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Sunday, July 10, 2011
Snapshot of current thought
Shinsho (new writing or paperback originals) nonfiction books, written for a general audience by experts on topics of current interest, offer a window on what's on the minds of the Japanese. Judging from recent shinsho best-sellers, that's primarily the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster and the proper nature of Japanese society.
Of several Fukushima titles, "Genpatsu no uso" (Nuclear power lies) by Hiroaki Koide has been especially popular, selling more than 200,000 copies since its publication June 1. Although an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, Koide has called for the abolition of nuclear power plants for four decades, since becoming aware of the risks after becoming a nuclear engineering student in 1968.
While agreeing that it is important to develop alternative forms of energy, he believes that above all else we should be reconsidering a lifestyle so dependent on the extravagant use of energy.
A less predictable best-seller looks at the relationship of the individual to society through the lens of the insect world. "Hatarakanai ari ni igi ga aru" (The nonworking ant has meaning) by biologist Eisuke Hasegawa has a clever cover illustration of a salaryman ant leisurely smoking a cigarette. In his book, Hasegawa reveals that 70 percent of ants are resting at any given time. Yet, they are important to the group as backup troops; the organization will not last long if 100 percent of its members are working full out and becoming exhausted at the same time.
Hasegawa, therefore, warns against the supposed rationality and efficiency of modern organizations, whose inhuman demands on workers are ever accelerating under the spread of globalization.
Another popular shinsho title now is "Nihonjin no hokori" (The pride of the Japanese people) by mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara, who is famous — or infamous — for his 2005 book "Kokka no hinkaku" (The dignity of the nation).
After deploring the contemporary breakdown of Japanese society, Fujiwara presents a rather romanticized view of the prewar period and calls for a rejection of the postwar worship of freedom and the individual and a return to traditional Japanese values of order and harmony.
There is little new about such Nihonjin-ron (discourse on Japan's cultural uniqueness), but it seems to be once again coming into vogue as Japan re-examines its past and debates its future course.