But enough about me. Instead, let's talk about Norimitsu Onishi, the New York Times correspondent who has been tracking the travails and agonies of an aging society here (78 year old Okinawan pastor protests whitewash of government role in WW II mass suicide), here (52 year old losing his welfare benefits and starving to death), here (61-year old royal talks of his battle with cancer and alcoholism, family woes, and the stress of life in the troubled extended imperial family), and here (prisons adapting to aging prisoners). That's four of the eight articles he published in the past four weeks. And another story - on sumo - centers on the brutal hazing death of a 17 year old and the rebellious Yokozuna Asashōryū (and a deranged middle-aged woman who tried to crawl onto the sumo ring as a gratuitous throw-in), but "rural areas [emptying] out of young people" weighs heavily in the background.
It is not hard to see in these chronicles a society whose time has passed, where traditions wither and personal ties fade away, where only loneliness and, ultimately, death prevail; an aging nation resigned to its bleak fate. Perhaps appropriately, the characters are all men (unless you count the mad woman); where a newly-widowed Japanese woman often gain a new lease on life, widowers and bachelors run the risk of an early death.
But contrast this desolate vision with this story (Washington Post) of a 64 year old ex-cab driver, happily homeless in downtown Tokyo, homeless that is, until his pension kicks in when he turns 65. For here is a society that may lack the hands-on activism of the soup kitchens of Manhattan, but offers gentle tolerance and understated charity. It is notable that in Mr. Onishi's story on the aged prisoners, the special care and consideration that they receive in the prison system is ultimately used to illuminate a society that is unwilling to accept ex-convicts. (Has Mr. Onishi bothered to compare recidivism rates across age groups and countries?)In the last few years, the Japanese economy has taken a turn for the better, and it shows. The stories you hear from new graduates and college seniors have changed dramatically. No one knows if Japan is finally emerging from the long Employment Ice Age (就職氷河期), or is merely passing through an Indian Summer of sorts before it enters inexorably into that long, painful slide into the night. Still, it is clear that there is another side to the Japanese story that does not fit into Mr. Onishi's anecdotal narrative. Is there an agenda, or is it temperament? I can only guess.