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Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation (Vintage Departures) [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Michael Zielenziger
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4. September 2007 Vintage Departures

   The world's second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America as the leading global economic powerhouse. But the country failed to recover from the staggering economic collapse of the early 1990s. Today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends, notably a population of more than one million hikikomori: the young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society. There is also a growing numbers of “parasite singles”: single women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children.

   In this trenchant investigation, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan's tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan's stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.

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  • Taschenbuch: 352 Seiten
  • Verlag: Vintage; Auflage: Reprint (4. September 2007)
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ISBN-10: 1400077796
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077793
  • Größe und/oder Gewicht: 20,2 x 15,6 x 2 cm
  • Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: 5.0 von 5 Sternen  Alle Rezensionen anzeigen (1 Kundenrezension)
  • Amazon Bestseller-Rang: Nr. 98.465 in Fremdsprachige Bücher (Siehe Top 100 in Fremdsprachige Bücher)

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“Offers a glimpse at an uneasy nation suspended between two worlds.”

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.”

—Richard Rhodes


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

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Michael Zielenziger is a visiting scholar at the Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, and was the Tokyo-based bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers for seven years. Before moving to Tokyo, he served as the Pacific Rim correspondent for San Jose Mercury News, and was a finalist for a 1995 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on China. Find him online at

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3 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Spannend und schockierend zugleich 11. Februar 2008
Von DoPi
Das Buch ist ein Muss für alle, die sich für Japan interessieren und für alle, die bisher dachten, dass Japan nicht spannend ist. Mir hat das Buch sehr gut gefallen, da es kritisch mit den sozialen Gegebenheiten Japans umgeht, flüssig geschrieben ist und eine neue Facette der japanischen Kultur aufzeigt. Empfehlenswert.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Eclipsed... 5. Februar 2007
Von Kev - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
While reading Shutting Out the Sun, I found myself at times in admiration of Michael Zielenziger's insight and also perplexed by his conclusions. I've made many japanese friends and visited the country multiple times. While no expert, I can certainly say that my interest in the country and its culture, is beyond casual. I have my own theories (and first-hand experiences) with many of the concepts of the book. Mr. Zielenziger is foremost a newspaper man and his pavement-pounding, investigative journalism is deserving of five stars. However, his conclusions in the second half of the book bring the whole work down a peg and sound more like the "cocktail-party theorizing" that I imagine goes on amongst international correspondents.

The first 92 pages of the book are intense and revealing as Zielenziger explores the dark world of the hikikomori (young Japanese who withdraw from society, not leaving their rooms). He interviews the doctors, the parents, and even the hikikomori themselves. He ties their plight into the overall societal and economic problems of the country as a whole. He describes how certain problems and behavior are particular to Japanese society. He does this very throughly and convincingly. Then on page 93 Chapter 6: Careening Off Course Zielenziger, uh... careens off course! The chapter shoots off into a 30 page crash course on Japan's post-war economic history. Then later another chapter doing the same with South Korea. He runs through the history of Christianity in South Korea. He compares Japan to South Korea. He compares Japan to China. He compares Japan to America. With the exception of chapters like "The Cult of the Brand" and "Womb Strike" the second half of the book falls wildly short of the first.

Who cares if China is more open to foreign investment? The freedoms, annual income, and standard of living for an average Japanese are far better than that of Chinese citizens. He interviews two commercial, non-political, pop artists; Haruki Murakami (novelist) and Takashi Murakami (graphic artist) but what about their (very political) counter-parts? Kenzaburo Oe (writer) or Katsuhiro Otomo (manga artist) come to mind. He downplays the very active and internationally recognized arts movement coming from Japan during it's recession. Zielenger claims the architecture coming from Japan suffers "from a dreary sameness", again I find this odd, as a lot of contemporary cutting edge green architecture has come out of Japan in recent years. I saw kids in Japan downloading full color maps and searching the internet with their cell phones way before such things were done in America and Zielenziger says the japanese are lagging in their use of the internet. He claims foreigners will have trouble in Japan because "few signs, maps, or menus are available in Roman script." That is simply untrue! Even the subway ticket machines have a button to press for english!

This all may sound like harsh criticism, and it is, but I still have to recommend this book to people deeply interested in Japan, as it is the first and only western work dedicated to the hikikomori and other obscure Japanese societal woes. The good parts are really good. The bad parts were thrown in there to make the book 298 pages (340 with acknowledgements, notes, index). Zielenziger tries too hard to conjure up new reasons why Japan can't get its act together instead of furthering his own profound findings. The fault in his attempt to live up to the sexiness of the books title can be found in part of his summary, while describing Japan's possible, dismal fall from grace he states Japan could choose "to turn itself into an Asian model of Switzerland, a peaceful, relatively prosperous, insulated, and increasingly irrelevant nation, a quiet and stable second-rank power." Doesn't sound so bad...
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2.0 von 5 Sternen Neither a Detailed Case Study, Nor A Convincing General Explanation of Japan's Plight 7. Juni 2008
Von Etienne ROLLAND-PIEGUE - Veröffentlicht auf
Foreign press correspondents who choose to write a book about Japan fall into two categories. Some start with a general idea and try to build a demonstration around that broad intuition - for example, that the economy will set into decline at the very time when it was booming (to borrow from Bill Emmott's The Sun Also Sets), or that Japan is run by an Iron Triangle that is hollow at the center (as Karel van Wolferen demonstrates). Others take a different approach and try to gather as much information as they can about a narrow subject - Tokyo underworld, for instance, or Japanese base-ball, or the plight of princess Masako.

Michael Zielenziger tries to combine the two approaches. He starts with the ordeal of the hikikomori, those youngsters who live in complete social isolation, shutting themselves away from the sun, closing their blinds, and refusing to leave the bedroom in their homes for months or even years at a time. He then broadens his topic to the fate of the whole nation, arguing that Japan has entered into depression mode and now faces gloomy prospects. He provides an interesting comparison with South Korea, where a vibrant civil society found the way to recover from a severe economic crisis.

Hikikomori are a problem that is specific to Japan. Those reclusive young adults, mostly men, suffer from what specialists call a social disorder, not from a mental illness that could be diagnosed and cured accordingly. Indeed, their plight find echoes in Japan's founding myths: according to the fable of Japan's creation, the sun-goddess Amaterasu once hid in a cave and plunged the world into darkness after her unruly brother ravaged the earth and despoiled her gardens and temples. Only through songs and merriment could she be coaxed from her deepest isolation. But modern recluses, often pampered by their over-protective mothers, have little incentive to leave their seclusion and face the society that often rejected them as teenagers.

What is the connexion between the sorry case of these individuals who seek refuge in the isolation of their room and the state of Japan as a nation? First, as a social disease, the hikikomori phenomenon must have social causes. The author hints at a few of them: the traumatism of war and defeat, which may revisit grand-children after having skipped one generation ; the lack of moral purpose and self-direction, when the pursuit of material wealth delivers emptiness rather than inner contentment ; the heavy conformism of a group-centered society that lacks tolerance for deviant characters ; the structure of dependence that, according to psychiatrist Takeo Doi, characterizes Japanese men's relation to their mother, etc.

At a deeper level, the author suggests that the absence of monotheism and the lack of a universal religion in Japanese culture may explain Japan's ethical relativism, the situational nature of its moral values, and the lack of compassion for victims. Elderly ladies have to fight their ways to find a seat in the metro, and homeless people camping rough in Ueno Park are usually fed hot soup by Korean Christians, not by native Japanese. I wish the author had developed this intuition a bit further and explained why, in contrast to Korea, Christianity never took hold in contemporary Japan. One obvious reason, judging by novels from Ayako Miura, Toyoko Yamazaki or Kappa Senoo, is that Christianity was considered as alien and anti-patriotic in Japan, whereas it became closely associated with the movement for independence and then with democratization in South Korea. But to my opinion, there is nothing intrinsic in Japanese culture that defies or rejects Christian beliefs, and Japanese make superb Christians. Anyway, a few pages on this topic would have been welcome.

So is Japan really a hikikomori nation? For Zielenziger, many Japanese behaviors can be attributed to the deepest desires of this island country just to be "left alone". Japan's isolation has not stopped with the end of the sakoku era and the opening of ports to foreign influences and exchange. Japan remains a closed society, admitting little strangers and forcing strong individuals to either conform or flee into exile. At the national level, America's embrace has the effect of barring the country from going out on its own and finding its place under the sun. But the author pushes the analogy too far, and provides a picture of Japan that is far too gloomy and pessimistic. His attempt at providing a detailed case study of a social phenomenon and to link it to a broader explanation at the macro level fails on both counts. In my opinion, Japanese contemporary novels or movies are better at capturing the zeitgeist than this journalistic account, and reading it to the end was by and large a waste of my time.
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Excellent and difficult to put down 24. Oktober 2006
Von Cullen T. Hayashida - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
While it was not written necessarily with that intent, this is one of the best assessments of Japan's contemporary search for meaning and identity that I have seen in a long time. Disparate trends involving the hikikomori, depression, suicide, the parasitic singles and the crass materialism in acquiring expensive European bags are integrated and understood as symptomatic of a more basic struggle for national direction.

I recall earlier works such as Neil McFarland's Rush Hour of the Gods to explain Japan's explosion of religious sects after WWII when the Emperor was demystified. I recall the explosive growth of the Nihonjinron literature in the early 1970s when Japan tried to determine if it was possible to be Japanese and Western at the same time. Now, this work is another benchmark suggesting that an entire generation may have been lost due to the inability of Japan to reconcile with its past and create hope for the future.
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3.0 von 5 Sternen A good start, but... 26. November 2008
Von S. McGee - Veröffentlicht auf
When I lived, studied and worked in Japan in the early 1980s, I began to pay more attention to those Western writers who critiqued dimensions of what was still, at that time, the "Japanese miracle", such as Jon Woronoff. Ethnocentric, very probably. But their unpopular critiques shed light on dimensions of Japan's society and economy that I had begun to detect independently and that were unwelcome by those Westerners who mixed in expat society and interacted only with a Japanese elite, as well as by Japanese who cherished this new status in the world. As a result, I was probably less surprised than many of these individuals by the prolonged struggle to recover from the excesses of those years.
It was with that background that I picked up and read Michael Zielenziger's book and read the critiques on this page. Just because it is written by a Westerner does not make his observations less valid -- that argument is part and parcel of the "ware ware Nihonjin" or "we the Japanese" phenomenon that the author himself describes with amusement: the astonishment that someone who has lived for a decade in the country can utter a simple, declarative sentence in Japanese, for instance. Sometimes, as inhabitants of other countries have realized, an outsider can focus more clearly on parts of society that others neglect, miss or choose to ignore as uncomfortable. They have less at stake and can afford to be frank (crucial in writing about Japan, where "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down").
It's in this context -- Zielenziger's description of the plight of many disaffected younger Japanese and his analysis of what may be causing this -- that the book is a valuable addition to the list of works about contemporary Japan. Some parts are hackneyed (the chapter on women, or on the Japanese fixation on brand names) but even these help him build his case that there is a social malaise that is linked as much to something within Japanese society as it is to the external post-crash environment.
The problem with the book comes when he attempts to move beyond description and a first-order analysis to that deeper look at causation. It just isn't there; his thinking is clumsily laid out, sometimes incoherent and hard to follow.
I don't think that comparing Japan to South Korea is irrelevant (both have had traumatic war experiences, are Confucian societies that have a similar sense of "us" and "them" with respect to outsiders; to argue that Japan is meaningfully different is another example of "Japanese as more unique than any other nation" thinking). But he doesn't go beyond the superficial description in any meaningful way. The result? The book ends up feeling incomplete and spotty.
Primarily interesting to people who have only a nodding acquaintanceship with contemporary Japanese society, and who are prepared to read more widely than this to obtain a rounded picture.
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5.0 von 5 Sternen An Acutely Insightful - and Highly Readable - Illumination of the Shadows 22. November 2006
Von Hollis Otsuka - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The impact of this book derives from its unique combination of human sensitivity and investigative objectivity. Rather than evolving from preconceived conclusions on the part of the author, "Shutting Out the Sun" resonates as the product of an honest quest to bring clarity to the human truth underlying the bursting of Japan's bubble economy and the hurdles the country must surmount in stepping up to the new global challenge. The author applies his immense journalistic skill to deepen this inquiry as he moves from questions of economic stagnation, through layered social realities, into the heart of the personal, graphically illustrating the effects of a level of conformist social pressure barely conceivable to those who haven't witnessed it first hand.

For those who have had long experience with Japan and care dearly about the people of that land, the book gives welcome voice to shared areas of grave concern. And for the reader who is but intrigued with Japan from afar, it provides a precious glimpse into the shadows cast by the "sun" of apparent social harmony.

An added bonus - the dynamic writing moves you right along. This book is a lively read!
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