Shutting Out the Sun

How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

By Michael Zielenziger
(Nan A. Talese, Hardcover, 9780385513036, 352pp.)

Publication Date: September 19, 2006

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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The world’s second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America. But its failure to recover from the economic collapse of the early 1990s was unprecedented, and today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends. Japan has the highest suicide rate and lowest birthrate of all industrialized countries, and a rising incidence of untreated cases of depression. Equally as troubling are the more than one million young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society, and the growing numbers of “parasite singles,” the name given to single women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children.

In Shutting Out the Sun, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan’s rigid, tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality and the expression of self are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Giving a human face to the country’s malaise, Zielenziger explains how these constraints have driven intelligent, creative young men to become modern-day hermits. At the same time, young women, better educated than their mothers and earning high salaries, are rejecting the traditional path to marriage and motherhood, preferring to spend their money on luxury goods and travel.

Smart, unconventional, and politically controversial, Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan’s stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.

About the Author

Michael Zielenziger is a visiting scholar at the Institute of East Asian Studies, U. C. Berkeley, and was the Tokyo-based bureau chief for Knight Ridder Newspapers for seven years, until May 2003. He has written extensively about social, economic, and political trends in Japan, Korea, China, and Southeast Asia. After September 11, 2001, Zielenziger also spent long periods in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, and Israel, covering the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

Before moving to Tokyo, Zielenziger served as the first Pacific Rim correspondent for The San Jose Mercury News, and was a finalist for a 1995 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for a series on China. He was also a contributor to two other Pulitzer Prizes awarded to the Mercury News.

Zielenziger was a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University in 1991, where he studied in the Asia-Pacific Research Center and Stanford's Graduate School of Business. He is a graduate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy. He is a 2003 recipient of an Abe Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council of New York.

Praise For Shutting Out the Sun

"Full of surprises and fresh discoveries, Shutting Out the Sun convincingly explains why the great Japanese juggernaut has faltered--and it does so with intelligence, insight, and verve. It's the keenest view of the Japanese character since Ruth Benedict's classic The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a worthy successor."
--Richard Rhodes

"Michael Zielenziger's focus on the real people who make up modern Japan is what makes his book so fascinating. He shows what the change in Japan's overall fortunes has done to its citizenry, and how their response affects their country's future prospects-–and its effects on the world. This is an important look at a limitlessly intriguing culture."
--James Fallows

"Michael Zielenziger offers us a classic, and a warning."
--Studs Terkel

"An incisive, well-written account of Japan's recent social and economic malaise, including a frightening portrait of the nation's hikikomori: disaffected youths who lock themselves in their rooms for months or years at a time as a way of coping with life in a society that denies them self-expression....Nuanced reporting on a tradition-bound society struggling to find its way in the 21st century."
--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A good metaphor is a powerful thing. It can transmit truth instantly with an intuitive clarity that plain exposition can't achieve. In his trenchant examination of declining, post-Bubble Japan, Michael Zielenziger has found such a metaphor. The core of Shutting Out the Sun is a lively anaylsis of the crisis. Shutting Out the Sun puts a human face on the nation's plight and provides an intriguing point of entry into a consideration of Japan's crisis of confidence."
-- The Washington Post

"Well researched and clearly written...Shutting Out the Sun's centerpieces -- profiles of hikikomori the author interviewed and often befriended -- are vivid and heartfelt."
--The Seattle Times

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