Brave New Japan


Originally published on on January 2011

Illustration by Phil Couzens

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about the success of disaster movies. You know, the types where the earth suddenly bursts into flame or gets sucked into a black hole. Not very plausible stuff, but such films keep getting made, so they must be capturing people’s attention. Perhaps that’s because, despite their outlandish trigger events, they address a fundamentally important question: what happens when things really run amok?

Take, for example, one of my favorite Japanese disaster flicks, Nihon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu, a.k.a. “The World Sinks Except Japan.” While the premise is just a wee bit out there—yup, you guessed it: the entire world except Japan sinks into the ocean—the film is an edgy and comical account of foreigners from once wealthy and powerful countries seeking refuge on these shores.

The idea of Japan as a lifeboat got me thinking: what would happen to life here if America sank? While my geologist friends assure me it’s physically impossible for the US to submerge into the depths of the ocean, a raft of informed individuals believe that it is not only possible, but indeed probable, that the US will sink into the depths of financial and political oblivion.

The theory is straightforward: America continues pouring money into its military-industrial complex, and the rest of the world, fed up with the resulting debasement of the dollar, dumps the greenback as its reserve currency. The US is suddenly unable to pay for its imports, and because so much of its industry has been off-shored—the nation’s biggest employers are the government, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s—there are massive shortages of many of the products people have come to rely upon. Living standards tank. Social unrest ensues. Meanwhile, the government grows desperate for cash and resources. It starts unrestrained taxing, requisitioning and seizing anything and everything in sight. Whatever remains
of America’s constitutional republic is crushed under a desperate and demented fascist police state.

Before you shout “bollocks,” realize that some of this has already started to happen. Military spending continues to increase. The Federal Reserve is electronically printing up hundreds of billions of dollars to cover budget shortfalls, and other countries are running away from the dollar.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has accrued a proper Christmas boodle of government powers, including institutionalized peeping and groping by the TSA and the stated right to assassinate American citizens merely on suspicion of terrorism. And for those of its citizens planning to gracefully duck out, the government will require automatic tax withholding of 30 percent of any money taken out of the country beginning in 2013.

So, assuming WWIII doesn’t result, what will happen to life in Japan after the US sinks? Here are some zany predictions.

It will start with the country’s 50,000 resident Americans inviting relatives from home who haven’t been put on a no-fly list for looking at Wikileaks to come stay with them “for a little while.” Immigration officials at Narita will be overwhelmed by a flood of US refugees sporting “Don’t touch my junk!” T-shirts. Native English speakers will be had for ¥10-a-dozen, and scruffy, out-of-work eikaiwa teachers will be found at train stations holding signs reading “Will teach for sushi.”

Americans of an entrepreneurial bent will find a lucrative sideline creating underground fetish clubs that offer the chance to don a TSA uniform and give “enhanced pat-downs” to unwilling “passengers.” American brides-to-be will crowd out their Russian counterparts on websites peddling happiness to lonely salarymen. The number of international marriages will explode, leading the mass media to coin a cute word for them.

Japanese with a farm in the family will become the most sought-after marriage partners, as waves of otherwise unemployable liberal arts graduates need to find a way to stay fed. NHK will do a special program featuring enthusiastic young foreigners driving rice combines while hunchbacked sexagenarians, previously worried about who would take over the farm, look on in relief. Governors of rural prefectures will be delighted as, for the first time in years, declining population trends reverse. And the extra output of grain will mesh nicely with the growth of the gray market for home-brewing equipment, as hordes of thirsty fresh-off-the-boat yanks refuse to fork over ¥250 a can for bland Japanese beer.

So renew your passport, put a personal ad on Farm, and get cracking on that home-brew recipe. We’re in for a brave new Japan.