Guest Post: Japan And The Exhaustion Of Consumerism

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh Smith from Of Two Minds

Japan And The Exhaustion Of Consumerism

Japan's faddishly fantastic fashions illustrate the exhaustion of consumerism as a driver of wealth creation.

Japan is known for artful handcrafts, high-tech gadgets and outlandish fads. All modern economies depend on fads and fashions to drive consumption, and so Japan's leadership in fads reflects its advanced state of consumerism: it is a very wealthy nation, and its wealth has been distributed widely enough that the vast majority of its citizens have access to the "good things" produced by modern industrialized economies.

Thus it is unsurprising that Japan generates sufficient surplus on a national scale to support elaborate fads and fashions such as those on display in the Harajuku district of Tokyo:

Every Sunday, young people dressed in a variety of styles including gothic lolita, visual kei, and decora, as well as cosplayers spend the day in Harajuku socializing. A cosplay enthusiast will usually dress as a fictional or iconic character from a band, game, movie, anime, or manga.

 

The fashion styles of these youths rarely conform to one particular style and are usually a mesh of many. Harajuku is also a fashion capital of the world, renowned for its unique street fashion.

The global reach of manga and anime is well-known, and so the overlap of fad, fashion and media (young people dressing up as manga characters) is also unsurprising.

There is even a weekly television program on NHK (Japan's English-language network) that covers kawaii fashion. (Kawaii means "cute," though with a different range of meaning that "cute" in English. Kawaii includes what we might call cutesy, sweetly nostalgic or cartoonishly cute.)

There are certainly positives to this opt-in "public fashion show": self-expression in a conformist society, a bit of healthy rebellion against convention and good fun to share with friends, to name three.

But there is a less positive aspect, too: it is a phenomenon of extended adolescence, a state of "suspended animation" of young adults facing truncated opportunities for adulthood--secure careers, marriage, family, homeownership--who are stuck in a seemingly permanent adolescence.

It's as if there is a split in the road and no third way: some young people make it onto the traditional corporate or government career path, and everyone else is left in part-time suspended animation with few options for adult expression or development.

What few seem willing to acknowledge is the solipsistic, narcissistic nature of this reliance on public display of consumerist fantasy for self-identity. All consumerist fashion is based on superficiality and self-indulgence, of course; but if we look at the energy, money and attention "invested" in fashion lifestyles in Japan, we might conclude it is strong evidence that there is plenty of "money and time to burn" in Japan. While that is certainly true, this reliance on consumerist excess for self-identity and pastime is also evidence of a deeply troubled economy and society.

Young people have money and time to burn on outlandish costumes because few earn enough to have their own families or flats. They work part-time for low wages and live at home or in tiny one-room apartments. Few own cars because they 1) don't earn enough to support a car and 2) they're uninterested in acquiring status symbols or prestige signifiers.

This is not just a generational shift: it reflects a realistic understanding that opportunities for secure, high-paying employment have diminished over the past 20 years. There are plenty of low-level jobs, but few with the guarantees that their parents took for granted.

Sound familiar? This reality is playing out in Europe and the U.S. as well.

If all this is new to you, I strongly recommend you read my essay The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: "Social Recession" and Japan's "Lost Generations" (August 9, 2010).

Here are a few highlights:

-- Once-egalitarian Japan is becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.

-- More than one-third of the workforce is part-time as companies have shed the famed Japanese lifetime employment system.

-- The slang word "freeter" (for part-time worker) combines the English "free" and the German "arbeiter" or worker.

-- A typical "freeter" wage is 1,000 yen ($7.80) an hour.

-- As long ago as 2001, The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that 50 percent of high school graduates and 30 percent of college graduates now quit their jobs within three years of leaving school.

-- Japan's slump has lasted so long, a "New Lost Generation" is coming of age, joining Japan's first "Lost Generation" which graduated into the bleak job market of the 1990s.

-- These trends have led to an ironic moniker for the Freeter lifestyle: Dame-Ren (No Good People). The Dame-Ren (pronounced dah-may-ren) get by on odd jobs, low-cost living and drastically diminished expectations.

-- Many young men now reject the macho work ethic and related values of their fathers. These "herbivores" reject the traditonal Samurai ideal of masculinity. Derisively called "herbivores" or "Grass-eaters," these young men are uncompetitive and uncommitted to work, evidence of their deep disillusionment with Japan's troubled economy.

-- These shifts have spawned a disconnect between genders so pervasive that Japan is experiencing a "social recession" in marriage, births, and even sex, all of which are declining.

-- The trend of never leaving home has sparked an almost tragicomical countertrend of Japanese parents who actively seek mates to marry off their "parasite single" offspring as the only way to get them out of the house.

-- An even more extreme social disorder is Hikikomori, or "acute social withdrawal," a condition in which the young live-at-home person will virtually wall themselves off from the world by never leaving their room.

Is it any wonder that in the face of such a bleak and maladaptive future, young people seek identity, community and solace in a fantasy world of fashion? When an economy is dominated by a Savior State that issues unsustainable promises, and a society is dependent on a consumerist frenzy of ceaseless fads, status signifiers and shopping for identity and what passes for community, then narcissism, restless emptiness and the aloneness mentioned yesterday in The Hidden Cost of the "New Economy": New-Type Depression are the inevitable results.

Beneath the surface of Japan, Inc., bullet trains, cute robots and exuberant fashions, this is the Japan few outsiders understand: the exhaustion of consumerism.

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sdmjake's picture

That looks like some kind of crap out of the Hunger Games...

New_Meat's picture

lassie, given' your avatar, you must shurely know that the temporal view is from behind.

And so it is for all of our views.

So, a greenie on ya, praps not for the comment, don't cha' know.

- Ned

fuu's picture

That color of pink is pretty vibrant. Almost glowing.

The girl giving the Queen one can stay at my place when the island melts.

fuu's picture

More magenta but I see what you did there.

kengland's picture

That is truley Western influence. Their ancestors would be appauled. A once proud and strong culture run right into the ground

john39's picture

this is the result of the planners behind the new world order.  cut humanity off from its true roots, from the land, from anything with a deeper spiritual meaning.  instead, you are permitted empty and trivial lives, never knowing your true nature or potential, why they maintain full control.   fight now, or this is what your descendents have to look forward to...

pods's picture

Huxley is winning the race in Japan.

pods

rosiescenario's picture

....new fashion statement; Malthusian cartridge belt...

CIABS's picture

john39 says:  "this is the result of the planners behind the new world order.  cut humanity off from its true roots, from the land, from anything with a deeper spiritual meaning.  instead, you are permitted empty and trivial lives, never knowing your true nature or potential, why they maintain full control.   fight now, or this is what your descendents have to look forward to..."

i agree.  cut them off from their roots, in preparation for their complete elimination.  and not only in japan.

larz's picture

Is this article about Japan or United States of Amerika?

Matt's picture

Do you really think this is some centrally-planned evil plot, or might it simply be the natural results of demographics? How high can population density go, and how large a portion of a nation's population can be retired, before it causes big shifts in culture, living standards, etc? How can you expect people living in cement boxes surrounded by masses of other people, to retain an agrarian culture?

AlaricBalth's picture

Not so sure. I see Bernays right on his heals.

batterycharged's picture

So true, don't they know scarfing McDonalds, driving SUVs, buying condo's in Florida, being fat and overweight, making a living by selling commodities or stocks, is truly the way to "be in touch"?

I mean, they really should be out striving to sell used cars on a corporate level. So they can afford a 10 room house with 5 cars. Only then will the achieve ZEN...

gaoptimize's picture

Not the West that built the modern industrialized world.  As a defender of all that is right and good about the West, I'm offended by your comment.  We know who debased and keeps debasing our culture, its work ethic, and all the other values of our heritage.  Those people will not do well in the coming reset.

batterycharged's picture

Yep. Its called Walmart culture.

You rise, work, consume, work, sleep, consume, watch advertisements on what you need to consume, consume, consume, eat, sleep....

AnAnonymous's picture

That is truley Western influence.
_____________________

That is the result of 'americanism'.

pods's picture

Come on AnAnon, you got yourself a set of pink fairy wings in the closet, don't you?  

pods

AnAnonymous's picture

That's 'americans' who've stuffed their closet with accessories like that. It gives them the belief they could fly, they could reach the sky. Very necessary as they think of infinite growth, and growing the pie to the Moon and beyond.

Down to earth people only need good shoes or having walked bare footed when they were young.

pods's picture

Well I appreciate the actual reply.  But amerikans don't need that shit to make them think they can fly, are special, etc.  If the constant adoration from childhood ever wears off we have oodles of pharmaceuticals to make sure everyone feels special.

pods

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

pods said:

Come on AnAnon, you got yourself a set of pink fairy wings in the closet, don't you?

AnAnonymous Fairies Wear Boots

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyYRfRF1NJs

Cyrano de Bivouac's picture

The defeat in WW2 has a lot to do with it.

 

mick68's picture

Consumerism is for sheeple and it looks good on them.

forrestdweller's picture

why would consumerism be narcissistic or self indulgent?

it might be a completely meaningless process of self reinforcing behaviour.

we do some work, and as a reward (reinforcer) we buy ourselves some stuff. the stuff also has some reinforcing qualities. it makes our lives a bit more comfortable. but we have to keeop working, or even work harder, just to keep rewarding ourselves with buying things.

and in the end, we are all rats in a cage.

AnAnonymous's picture

We are all american.

Signed: an American.

AnAnonymous's picture

Never heard that one. And dont wish to waste one second listening to it. 'American' cultural item, so life elevating, well known...

pods's picture

It is merely the German version of your schtick, albeit much more entertaining.

You know us amerikans loved to be entertained.

pods

news printer's picture
Jobless Man sets himself on fire in Italy

A jobless man 55 years old, has set himself on fire outside the Presidential Palace in the Italian capital city, Rome.

http://www.section9department17.com/1/post/2012/10/jobless-man-sets-hims...

JPM Hater001's picture

This is sad.  I have been telling people you cant emotionally prepare for what is coming.  Prepare to be challenged people.

MachoMan's picture

People are emotionally preparing...  front running even...  hence the depression/downtrodden atmosphere.

fourchan's picture

wow thats a very poinent observation.

next stop a total reevaluation of values.

JuliaS's picture

Light a man a fire and he'll be warm for a day.

Light a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.

VonSalza's picture

society of the spectacle

sschu's picture

Look at me!  Look at me!

Our culture is so totally narcissistic.  We are prime for plucking by someone/something.  What will it be?  Progressivism?  Islam?  Communism?  Hedonism? (maybe we are all ready here).  

You pickem.

sschu

JuliaS's picture

I almost voted down, thinking this was a response to the previous comment.

Shizzmoney's picture

Young people have money and time to burn on outlandish costumes because few earn enough to have their own families or flats. They work part-time for low wages and live at home or in tiny one-room apartments. Few own cars because they 1) don't earn enough to support a car and 2) they're uninterested in acquiring status symbols or prestige signifiers.

This is also happening here.  And the younger people who are either dumb or naive (granted, sweetfully), dress up (aka Halloween) because they are trying to escape the reality that their lives and the majority of the lives of their peers around them, is pretty shitty....and getting shittier. But hey, for one night, I can dress up as a penis!  Girls will finally love me!

This also goes for young people at the top end of the spectrum, the "sons and daughter of corporate America", as THEY ignore the crumbling society around them (think: NYC socialites).

But hey, the DOW is up!!!!111  Life is good!!!!!!111 All is well!!!1111

XitSam's picture

It is perfectly reasonable not to own a car in Tokyo. "Uninterested in status symbols or prestige signifiers"? Well, yes, let's just continue spending fiat currency we borrow just so the neighbors can be impressed.

kengland's picture

This is what we want to bring to the Middle East. What is there not to love?

AnAnonymous's picture

'Americanism' is the best thing to have ever happened to humanity...

MachoMan's picture

Too bad it happened from the inception of society, but was named far after for the political purpose of a broken record...

JPM Hater001's picture

"This is what we want to bring to the Middle East. What is there not to love?"

Actually if you think about it I would love suicide bombers who torched themselves without hurthing others while making an irrefuttable point?.

Wouldn't you?

LongSoupLine's picture

fashion there, talent TV here...it's all about distractive engineered culture.

1's picture

Great post.  Thanks.

bank guy in Brussels's picture

Man, that is one über-cool user name you picked

'1'

Clever just to think it might be available

Fits in with this article, very fashionable and trendy

Also makes me think of that great somewhat intellectual TV series from the past, Patrick McGoohan's 'The Prisoner', with that question every week '...Who is number 1?'

JPM Hater001's picture

Yes, stolen and then trivialized by Austen Powers.