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

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  847 ratings  ·  130 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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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  847 ratings  ·  130 reviews

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Feb 24, 2009 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'
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: japan
Michael Zielenziger’s goal in this book is to show how Japanese culture produced the hikikomori, the young people who use extreme measures to isolate themselves from the world. He shows how the phenomenon is unique to Japan, by drawing parallels to the seclusion of Princess Masako, by comparing the post war experience of Japan and Korea and through commentary on the unique social, historical and economic forces that created modern day Japan. This broad agenda makes for a sprawling book only abou ...more
Apr 16, 2011 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
Dec 23, 2011 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
Anna C
Apr 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: japan
I read this book hoping for an account of the hikikomori, the (estimated) one million young Japanese men who withdraw from society so completely that many of them literally do not leave their bedrooms for years at a time.

And for the first few chapters, that's what "Shutting Out the Sun" is about. However, rather than dig into the details of these isolated lives, Zielenziger spends the rest of the book trying to explain the roots of the hikikomori phenomenon through broad, structural analysis of
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
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed the first 1/3rd of this book, but as soon as it fell into `the only way to save Japan is through Christianity`, I was so put off, I could barely finish it.

While I agree with a lot of what the author says about the future of Japan and about the need for some kind of revolution, this whole book felt like some left over journalism thrown together and sellotaped into a book. Such an interesting topic, but very poorly executed.
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
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
Jul 19, 2008 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
Aug 16, 2007 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
Jul 26, 2010 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
May 18, 2009 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. ...more
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
It started out good, but at some point went off the rails and lost me...I 'ganman'd through to the end. ...more
Jul 11, 2014 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
Patrick McCoy
Sep 20, 2011 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
Apr 03, 2009 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
Apr 27, 2013 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
Brian Caster
Sep 02, 2014 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
Kevin Furr
Oct 02, 2011 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
Sarah Stones
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
I picked up this book because I was interested in gaining some insight into the lives of Japan's hikikomori, but was severely disappointed.

The book starts out promisingly, with Zielenziger offering some good framing of the problem, but it quickly devolves into a breakdown of everything that he thinks is wrong with Japan, and the various ways in which the country apparently fails to live up to the standards upheld by other developed countries, specifically the United States.

The focus on the hikik
Aug 30, 2019 added it
Shelves: japan
Shutting Out the Sun introduces itself with what readers will assume is its subject: the plight of an increasing number of young people who, for whatever reason, choose to withdraw into their bedrooms and cease to communicate with the outside world, ignoring even their parents. These persons, called hikkikimori, are merely part of Shutting Out the Sun, however, and readers who venture forward expecting a study of them will find that most of the time they are out of sight, mentioned a few times a ...more
Ko Matsuo
Dec 13, 2014 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
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
Nov 20, 2012 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.
Published a year before the bursting of a bubble that, ironically, plunged the western world into a nearly identical economic crisis, Michael Zielenziger presented an incisive yet blinkered account of Japan's 21st-century failings; its economic stagnation, its crisis of confidence, and the deep scars left on the psyche of a generation of hopeless young men.

Some 15 years later, after two decades of withering political economy and the startling rise of western-style hikikomori, it is hard to faul
Sophy H
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

An interesting read regarding the Hikikomori of Japan; disillusioned young Japanese who, having felt as though they've "failed society", shut themselves away in their rooms, cutting off contact to the outside world and equally rely upon yet are antagonized by their exasperated yet perhaps unsupportive parents.
The book is an interesting read which relies heavily upon verbal accounts of the phenomenon and oral histories from Hikikomori, their parents, employers, politicians, and psychiat
Dec 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Good overview of the social ills of contemporary Japan (although some of the references are dated... there is more discussion of Bush and the 90s than is necessary to make the author's point).

In particular, the author looks at the phenomenon of hikikomori, young people who are so intimidated by society that they never leave their bedrooms. The author ends up contrasting contemporary Japan with America and South Korea to see what caused this phenomenon to show up in Japan.

Now that "deaths of desp
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Found this book to be a compelling read. It was written in 2006 so if I had time I would do a bit of research to see what the current situation is in Japan and Korea. It was also written by a gaijin living in Japan and visiting Korea often. The book provided me with some understanding why one friend would say she was "weird" with such sadness. My response of I love weird provided her little comfort. I should have connected the pieces with the stories she told about being shunned by Japanese wome ...more
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