Meg's Reviews > Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

Shutting Out the Sun by Michael Zielenziger
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's review
May 20, 2009

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bookshelves: nonfiction, psychology, sociology, 2009
Read in May, 2009

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 and I cannot wait!

5/13/09 - Slow-going but really interesting. The first few chapters seemed kind of fluffy, but by the fourth chapter the author performs an amazingly in-depth analysis of Japanese culture for the past 50 years or so. I learned there's a theory that the Japanese are groupthinky because of their historical dependence on rice. Several anthropologists believe that since it literally took a community during rice planting and harvest to ensure that no one starved, their culture developed around cooperation and shunned individualism. That has become a liability in the modern world.

I'm trying to take this all with a grain of salt because this is the first book on Japanese culture (all Asian, for that matter) that I've ever read. And the author's analysis of Japan's problems often stings. In one paragraph he points out some "odd" habits they have, such as reading BDSM manga on subways with no shame, bowing to an invisible superior while talking on cell phones, and cosleeping until the age of 4 or 5. I felt almost embarrassed reading that paragraph because the author was so critical. Okay, so reading BDSM in public is, to me, a little weird. (I like to do so privately. ;) ) Cosleeping in the US is not really accepted at any age, and especially not beyond toddler years. Public bowing - kind of cute, I thought. My point is that I need to read other books on Japanese history and culture, and probably make my way to Japan, to really accept the extremely negative view the author takes on Japan.

Before passing out into a mouth-wide-open sleep last night, I finished the chapter that covers Japan's addiction to high-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Givenchy, which I already knew about because of my many years of toiling in the Hamptons and because of a book I read last summer called Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. I don't think that author analyzed why "luxury" brands were so popular in Japan, so I enjoyed reading about it last night. Another example of Japanese searching for an identity and instead finding conformity and materialism. Ach, not a fan of using those words. I think I'm the biggest conformist/materialist of them all.

5/21/09 - This book made me feel happy to be an American woman, with a screwed up American husband, rather than a Japanese woman with a screwed-up Japanese husband. Although Japanese women do have the right approach: their idea of "opting out" and not putting up with the bullshit is refusing to marry and have children, whereas the American female idea of opting out is having the marriage, having the babies, and giving up the career. Bleh to that. The author says that Japanese men are quite stuck to a traditional view and expectation of females, and that most men, across all jobs, put in long hours because company = family more than family = family. Women are not only expected to be the sole caregivers to children, they are also expected - get this - to nurse their mother-in-law through any ailments until she dies (only if they are married to the first-born son). This has led some smart ladies to completely refuse to marry first-born sons, and many more women to opt out of marriage and family completely. I don't blame them. I guess we can't "have it all" in America or Japan? Or anywhere else?
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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben I enjoyed reading this, Margaret. Keep writing reviews. My only problem with this one, was this: "I think I'm the biggest conformist/materialist of them all.". You are not! I've only hung out with you once but I know that you're an independent thinker... not a conformist at all! : )

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