Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Changing Course towards a Downsized Society
MORI Mayumi  /  Author

June 3, 2014
The other day, I went to hear the views of a senior acquaintance I have admired for over thirty years. I am like a ring that links the previous generation to the next generation.

Sprightly at over ninety years of age, Mr. Sato Chukichi is a "farmer" who had proclaimed more than a decade ago that "Japan will only be able to maintain its current prosperity as long as there are no wars in the oil-producing Arab countries, no pirates in the Hormuz Straits, no nuclear accidents or volcanic eruptions, and the younger generation are as skilled and persevering as the baby boomer generation. But take even one of these conditions out of the equation, and it will all fall apart." Indeed, it seems we are losing on all fronts now.

My thirties and forties were spent in "joyful poverty." I didn't own a car or TV. During those years I was passionately involved in a local magazine and in preserving and reusing old buildings, neither of which generated income. I drank from a well, surveyed old nagaya tenement houses, strolled down alleys and had fun at the public baths and Japanese-style pubs. Now that my children are off my hands, my current passion is "downsizing" As I approach sixty, living small has become my goal. I don't buy clothes, I give away books and I don't use an iron or a vacuum cleaner. After the nuclear accident, I turned down the amperage and have survived the summers with fan in hand dressed in clothes made from antique linen. I have enjoyed growing morning glories and bitter melon on my balcony.

In 1972, the Club of Rome published the "Limits to Growth," declaring that Spaceship Earth had no future and advocating a path of "degrowth." Forty years on, I think we are paying the price for not having taken things seriously, which has led to our dependency on nuclear power and eventually to that accident. Development, promotion, revitalization, interurban competition – let us ignore these calls and instead change course towards a downsized society.

Having said this, I am bound to be told that electric power companies will go bust if they don't sell electricity and general contractors won't be able to feed their employees unless they keep building. My elite friends in business have always chided me for "making no contribution to expanding domestic demand." However, unless you spend a fortune at bars, entertain clients at golf clubs, buy branded goods and throw elaborate weddings for your sons, you can live quite comfortably on an annual income of three million yen or so. The truth is, the pie is not growing any larger and the population is on the wane. Corporations must also adopt a strategy based on the maxim of "enough is as good as a feast."

Meanwhile, "slow life" and "LOHAS" are popular with our children's generation in their twenties and thirties, who were too young to remember the bursting of the bubble economy. There is also great interest in country life and farming. In the city, too, in the so-called "Yanesen (acronym for Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi)" area where I live, an increasing number of young people are renting small tenement houses, dyeing T-shirts, handcrafting and selling bags and shoes, organizing events and generally enjoying themselves. There are venues holding concerts, theatrical performances and rakugo storytelling in the neighborhood, as well as many small galleries.

We can no longer seek unlimited consumption and development. Neither will the 2020 Olympic Games be an occasion to show off our money in a demonstration of national might. In a mature country, easing regulations to turn the historic quarters around Jingu-Gaien into a cluster of skyscrapers would have been unthinkable.

Let me quote another person for whom I have great respect, the late scholar of Italian literature Ms. Suga Atsuko. Once, she said to me as we looked down from a high-rise building in Shinjuku: "Mayumi, to whom should we apologize for having turned Tokyo into such an ugly city?"

Mayumi Mori is an author. This article originally appeared on January 9, 2014, in the morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

森 まゆみ / 作家

2014年 6月 3日




 そうはいっても電力会社は電力を売らねば会社が成り立たず、ゼネコンはビルを建てなければ社員を養えない、というであろう。私は長らくエリートビジネスマンの友人たちからは「内需拡大に寄与しないやつ」としかられてきた。でもバーで豪遊したり、接待ゴルフをしたり、ブランド品を買ったり、息子の派手な結婚式をしたりしなければ、年収300万円もあれば十分暮らしていけるのではないか? というかこれ以上パイが大きくなることはなく、人口も縮小に向かっている。企業も「足るを知る」戦略が必要だ。




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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Changing Course towards a Downsized Society