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Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010

EDITORIAL

Japan's 'hot' year

The kanji "sho" for "hot" has been chosen by the Japanese people as best representing 2010 in a poll organized by the Kyoto-based Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation. No doubt the memory of last summer's record-breaking heat is still fresh in people's minds, but ironically the summer also brought to light how "cold" human relationships have become in contemporary Japan, as symbolized in the new coinage "muen shakai" (disconnected society). The social isolation and hidden poverty of many was revealed in people dying alone in their rooms of heat stroke, while the missing centenarians and shocking child abuse cases highlighted the weakening of the family ties.

Rather than hot, the national mood in 2010 might better be described as lukewarm, as a dispirited younger generation faced an uncertain employment future and citizens were discouraged by the slow pace of political change. Nostalgia for an earlier Japan, which, while not as affluent, did have stronger family and community ties and a sense of national purpose, would seem to have played some part in the popularity this past year of "GeGeGe no nyobo" (Wife of the GeGeGe Cartoonist), in which Nunoe Mura, the wife of manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, wrote about their married life in Showa Japan. This autobiography was adapted as the morning NHK drama and then as a full-length movie. In fact, GeGeGe no was chosen as the top buzz word for 2010 by the publishers of the annual almanac "Gendai yogo no kiso chishiki" (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Words).

The arts scene has also been suffering the cool winds of an age of austerity, but in a bit of welcome news the Finance Ministry has proposed allocating a new high of ¥203 billion for the promotion of cultural activities in the coming fiscal year's budget, increased from ¥102 billion in fiscal 2010. The Democratic Party of Japan is hoping that its Cool Japan initiative, building on the popularity of Japanese anime, food, and fashion abroad, can be one area of growth for the Japanese economy.

This year Japan lost two distinctive voices: the novelist and playwright Hisashi Inoue died in April at the age of 75 and playwright Kohei Tsuka in July at the age of 62. World-renowned orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa, 75, was diagnosed with early-stage esophageal cancer in January but happily had recovered enough to conduct a concert at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 14.

It was a coolish year for broadcasting and publishing, both of which are facing turning points. The TV world, which must cope with the switch from analog to digital broadcasting in July next year, continued to suffer a decline in prime-time viewership. The year witnessed the unprecedented decision by NHK to not broadcast the Nagoya sumo tournament as well as the rise of infotainment shows hosted by journalist Akira Ikegami.

Sales of books and magazines, according to the estimates of the Shuppan Kagaku Kenkyujo, totaled ¥1.562 trillion from January through October, a decrease of 3.5 percent from the same period last year. The number-one best-seller for the year was "Moshi koko yakyu no joshi maneja ga Dorakka no 'Manejimento' wo yondara" (If a high-school baseball team's female manager were to read Drucker's "Management") by Natsumi Iwasaki — usually shortened to "Moshidora." As the title indicates, this is an introduction to management theory in the format of a high school student trying to get her team into the Koshien tournament. It has sold 1.72 million print copies and 90,000 in e-book format since its publication in December of 2009.

In fifth place on the 2010 best-seller list (as compiled by Tohan Corp. for the period December 2009 to November 2010) is Book 3 of Haruki Murakami's "1Q84," which became a million-seller 12 days after its publication in April. Also in the top 20 are two nonfiction titles by Ikegami and "GeGeGe no nyobo."

Particularly hot in 2010 was speculation over e-publishing and the future of the book after the arrival in Japan of the iPad in May. The e-book market in 2009 was ¥57.4 billion (according to Impress R & D), of which 90 percent was comics for cell phones. On Dec. 20, the Nomura Research Institute estimated that the domestic market for electronic content would grow to ¥240 billion by fiscal 2015. It foresees the number of reading devices, some 780,000 at the end of this year, increasing to 14 million in five years time. Publishers are groping for appropriate responses and it remains to be seen what the impact will be on books and reading. What is clear is that there is no turning back from the digital revolution, as seen in Time magazine's selection of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its Person of the Year for 2010.

In the end, however, it was in science and technology that Japan was hottest in 2010. It was the successful return of the Hayabusa space probe from the asteroid Itokawa in June, the winning of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in October by Eifichi Negishi and Akira Suzuki, and the rapid rising of the Sky Tree tower in Tokyo, which gave hope that Japan's day in the sun is far from over.



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