Ever since I began learning about Japan and its culture, I’ve been of decidedly mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, they are particularly imaginative when it comes to existing means of artistic expression – they come up with things that we in the west would never even dream of, and the world is (most of the time) better off for it. On the other hand, they have some significant challenges that they are trying to wind their way through, and failing. I keep having the most unpleasant feeling that we’re watching the slow motion destruction of a great and ancient culture.
And a part of me isn’t incredibly sad about that, while a part of me is.
Their birthrate has hit a thirty year low, with either this year or last year (I can’t remember) only having 900,000 births. That may seem like a lot, but for a country of 125 million people, it’s not really sustainable. They are already having to allow more foreigners into their country just to keep essential services running, and I don’t see how that’s not going to become even more pressing an issue as their society ages. At some point it’s going to hit a tipping point, and they’re going to have to face head on their cultural tendency towards isolationism and perceived cultural superiority.
And when that happens, it’s going to be a major shock to their culture, as the presence of more and more foreigners is going to, almost by definition, impact their culture in ways that no one really can foresee.
The part of me that isn’t incredibly sad about this thinks that there are some parts of their culture that may be better off treated as relics of the past, not to be repeated. The part of me that is sad about it recognizes that once this happens, something of value will be lost forever. For you cannot have cultural change without there being both good and bad effects, and usually the bad effects are centered around forgetting what made a people what they are in the first place. We have been dealing with that in America for quite a few years now, and it’s not a pleasant thing for a country to experience.
It’s not my problem to solve, and I’m not going to try. It’s not my place. I’m not Japanese and sometimes a people have to solve their own problems. I’m sure that they will be a mixture of innovative and conservative when coming up with these solutions, and I would expect nothing less from the Japanese. I just hope that they can fix their cultural problems without losing too much of what makes them admired (mostly) around the world.