Why are there so many “no-good Japanese” these days? asks Shukan Gendai magazine this month.
One thing and another; no single explanation will do. “No-good” seems to mean predatory. The teeth and claws, mostly verbal, cut deep all the same, as the apparent suicide last month of pro wrestler and reality TV actress Hana Kimura reminds us.
“Terrace House,” the Fuji TV show on which Kimura appeared, featured six young people, three men and three women, in somewhat cramped shared accommodations in Tokyo, coping ad lib (the show was supposedly scriptless, although Shukan Shincho magazine last month cast doubt on that) with whatever life threw at them. In a March episode, a male cast member threw Kimura’s prized wrestling costume into the washing machine, where it shrank. Kimura blew a fuse. She held nothing back, giving the housemate whose carelessness or ineptitude caused the damage a lesson he’ll surely never forget in the finer points of domestic laundry.
There the matter might have ended, had the year unfolded according to plan. Instead, it veered so far off course that we scarcely remember what the plan was. What was it? The Olympics, mainly. Olympic fever would be rising around now. “Less than a month to go,” we’d be saying to ourselves and each other. The games of the XXXII Olympiad — Tokyo 2020 — were to open July 24. The motto: “United by emotion.”
We are united by emotion — not, however, the emotion the games’ organizing committee sought to foster. Its starkest and most widespread expression is “I can’t breathe!” — the plea of an American as he died gasping for breath under the knee of a police officer on a street in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
George Floyd was hardly the first black man to die in the custody of white police officers; nor was his death the first to spark rage against police brutality and racism. The scale and extent of current protests stand out all the same, ripples extending to Japan. Something is in the air, something explosive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has us all feeling suffocated. It’s kept us home and edgy, turning us all, in a sense, into “Terrace House” occupants, primed to lash out at anyone who comes a bit too close, utters the wrong word, makes the wrong gesture or does (however unwittingly) the wrong thing.
Kimura’s verbal assault on her hapless housemate — itself no doubt the product of stress — generated in turn a barrage of cyber-fury against her, its perpetrators seemingly bent on outdoing one another in terms of crudity, nastiness and violence. That sort of thing, once it gets going, gains momentum. It feels good, psychiatrist Tamami Katada tells Shukan Gendai.
She cites the familiar pleasure hormone serotonin. Only specialists’ brains understand it but everyone’s brain secretes it, under stimuli that, whatever else characterizes them, are essentially amoral. If morality came into it we’d take less pleasure in others’ pain and more in being and doing good. We didn’t evolve for goodness. We evolved for survival. That doesn’t preclude goodness, as much selfless and even heroic kindness in the worst of this and other crises so often and reassuringly reminds us. Still, there’s a bit of the wolf in all of us, preying on the lamb in others. Kimura was the lamb — or scapegoat. She was 22.
The scapegoat analogy, applied to Kimura by sociologist Asao Naito in his discussion with Shukan Gendai, suggests very ancient roots for this very modern drama. It’s the props — reality TV and the internet — that make it modern. On the other hand, there’s something decidedly primitive about reality TV, and as for the internet, when it sits in judgment, as it frequently does, on perceived violators of unwritten laws, its standards tend to be those of a technologized lynch mob.
Internet anonymity favors that — especially, suggests psychologist Hiroaki Emoto to Shukan Gendai, in Japan, whose traditional culture fosters reserve and civility. These amiable virtues can be costly. Feelings denied expression don’t go away. They accumulate, intensify, feed on each other. The few who take their rage to the streets do great damage. The many who take it to the net do less. You can at least — as political scientist Lully Miura tells Shukan Gendai she did when she was attacked online for speaking out against sexual violence — thicken your skin against it. You can turn your internet connections off for a week or a month and let the storm rage without you. One wonders why Kimura didn’t.
It’s a perfect storm of frustration we’re in, Emoto says. Globalization is enriching but also impoverishing; the rich get richer, the poor poorer — the latter more likely. The future, increasingly uncertain, roils politics, increasingly divisive. A budding artificial intelligence revolution threatens to make half of us unemployable. Suddenly, out of nowhere comes a pandemic that puts even those challenges in the shade.
“More and more people,” says Emoto, “have no hope for the future. They come together on the internet” and pool their despair. Woe to those who cross their path.
Take a deep breath. We need one. Counseling? That might help, too. Counselors abound. Short of extremity, we shrink from them; it seems a last resort rather than a first one. All things considered, maybe a friend is better.
Friends, unfortunately, have their own troubles. Have they time for yours? No, better than a friend, the best counselor of all, maybe — the best friend of all, possibly — is your favorite teddy bear.
Frivolous? It’s a counselor who counsels it — Shota Hashimoto, in conversation this month with Shukan Josei magazine.
“Teddy bear counseling” has at least this going for it: You will never hear anything harsh or discordant. You may never meet a more open, sympathetic and receptive face than your teddy bear’s. “Pour out your heart to me,” it seems to say. And so you do. It’s like talking to yourself, like looking inside yourself — where, says Hashimoto, the real answers are, if only you can penetrate deep enough to reach them.
“Nobody knows the answers” to the problems that vex you, says Shukan Josei, “better than you do yourself.” You just have to know that you know.
Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations. Michael Hoffman’s latest book, now on sale, is “Cipangu, Golden Cipangu: Essays in Japanese History.”