There are signs of what some call “a collective identity crisis” in Japan. Income disparity, growing numbers of impoverished pensioners and child poverty.Tough economic times have highlighted the potential of developing nations, China in particular, while Europe is seen as bulky and traditional, struggling to keep up with the Jonses. Japan however is overlooked – still thought to be a victim of its ‘lost decade’ – and now – seen by some – as the setting for a modern portrayal of The Grapes of Wrath. The Economist goes on to say
Hamamatsu, a coastal town south-west of Tokyo, has its share of shattered lives. Workers were laid off right down the supply chain almost as soon as home-town outfits like Yamaha and Suzuki saw export orders slump last year. The lay-offs included many Brazilians of Japanese descent, who had flown to Japan because factories needed cheap, part-time labour rather than expensive Japanese workers on full contracts. The jobless Brazilians live with each other if they cannot pay the rent, and the church provides the neediest with food parcels. At a Catholic church recently, they were making soup to share among those, like themselves, eking out the last of their savings. That included homeless Japanese men, who, unlike the Brazilians, cannot face turning to friends or family for shelter.Halfway through the feature, I was shocked to read that unemployment in Japan is 5.7%, “low by international standards but a record in Japan.”
Humans perpetually struggle to improve our lot in life – that’s half of the fun in living, at least half the time. When relating to fellow human beings, it’s unfair withhold empathy based on another's lot in life. Afterall, suffering is relative – no matter how bad things are they can always get worse – and suffering is subjective: Its existence cannot be denied.
And yet I could not get this 5.7 figure out of my mind. Unemployment in the US – considered dangerously high – is nearing 10%. The discrepancy points to the relative - perhaps subjective - nature of seemingly objective statistics. There’s a tendency to grasp for numbers as undeniable facts, as stable pieces of evidence which pin us to the ground in an ever shifting world. And used with care they're invaluable.
But consider now the size of this discrepancy – unemployment in the US being around 40% higher than in Japan – next to Japan’s parallel economic struggles and identity crisis: In some ways we are completely different from Japan and yet in other ways very like them. And don’t forget that Japan’s economy remains the second largest in the world.
Media (in order of appearance)
Photo: (1)Hamamatsu Castle, 11/12/2008, Pine 57; (2)Poster from 2003 film, Lost in Translation.
Video: (1) Music video, shpytahmon channel, by the Gorillaz of the song "Hong Kong" from their 2007 album D-Sides. Sphere: Related Content