My first book “Paradaisu Sakoku” (Seclusion in Paradise) was published in Japan in 2008, based on the theme I have developed on my Japanese blog “Tech Mom from Silicon Valley” since 2005, by interaction with many blog readers. Many Japanese readers agreed with my view expressed in the book, while many others reacted “so what?” on Japanese blogosphere.
5 years since the original term “Paradaisu Sakoku” was born on my blog, I have had some opportunities to discuss about the same issue with English-speaking friends. They were interested in reading my book, but I don’t have time or resources to properly translate it into English. I cannot expect to get a contract with any American publisher, and Japanese- English translation is so hard that I cannot allocate enough energy in my working mother life.
So as a cheap alternative, I have decided to write a series of English blog entries on the topic. I am thinking of taking the same steps again as what I did on my Japanese blog, and doing so, I can update the contents according to recent changes in environment and further development in my idea. Blog is more casual and easier to get started.
I hope the series provide you with a viewpoint in understanding what Japan is up to these days, what we Japanese should do in the new framework in global society, and maybe even provide a reference case study about the position in the U.S. as well.
I appreciate your comments, not just about the idea itself, but also in correcting errors in English. I still need to improve my English writing quite a bit.
Part I – what it means
“Sakoku” means to close the country against outside world. In Japan, Tokugawa Shogunate imposed this seclusion policy for more than 200 years to the people in Japan, until mid-19th century. During that time, any trade and travel between Japan and other countries were strictly banned, with few exceptions. The policy started as a reaction to the aggressive move by European powers to colonize every corner of the world in the 17th century. I guess that the original goal was met, but after so many years, it deterred the technological/social development in Japan in the long run and we had to come out of the seclusion.
During my summer vacation in Japan with my family in 2005, it struck me that “nobody is interested in what is going on outside of Japan”. Of course, it is not 100% true. Still lots of Japanese top brands are strong globally, Coke and McDonald’s are everywhere in Japan, and People love American TV dramas and movies. Yet, compared to my younger days, the desire for the anything foreign has diminished.
Back then, U.S. and Europe were definitely at better standard of living. For a Japanese to work or study abroad means a big jump up in life. Things that come from these countries - bag, shoes, appliance, film, music, cars, or anything – are more expensive and better quality than Japanese counterparts. Back then, “Japanese taste” often was considered “obsolete” and “lame”. In my youth years, 70’s and 80’s, Japan had already started its rise to the top of global economic power, and I believe that people were largely driven by this energy of the era, pure envy to the better life of Euro-Americans.
Now it is gone. Japan is now cleaner, safer, richer and more efficient country than any other place on the globe, with better food and abundant pop culture stuff. You really don’t have to feel any twitch of envy to Americans, French or Germans in everyday life in Japan. Now, you don’t have to study abroad to be top executive of a big company or top government official.
And as a result, it has become a natural tendency for lots of Japanese people to lose any interest to anything foreign. They don’t travel internationally as much as before. Less Japanese students are studying abroad. Companies decide to focus on domestic market rather than international. People flock to Japanese animation movies on weekends rather than Hollywood films.
So what? Yes, I understand the people who criticize me. It is only natural. This is what we the older generation strived for. We wanted to catch up with Europeans and Americans. We have earned lots of money by selling stuff overseas, fighting through trade frictions, and now using this money to enrich our life domestically. Japanese standard of living is now at the same level as Euro-American countries, more advanced in some aspects and less in others.
So I called it “seclusion in Paradise”. It is not imposed by anybody, but the people there are perfectly happy with their domestic life and don’t want to go out or to accept outside influence. They are voluntarily closing their doors to outside.
The first half of my book was meant to prove this hypothesis with various statistics and surveys. It is a bit tiresome for me to reproduce, so I will just say that there are lots of stats and surveys that back up my point. Living standard in Japan is pretty much at the top of the world, while young people are reluctant to live or study overseas.
But is it really a good thing? I feel very uncomfortable about this tendency. So what is wrong and what should we do about it?