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Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

3.60  ·  Rating Details  ·  667 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
The world's second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America. But its failure to recover from the economic collapse of the early 1990s was unprecedented, and today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends. Japan has the highest suicide rate and lowest birthrate of all industrialized countries, and a rising incidence of untreated cases of dep ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 19th 2006 by Nan A. Talese (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,856)
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Feb 24, 2009 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: japan, society, culture
One of the things you learn about Japan when you get here - and you learn it pretty quickly - is that there can be a vast difference between the appearance of Japan and the reality of it. The faces that people show you, or even that the city shows you, is not necessarily their true face.

Take Kyoto as an example: it prides itself on being a city of traditional culture, the touchstone of all that is Truly Japanese. When you first see it, though, you think, "Really? Because it looks like a big ol'
This book alternates between insightful journalism and bizarre conclusions.

The first few chapters are a sensitive and well-researched investigation of this hikikomori (ひきこもり) phenomenon, of some three million adults who become total recluses from modern life, often staying in their own apartments. He asks their parents, physicians, and even is fortunate enough to interview these self-exiles from society.

What does he find causes this? Childhood trauma, an intense and violent bullying system, imme
David Hallman
Jun 06, 2014 David Hallman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book touched on nearly every Japanese socio-cultural ill that has plagued my mind since I began living here . Scathing in every dimension, often backed by insightful research and careful observations, the author paints a truer picture of Japan than most books. While much of the book delves into the Hikikomori phenomenon (shut ins, those who seclude themselves from society for a variety of reasons), many elements of social interaction in modern Japanese life are discussed. It makes for an en ...more
This book provides essential insight into Japan's mindset as a country of largely homogeneous citizens who still trust only those in their closest circles and its younger generation's struggle to find their place in a banquet with too few seats and too strict a dress-code. What happens when democracy is forced onto a nation that has not fought for its rights? What happens when bullying becomes an accepted form of social feedback and women are given the same tests as men, only to enter into an ad ...more
Apr 23, 2011 Brian rated it it was ok
(2.0) Feels like loose stitching of previous reporting

Kyusik and I have this thing about journalists throwing a bunch of articles together to make some money on the side...yet we (or at least I) continue to pick up books on interesting topics only to be disappointed when the same thing happens.

Well, chalk another one up. Zielenziger didn't even try to hide this from us. The primary piece of evidence is how frequently he repeats sharing the very same interesting facts and clearly writing them as
Evan Mallon
Nov 03, 2009 Evan Mallon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book was really interesting. It discusses a budding group of Japanese people who are choosing to lock themselves in their rooms instead of conforming to the Japanese "work machine". It was really interesting for me, since i have lived in japan for a few years and basically agreed with everything the author hypothesized as reasons for this strange phenomenon. I suggest reading this if you are into Japan, anthropology or psychology.
Jennifer Lavoie
While this book started off fascinating for me, by the end I was struggling to complete it. The information on the hikikomori were fascinating, as was much of the history, but I felt that by the end, the author drifted so far away from the hikikomori side of the book, I couldn't remember why he was discussing the issues that he was.

For a long time, probably half the book, the author discusses not only Japanese history and religion, but Korean history and religion, and compares the two. He does
I do not typically read non-fiction; reading is less of a chance to learn and more of a chance to escape. Reading is slightly more mentally stimulating than, say, watching a movie or surfing the Internet, but the purpose is the same. I would rather read of the fictional adventures of a character or group of characters than to observe the what's-what of real life. Even so, I would have been a total idiot to overlook Zielenziger's book on the basis of, "my tiny exhausted undergrad brain cannot han ...more
I enjoyed this book, with one complaint.

All the information in the book comes from Zeilenziger or someone he interviews telling us "how it is." There are very few statistics or 'hard facts' anywhere, and that makes it difficult for me to imagine or care about the world Zeilenziger describes. However, it sounds like Japan's secretive attitude forces that sort of writing.

Japan faces a host of weird social issues, made incredible by the coupling of an unbelievably rigid society with a difficult pa
Jul 01, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
What I liked most about Zielenziger's book is that he spends very little time talking about cultural differences between East and West, or between Japan and everywhere else. He explains in great detail the problem of Japan's disaffected hikikomori, and how they are the product of centuries of rigid thinking and decades of economic prosperity (and subsequent bust). Interviews with some of these people gives a personal focus. Refreshing.
Brian Caster
Sep 02, 2014 Brian Caster rated it did not like it
I do not give out one-star ratings lightly. I read several books a week, rate them all on GoodReads, and this is the first one-star rating I've given out.

The author seems to know a little bit about about a lot, but not a lot about even a little bit. Instead, he seems to have formed a bunch of opinions/stereotypes about Japan and everything he, the wise Occidental, finds wrong with it. Then, toss in a few carefully chosen quotes from authors whom he treats like objective sources (for example, Fra
Jul 22, 2014 Jon rated it it was amazing
One of the best texts on Japanese culture that I've read, this book initially seemed like it would be a disappointment. Zielenziger starts off his book writing about the hikikomori, and since that discussion takes up the first several chapters, I initially thought I'd ended up reading a book on some uniquely Japanese psychological problem. The hikikimori are adults who live at home with their parents, usually holed up in their room. Unable to take the pressure of integrating socially, they choos ...more
Sep 04, 2013 Jean rated it really liked it
Rewritten and updated review (Sept 4, 2013)

This work as approachable and well laid out for the most part. It is an examination of various elements of Japan's society that is causing it to implode. Japan is suffering for its unwillingness to evolve and accept or adapt foreign or new ideas. Once its society had reach its initial post World War II reconstruction efforts, it never re-established new societal goals and left a generation floundering for purpose. Unfortunately, the status quo and ruthl
Oct 25, 2011 Kmfurr rated it really liked it
Japan is doomed. I've long since realized that, and occasionally I seek a better understanding of the causes of that destiny. While I was looking for more economic analysis, "Shutting out the Sun" proved to provide a very interesting analysis of Japan's psyche.

Above all it's the story of the hikikomori -- young men who withdraw from society and bunker themselves in their bedrooms for years at a time. Mere agoraphobics stay at home but happily welcome friends: the Hikikomoris refuse to talk to an
Patrick McCoy
Sep 20, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
Shutting Out The Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation, by Michael Zielenziger, is a fascinating look at contemporary societal problems in Japan. The central metaphor of the book is the social problem known as “hikikomori.” Hikikomori is a condition where, basically young men, few women have this condition, withdraw from the world and society by shutting themselves in their rooms and refusing to interact with their families and society. As far as it can be established, this condition on ...more
May 20, 2009 Meg rated it liked it
4/3/09 - I'm reading this, very slowly, before bed. Usually I pass out after a few paragraphs, which isn't fair because it's an interesting book. Right now I'm using it to distract myself from the two classes I'm taking, which are terrifically boring. I hope to finish this book within the month; at the same time, my classes will be over, and I will finally be free to jump into my ever-growing to-read list. I just keep adding and adding books and never get through any of them. It's almost time an ...more
Ko Matsuo
Dec 30, 2014 Ko Matsuo rated it liked it
This book is about the 1 million Japanese, who shut themselves off from society for years. Per Zielenziger, hikikomori is a unique phenomenon in Japan, where its victims are smart and articulate, but at the same time paralyzed, lack energy and enthusiasm. The first half of the book is fascinating, analyzing socials causes, such as amae (parents helping their kids too much), lack of community, concept of God, and a rigid society and government system that has no contingency for their plan of havi ...more
Jul 21, 2008 John rated it liked it
Shelves: library_books
Great job from an outsider into Japan's hikikomori problem - boys (usually bullied at school) who just decide to "drop out" of society, not even leaving their bedrooms for years; there's also a discussion of the growing trend among young women to stay at home, refusing to marry, well past the traditional age of 25. Latter part of the book is a bit dry, giving social/economic/political backgground of Japanese society, as well as a contrast with that of South Korea, where the phenomenon is unknown ...more
Apr 22, 2008 John rated it it was ok
The content of this book was very interesting, but the execution is flawed. Shutting Out the Sun was written by an American journalist living in Japan, and while the outsider's perspective is really needed to tell the story, the fact that the book is written by a journalist is both obvious and a problem. The book reads less like a study of the problems of modern Japanese society and the causes that led to them than a series of articles about it. I think the book's editor really fell down on the ...more
Marija S.
A very insightful and important book on invisible social crisis which is interwoven into modern Japanese society that offers a broad overview of its manifestations and causes. I highly recommend it to everybody interested in Japan and sociology even though I dislike the way it portrayed the hikikomori as modern (quasi) martyrs, contains some contradictions regarding data and conclusions it presents and clearly underlines Christianity as the solution of the presented problem (also, mentions Slove ...more
Jul 28, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan
Interesting, but not facsinating. Zielenziger has the tendency to write as if he's doing a college term paper. At the begining of the book he says that he's going to let the individual Japanese hikikomori tell their own stories, but after one short quote, he lauches into his own opinions and findings and statistics for the rest of the chapter. I most enjoyed learning about the single Japanese women (dubbed "parasite singles"!!!) who refuse a traditional and expected life of marriage and children ...more
John Spiri
Feb 07, 2014 John Spiri rated it it was ok
I bought this book because I wanted to know more about the hikkomori phenomenon and initially found Zielenziger's book interesting. I could see from get-go, however, that his premise was extreme: Japan is falling apart. As a 17 year resident of the country, I usually see things considerably more positive than the average foreigner, so I thought okay, perhaps I can learn something. And the book did jar me a bit from seeing things unreasonably rosily, up to a point. I liked the reporting of his co ...more
Nov 30, 2012 palomino rated it really liked it
This book is absolutely intriguing, giving a rare and first hand insight into an extremely common but shunned phenomena growing amongst the youth and young adults of Japan.

It gives rise to the frail intricacies of the human heart and mind. The author gives us as armchair voyeurs the added cultural, historical and psychological insights that have all blended in helping to cause rise to the Hikikimori. I enjoyed learning from this book immensely.
I am not sure what to make of this book. It alternates between insightful journalism and bizarre conclusions. The first few chapters are a sensitive and well-researched investigation of the hikikomori phenomenon, of some three million adults who become total recluses from modern life, often staying in their own apartments. He asks their parents, physicians, and even is fortunate enough to interview these self-exiles from society. But with Chap. 6, it, well, goes off the rails. This chapter shoot ...more
Dec 26, 2015 Esther rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm currently reading this book having lived in Japan for over ten years this book really shed light on issues that are hard to discuss or enter into conversation about. I thought his decision to discuss the societal issues from the hikimori was an interesting take. I thought his explanation of how rebuilding war torn Japan to the prosperity and then the fallout after in creating a lost generation was very interesting. So many points made sense to me especially the part about the amae relationsh ...more
Apr 19, 2014 Janet rated it liked it
Shelves: asian, people
Zielenziger's book, Shutting Out the Sun, looks at various social problems in modern Japan. He focuses primarily on hikikomori, individuals who retreat from the world and hide in their rooms. It happens mainly to young males. He also talks about young Japanese women who refuse to marry and have children and are more interested in buying luxury brand items.

A few things mentioned in the book intrigued me. Zielenziger, who identifies himself as a secular Jew, mentions on page 236, that it never occ
Julianne (Outlandish Lit)
Feb 22, 2015 Julianne (Outlandish Lit) rated it liked it
Shelves: own
I don't read a lot of non-fiction. The only non-fiction I normally read is collections of personal essays, so this was a little bit of a struggle for me. But Japan and the hikikomori is a subject that has fascinated me for years.

Hikikomori are a group of Japanese young adults, generally male, who shut themselves out of society entirely. They choose to live in their rooms with little to no contact with anybody outside. This is a result of a rigid society and often intense bullying within the scho
Cory Gaskins
I would just like to comment that although the author did quite an extensive research(although toward the end it becomes all mixed up and this book could be seen as his rants on Japan), I was disappointed when he would repeatedly mention "war atrocities" and "sexual slavery" that Japan supposedly has committed in the past but he couldn't come up with a source! He would mention about how Japanese people would not talk about war atrocities that the grandfathers of people who the author is talking ...more
Apr 04, 2010 Mikejencostanzo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
I typically write my reviews within a few days after reading a book. The feel of the book is fresh, not to mention tidbits the author has taught me are still at the forefront of my mind. Sometimes I wonder though whether I might write a better review months (or even years) after reading a book. It is then that the truly significant books can show their ability to hold their ground in my brain, even after the fluff of less impactful works has blown away with time.

It's been about 2 years since I l
May 18, 2013 AJ rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
I read this book aloud to Jun. We wanted to learn more about Japanese culture, from a modern sociological standpoint. This book seemed like it covered a lot of those topics - and it did. It covered culture (from individual to systemic issues), politics, economics, and foreign relations. There were also a couple of chapters that compared modern Japan to modern South Korea, which was interesting.

The book really delved into a lot of the social ills that are plaguing Japan today, a few of which we w
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