November 3, 2011
Searching for the Sun
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on November 2011
Why did you come to Japan? It’s a common question with a lot of answers: a job, a girl, the military… In my case, I used to go down to the local video shop (in pre-internet days) to pore over anime in the “foreign” section—and I couldn’t wait to visit the quirky country that produced it.
I was so fascinated with Japan that I studied the language throughout college and graduate school with the dream of one day working here and maybe even raising a family.
When I finally arrived I was impressed with the diligence and intensity that I saw everywhere I looked. The country was well organized and things worked. The trains were on time. So were the Japanese, and I loved the way they would keep promises and make me feel like our meetings were the only things of importance going on at the moment. Then there was the exquisite food. I also saw how much wealth there was around me and found opportunities that simply didn’t exist back home. Although the bubble had burst long ago, the incessant chatter of the foreign media about how Japan was stagnating seemed to be more of an issue for investors and big business than for people on the ground like me. Sure, China was growing—but the Land of the Rising Sun was still the second largest economy in the world.
As time went on, however, an uncomfortable sensation began bubbling up in my gut. Perhaps Japan’s future really wasn’t so bright after all?
It’s common knowledge that the “lost decade” has already hit the 20-year mark and if Japan’s issues were simply macro-economic I might have hope for such a hard-working society. But Japan is also suffering from deep structural problems such as a rapidly shrinking population. While I admit that the long-run scenario of a sparsely populated high-tech utopia is appealing, in my lifetime fewer young Japanese will simply mean higher taxes, a smaller economy and less of the jobs, services and infrastructure that we all rely on.
I am also concerned about whether Japan can continue to be a technological leader. The country has done well in fields like cars and machinery where technology develops in a slow, predictable way. However, most new technologies are anything but predictable. In this society where the nail that sticks up gets hammered down, vital entrepreneurship and innovation are exceedingly difficult, and this is exacerbated by a national education system that has become less and less effective.
When China became the world’s number two economy in 2010, I thought once mighty Nippon was going to go out with a whimper. However, I now believe that the March 12, 2011 hydrogen explosion at Tepco’s Daichi plant will go down in history as the literal bang that ended an era.
The meltdowns released 168 times the amount of radioactive cesium that Little Boy dumped on Hiroshima, and have made hundreds, possibly thousands, of square kilometers of precious land unfit to use. As I dug into a ¥6,000 plate of sashimi one night in Shinjuku, I realized that Japan’s pristine food supply had now been soiled for generations. I found myself asking, how could I justify raising a child here?
The government’s shameless bungling and cover-ups left me with little confidence that any of the country’s problems would be solved. If I had been wavering before, I had now lost all faith. Why would I want to continue to endure Japan’s authoritarian and inflexible society when its future seemed so dark? I decided it was time to make a fresh start in a place where the sun was shining.
In August I moved to China where I enjoy a better quality of life and have found more opportunities to use my education and talents. I won’t claim that life is perfect here because it isn’t anywhere, but everyday I wake with a sense of hope for the future and the confidence that I made the right decision.
I understand my choice isn’t for everyone. Some people are a lot more invested in Japan than I was; they have established families, built careers, bought property, gained citizenship or simply can’t imagine life anywhere else. I respect that. However, I also know that I am not alone, and as the months and years go by, there will be more and more individuals who find that their rising sun isn’t in Japan.
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