Thursday, February 12, 2004


Disclaimer: It was my intention to post the following to Momus' webpage as a comment to his new essay on Freeter and linglei, but due to its excessive length, a posting error kept occuring. Therefore, I'll just post it up on this page in the hopes that he eventually stumbles across it.



Robert here. Just wanted to say thanks for giving us another peak inside your brain, which I had been wanting to pick for a while, especially regarding this particular topic. Ever consider getting a plastic, see-thru cranium installed to make it easier for us? Anyway, Roddy pointed me in the direction of that more positive soudning article in the Times with this recent posting on his webpage just the other day.

Reading over this and also your post here reminded me of one thing that I'd like to tell of Japan's naysayers: If we could find someone who had never heard of Japan, and let them spend a day in Tokyo, there are two things that they would NEVER guess about the country.

1) That Japan was on the losing side of the world's biggest war just 59 years ago.

2) That Japan was in the 'throes' of an economic depression.

I should also say here just for the record that I often hear young expatriates here in Tokyo explaining the Japanese 'furiitaa' phenomenon in terms roughly equating it with the American 'slacker' movement (and to some degree the 'indie' movement as it was bastardized by American mainstream culture) of the early 90s. While this comparison is perhaps useful for getting a novice to such issues roughly in the conceptual ballpark, the problem is that in the long run, this probably does more to hurt than to help, especially if facets beyond the economic are considered.

Granted that in sheer economic terms, the comparison is certainly not untenable, especially regarding the part-time job situation and the much prophesied 'impending doom' of the Japanese social welfare system. But, and I think that your posting gives appropriate stress to this point, what is happening now in Japan is, among some demographics here, a genuine QUALITY OF LIFE movement here, which is very, very different that what I saw going on in America in the 90s. The Japanese may enjoy a monopoly on logevity, but it would be meaningless without living life to the fullest.

If my memory serves me, all that was 'slacker' culture in America smacked of a valetudinarian resignation in my opinion, and honestly it was too 'heavy' for me to participate in with a clear conscious while I was living there. (I spent my early to mid-twenties in Athens, Georgia.) Let's not be too quick to forget that, for better or for worse, the watchword for most of the 20 somethings in America in the early 90s was 'angst'. In Japan (or in Tokyo at least) we'd have to say that the watchword of at least a part of the 'furiitaa' scent might in fact be 'iyashi-ke' (which contains the following meanings: recuperative, therapeutic, etc.).

This is because although the economic reality (i.e. working a part-time job to make ends meet) might LOOK the same as it did in America in the 90s (I don't know what it is like today, since I've spent more time here than over there), the difference is that in Japan, it has no attendant lifestyle hardwired into it. Actually, if anything, these 'laterally mobile' (as far as I know, I've just coined this term in the sense in which I use it here) lifestyles are perhaps, if we MUST compare them to American culture, are more ideologically akin to the 'hippie' movement of the 60s, but again, it is probably best not to stretch things too far.

That's because there is a weightlessness in terms of exactly what kind of lifestyles are being carried out on their 100,000-150,000 yen/month, two-part-time-job-working budgets. Granted this isn't living on easy street, especially in Japan, and it does bring with it some severe economic barriers, but then again, if you DON'T NEED A CAR this makes things different. Also, if your country is still pretty much one of the safest ones on Earth, and you don't have to worry about getting shot, stabbed, beat-up, or whatever, and then not being able to pay the hospital bill because you couldn't afford privatized health insurance. So I guess these thing do make their relative disposable income seem a little more 'disposable.'

So sure, you get kids here who are working at 7-11 (they aren't going to get robbed while working this job), who are also moonlighting at some izakaya (a Japanese pub, remember, no fear of drunk driving since they took the train or biked to work), but they are light years away from their American counterparts. These Japanese kids are more worried about giving the interiors of their apartments a makeover, or themselves, either in physical terms (i.e. their wardrobes) or even in spiritual terms (i.e. 'slow life'). And why shouldn't they? Theirs is not the kind of nihilistic existence that was romanticized in Western films like 'Trainspotting' or the hyper-consumerism that was excoriated in movies Fight Club at all. I quote at length from both scripts to illustrate my point:


Trainspotting - Rention's voice over from the opening sequence of Trainspotting

'Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family, Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing sprit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing you last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you've got heroin? People think it's all about misery and desperation and death and all that shite, which is not to be ignored, but what they forget is the pleasure of it. Otherwise we wouldn't do it. After all, we're not fucking stupid. At least, we're not that fucking stupid. Take the best orgasm you ever had, multiply it by a thousand and you're still nowhere near it. When you're on junk you have only one worry: scoring. When you're off it you are suddenly obliged to worry about all sorts of other shite. Got no money: can't get pished. Got money: drinking too much. Can't get a bird: no chance of a ride. Got a bird: too much hassle. You have to worry about bills, about food, about some football team that never fucking winds, about human relationships and all the things that really don't matter when you've got a sincere and truthful junk habit.'


Fight Club - Jack is telephone shopping while sitting on the toilet

Jack reacts to being put on hold.


Jack sits on the toilet. He digs through a magazine rack. IKEA
catalogues, Pottery Barn catalogues and more of the kind. Jack opens
an IKEA catalog and flips through it.

I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something
like the clever Njurunda coffee tables in the shape of a lime green Yin
and an orange Yang --

Move in on PHOTO of the tables. CUT TO:


Completely EMPTY.

I had to have it.

The Njurunda tables APPEAR.


The Haparanda sofa group ...


The sofa group APPEARS.

... with the orange slip covers by Erika Pekkari. The Johanneshov
armchair in the Strinne green stripe pattern.

The armchair APPEARS.

PG 11

The Rislampa/Har lamps from wire and environmentally-friendly
unbleached paper.

The lamp APPEARS.

The Vild hall clock of galvanized steel.

The clock APPEARS.

The Klipsk shelving unit.

The shelving unit APPEARS.


Jack flips the page of the catalogue to reveal a full-page photo of an
entire kitchen and dining room set.

I would flip and wonder, "What kind of dining room set *defines* me as
a person?"

Jack drops the catalog down, open to this spread. PAN OVER to the
magazine stack -- there's an old, tattered PLAYBOY.

It used to be Playboys; now -- IKEA.


-- Looking exactly like the photo in the catalogue. Jack walks in with
the cordless phone still glued to his ear.

I want to transfer my balance to get a lower interest rate.

Jack looks over the whole kitchen, dining room, and the living room

The things you own, they end up owning you.


What we see here is nothing more than a kind of acute neurosis (one character in Trainspotting even goes by the name of 'SICK BOY'), and for a Westerner, a very problematic one in psycho-materialist terms. Remember, there are only unfortunately only so many dollars being spent in good taste in America, and I'd wager that a good many of them are pink. Outside of this group, it actually isn't easy for Americans to become like this, since this kind of existence is, on the whole, aberrant in that country.

In contrast, what is happening here in Tokyo is reincarnation of a very different, very intense, very fragile aestheticism, which is rooted in the ancient kinds of aestheticisms that have led Japanese people to become meticulous gardeners, tea-masters, and organizers of other minute forms such as the haiku, in previous centuries. I think it also goes a long way to explain why the spirit of 'curatorialism' is so strong in Tokyo in its 'select shops' and cafes.

Yes, these are new, capitalist-driven forms, but their essence is most assuredly Japanese. These older forms, their energies, proved in the end far more enduring than anyone was willing to admit. They have taken on new hosts and actualize themselves from generation to generation. The current, much misrepresented one, is being contained under the rubric 'furiitaa.' The fact that 'the world's biggest gaijin linglei freeter' one birthday boy, who anyone will tell you was probably a 'geiko' in his previous incarnation, counts himself among their numbers, will no doubt impart a sorely need lucidity on the whole situation. Mankind thanks you, Nick!



P.S. Happy birthday to you!

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