and a larger role in the workforce, but it is too early to proclaim any kind of victory.
In the end, Japan had another flat year of slow incremental change (some in the right direction, some in the wrong), but compared to the rest of the planet, these events make for a very boring year-end roundup from a semi-defunct website.
Yet for the same reasons, living in Japan continues to be fantastic. Life is predictable. All the change is slow. In this year of tumultuousness, Japan was a sanctuary for continuity.
And people have noticed. Giant numbers are flocking to Japan, mostly as tourists, but if you read between the lines, Japan is quietly making it much, much easier to immigrate. In Tokyo, there are growing populations of non-Japanese people, and out in the countryside, the factory workers are increasingly non-Japanese. There are still significant barriers to true comfort for immigrants, especially from Asia, but Japan is internationalizing to a conspicuous degree.
So the thing that makes Japan more and more livable is making Japan less interesting for writing year-end roundups. Of course, the other problem is that we barely write on this site at all. We started Néojaponisme in 2007, a year when starting a site like this was obvious because the Internet was the bastion of reasonable, intelligent people who wrote reasonable, intelligent comments underneath long-form essays about serious topics. Néojaponisme rode on that early web utopian hope to collect together all the scattered people around the world interested in the depths of our particular niche. And then websites stopped being destinations, RSS fizzled out, and intelligent comment culture died.
The irony is that I’ve never felt more happy to live in Tokyo, and I remain excited to write about Japan. But all the pressures of life and work are moving us away from a “website” being the primary medium for our work. The truth is that I wrote 11,000 words this year specifically for Néojaponisme — but not for the web. We are working on something else, but I don’t want to reveal more about the project until we can guarantee it will happen. So here comes 2017, a year where, for us and for many, web silence does not equate to true silence.