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—The Wall Street Journal
“Full of surprises and fresh discoveries, Shutting Out the Sun convincingly explains why the great Japanese juggernaut has faltered — and it does so with intelligence, insight and verve.”
“Shutting Out the Sun puts a human face on a nation's plight and provides an intriguing point of entry into a consideration of Japan's crisis of confidence.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Well-researched. . . . Zielenziger gives observers of this reticent country good reason to be concerned.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
1. In describing Japan’s economic structure, the author describes a system in which economic outcomes are managed more rigorously than economic opportunities. How do you think such a system might be better or worse than the American one? How might it affect notions of individual aspiration? What elements of Japan’s “middle class” culture do you admire? Which would seem confining, or too difficult to attain? Why? Would you rather live in a society where there is more differentiation between “rich” and “poor” or one in which “everyone is middle class.”
2. The world “self” — as used in the term “self-esteem” — does not truly exist in Japanese. Yet the state of California, for instance, once created a panel to investigate how to increase “self esteem” among its citizens. How do notions of “self-esteem” help contribute to how you establish your own personal values? How implicit or explicit should measures of “self-esteem” be in establishing social goals? Under which situations might the need to be “yourself” be moderated in order to accommodate wider social interests?
3. Could a hikikomori like Kenji exist in your community? Would he be allowed to linger for years alone in his room or would someone or some institution intervene in order to help him? What sorts of young people “fall through the cracks” in American society? Do families and communities take sufficient care to prevent this from happening in your town?
4. In the book, Hitoshi Saeki the designer of store windows says, “I think youngpeople all over the world ask, ‘What is our fundamental reason for being alive? What is our objective for living?’” Do Americans — adults as well as adolescents — ask this sort of question? And would their answers differ fundamentally from those given by their Japanese peers or counterparts?
5. Is something always true? Or are truth and falsehood filtered by culture and context. The author argues that Japanese seek out contextual rather than absolute truth. Are you the same, or different and why? How might this affect your outlook on the world.
6. Some Japanese parents believe their socially isolated children are victims of the society around them. Others believe their children are lazy or irresponsible. Do you feel more sympathy for men like Kenji, or for their parents? And does the enormous amount of individual freedom Americans possess, in comparison to Japanese, alter the way you think about these family predicaments? What as an American parent, would you do if your child refused to leave the home? Would similar options be available to a Japanese parent?
7. In contemporary Japan, a full 64 percent of young men aged 25 to 29 still live with their parents. In America, the comparable figure is 13. 7 percent. Why do you think this is? Does this statistic tell us anything important about the differences between Japanese and American societies?
8. Birthrates are falling in many developed nations around the world, including Italy and France. The author argues that the feminine rebellion is a major cause for the rapid decline in Japan’s birthrate. Is this argument credible? What policies should the Japanese government encourage to stem the tide? Does it matter, or would you be happy to see your country transition from positive to negative growth?
9. Many of the social isolates — as well as some adults — portrayed in the book describe being bullied at school or in the workplace. While many Americans have been bullied as children in the playground, the author states that bullying is not considered acceptable in the U.S. workplace. Have you ever felt the pressure to conform? Do you have limits on when you can be persuaded to “go along” with others and when you resist? Is the threat of being pushed out of the “group” something that worries you?
10. The author emphasizes the importance of “social trust” in navigating a diverse, disruptive world, and notes that Americans are more “trusting” than Japanese. Do you think this is true? How do you establish “social trust” with strangers? What sort of limitations would you feel if you felt you lacked the “social radar” to discern truth and detect falsehood among others?
11. The rise of democracy in South Korea in the 1980s and 1990s is contrasted with the lack of such social upheaval in Japan, and the author cites the rise of Protestantism and the role of American missionaries in creating a vastly different sense of social and political space in modern Korea. Can religious thinking play an important role in helping citizens find their political voice? How is the Korean experience with religion, and the use of religion as a powerful organizing tool, similar and different from the experience in the United States? Do you think Protestantism and evangelical Christianity, now popular in the U.S., create different legacies? If so, what might they be?
12. The author suggests that America’s emphatic embrace of Japan has permitted the Japanese to enter the 21st century without a distinct and coherent foreign policy of its own. What are Japan’s options in the near future? What would happen to the United States if Japan chose to ally itself more closely with China. Is this feasible? On the other hand, what are likely to be the consequences if the U.S. and Japan ally themselves against a rising China?
Posted June 22, 2012
This book is really all encompassing! Everything from shut-ins to the decade-old economy problems and U.S. occupation! The interviews with the shut-ins was really interesting to me. Korea vs. Japan economy, not so interesting to me. I came to this book hoping it was purely a micro (one-on-one interview) perspective. But it was macro and micro. A good book, but now you have fair warning.
Also, I liked that the author was fluent and conducted his own interviews. For this in-depth-sociology-writing, I felt it was only approprate.
Posted January 2, 2007
The interesting parts of the book are when the author stops fawning over the hikikimori, the most extreme examples of the breakdown in the Japanese social contract. The chapters focusing on alcoholism, alienation of men from their families, consumer fad focus of the young, etc... are insightful and thought provoking. It's eminently readable for people without a background in modern Japanese history, written in a clear and accessible manner. Unfortunately, many readers might be turned off by the first 5 chapters about the hikikimori, the 'subject' of the book. 92 pages of talking about these 'sensitive', 'creative', and 'intelligent' shut-in's. They are the weak link - people who want to be rebels but lack the strength to translate their desires to action. Instead, Mr. Zielenziger portrays them as tragic heroes. That fawning sympathy detract from the book and I recommend readers to simply skip to chapter 6. The book is far more enjoyable that way.
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Posted October 22, 2008
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Posted April 10, 2011
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