Japan’s Cultural Left

Table of Contents

To speak of Japanese criticism/thought after 2001 is the same as speaking of criticism/thought after Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (University of Minnesota Press, 2001). Azuma’s assertion that otaku are Japanese people after the realization of postmodernity, which he hints at in this text, has been undoubtedly proven in the years since.

The Japanese criticism/thought of the 2000s contained another completely different aspect. This trend can be collectively labeled the “Japanese Cultural Left.” Within this context, many writers appearing after Hiroki Azuma were nothing more than critics of Azuma. At that moment, in the latter half of the 2000s, the issues of irregular employment and minimum wage labor facing the young were known by several names such as “working poor,” “precariat,” and “the lost generation.” The writers who took up these issues were themselves members of, and activists for, these groups. These groups clearly represented a new type of movement different from the once ideologisch political movements. However, the 2010s arrived without these groups achieving any clear results.

Following the Great East Japan earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011, the atmosphere in Japanese society as a whole suddenly transformed. Two
extremes were aroused: on one side was an affirmation of the present situation and attacks on others, symbolized by neto-uyo, a term indicating the online rightwing. On the other was a “movement” more casual and harmless than those of the 2000s, represented by SEALDs. Criticism/thought has also been unable to escape this influence. The word “liberal” has, in Japan, come to indicate a pseudo-utopianism. Furthermore, in a similar way to neto-uyo, “liberal” has become a discourse that dreams of a social revolution far removed from the possibility of realization. Liberals and neto-uyo are very similar in that they only speak to those with shared beliefs. Both severely lack an attitude of being “suspicious of the foundation of one’s own words,” which was once thought to be
necessary for criticism/thought.