Problems with Heisei Criticism 1989-2001

Table of Contents

This group discussion, comprised of four critics in their forties or younger, follows a discussion of the history of criticism in Japan from 1975 to 1989. The second discussion of three, it looks at the years 1989 – 2001. Some of the major critics (ronkyaku) who made their debut during this period include Eiji Otsuka, Shinji Miyadai, and Yoshinori Kobayashi. This discussion focuses on the respective merits and demerits of their ideas.
The round-table begins with a recognition by Makoto Ichikawa, the author of the accompany ing report, that “with the end of the Cold War in 1989 came a retreat of the importance placed on an ideological confrontation between East and West”. Additionally, the development of a strong consumption culture was emphasized. Hiroki Azuma, agreeing with Ichikawa, notes the successive publication of numerous works that takes as their topic the means by which an individual might live in a world which is devoid of such an ideological dichotomy. Some of these texts include the work by Eiji Otsuka and others, The Generation of M (M-no Sedai, 1989), Wataru Tsurumi’s The Complete Suicide Manual (Kanzen jisatsu manyuaru, 19 93), and Shinji Miyadai’s The Choice of Girls in School Uniforms (Seifuku shojotachi-no sentaku,1994).
With a political climate in which a re-examination of the post war political and social arrangement of Japan becoming more and more necessary, the first half of the 1990s saw the publication of numerous thematically and methodologically ambitious texts. However, this trend of revisiting the postwar period dissipated in 1995 with the sense of shock accompanying both the Kobe earthquake and Tokyo subway sarin gas attack by Aum Shinrikyo. Ryota Fukushima notes that by the end of 1995 Japanese-language critical discourses in general abruptly changed style: it transformed from a manic state to a melancholic one. Emblematic of this shift was the debate Norihiro Kato sparked with his After Defeat (Haisengo-ron, 19 97), especially with his discussion of war responsibility, its relationship to Yasukuni Shrine, and the post-war Japanese mode of self-evaluation.
Criticism in the 1990s deconstructs its form of expression, spreading far beyond its traditional borders and moving across genres. A representative work of this enhanced criticism would be the piece of social criticism in manga form, Gomanism Manifesto (Gomanizumu sengen, 1993), by Yoshinori Kobayashi. Satoshi Osawa remarks that Kobayashi was involved in actual activism. The media environment changed, and criticism was no longer able to garner influence simply by means of the written text. Another key player was the late-night television debate program with journalist Soichiro Tahara, Live TV till Morning! (Asa made nama terebi! , 1987-). As a result of these changes, the center of the social criticism shifted from the printed word to television shows and manga images.
Additionally, the 1990s saw the dissemination of the internet and the expansion of Comiket (also known as Comic Market), the world’s largest marketplace for self-published works (dojinshi) and the center of so-called otaku culture. During this time various “subcultures” emerged, and people’s access to information intensified; the traditional focus of criticism (i.e., pure literature) disappeared. While the work of Otsuka and Kobayashi still prioritized works by professionals, Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (2001:2009) focused on the creative power of fans, or amateur consumers. The decline of ideology and the changes within media further accelerated in the years after 2001, a development which will be examined in the next discussion.