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There used to be a pair of beautiful swings for children, not far from an old rural temple in Mie Prefecture, where I used to frequently power walk, when searching for inspiration for my novels. Two years ago, I noticed that the swings had gotten rusty, abandoned, and unkempt. Yesterday, I spotted a yellow ribbon, encircling and therefore closing the structure down. It appears that the decision had already been made to get rid of the playground, irreversibly.
One day earlier, I observed an old homeless man sleeping right under a big sign which was advertising a cluster of luxury eateries at the lavish Nagoya train station.
And in the city of Yokkaichi, which counts some 350,000 inhabitants, almost all but very few bus lines had disappeared. What had also disappeared was an elegant and unique, shining zodiac, which used to be engraved into the marble promenade right in front of the Kintetsu Line train station, the very center of the city. The fast ferry across the bay, connecting Yokkaichi with Centrair International Airport that serves Nagoya and in fact almost the entire area of Central Japan, stopped operating, as the municipal subsidies dried up. Now people have to drive some seventy kilometers, all around the bay, burning fuel and paying exuberant highway tolls and airport parking fees, to make it to their flight. What used to constitute public spaces, or even just rice fields, is rapidly being converted into depressing parking lots. It is happening in Central Japan, but also as far southwest as the city of Nagasaki, and as north as Nemuro.
Homeless people are everywhere. Cars (Japan now has more cars per capita than the United States) are rotting in the middle of rice fields and at the edges of once pristine forests, as they lose value rapidly, and it costs a lot of money to get rid of them properly. Entire rural villages are being depopulated, in fact turning into ghost towns. There is rust, bad planning and an acute lack of anything public, all over the country.
Japan is in decay. For many years, it was possible, with half-closed eyes, to ignore it, as the country was due to inertia hanging on to the top spot of the richest nations on Earth. But not anymore: the deterioration is now just too visible.
The decay is not as drastic as one can observe in some parts of France, the United States, or the UK. But decay it is. The optimistic, heady days of nation-building are over. The Automobile industry and other corporations are literally cannibalizing the country, dictating its lifestyle. In smaller cities, motorists do not yield on pedestrian crossings anymore. Cars are prioritized by urban planners, and some urban planners are paid, bribery by the car industry. Many areas can now only be reached by cars. There are hardly any public exercise machines, and almost no new parks. Japan, which prides itself on producing some of the most refined food, is now fully overwhelmed by several chains of convenience stores, which are full of unhealthy foodstuff.
For generations, people were sacrificing their lives in order to build a prosperous, powerful and socially balanced Japan. Now, there is no doubt that the citizens are there mainly to support powerful corporations or in short: big business. Japanese used to have its own and distinct model, but now the lifestyle is not too different from one that could be observed in North America or Europe. For the second time in its history, Japan has been forced to 'open to the world' (read: to Western interests and to the global capitalist economy), and to accept the concepts that used to be thoroughly alien to the Asian culture. The consequences were quick to arrive, and in summary, they have been thoroughly disastrous.
After WWII, Japan had to accept occupation. The Constitution was written by the US. Defeated but determined to rebuild and join the ranks of the richest countries on earth, Japan began collaborating with the West, first supporting the brutal invasion to Korea (the so-called "Korean War"). It totally gave up on its independence, fully surrendering its foreign policy, which gradually became indistinct from that of the United States in particular, and the West in general. The mass media has been, since the end of the war to now, controlled and censored by the regime in Tokyo. Major Japanese newspapers, as well as the Japanese national broadcaster NHK, would never dare to broadcast or publish any important international news, unless at least one major US or British mainstream media outlet had set the tone and example of how the story should be covered by the mass media in the 'client' states. In this respect, the Japanese media is not different from its counterparts in countries such as Indonesia or Kenya. Japan is also definitely not a 'democracy', if 'democracy' simply means the rule of the people. Traditionally, Japanese people used to live mainly in order to serve the nation, which was perhaps not such a bad concept. It used to work, at least for the majority. However, now, they are expected to sacrifice their lives solely for the profits of corporations.
People in Japan do not rebel, even when they are robbed by their rulers. They are shockingly submissive.