For Japanese Novelist Sayaka Murata, Odd Is the New Normal

From The New York Times:

Keiko, a defiantly oddball 36-year-old woman, has worked in a dead-end job as a convenience store cashier in Tokyo for half her life. She lives alone and has never been in a romantic relationship, or even had sex. And she is perfectly happy with all of it.

Her creator, Japanese novelist Sayaka Murata, thinks that makes Keiko a true hero.

“Keiko doesn’t care — or maybe she doesn’t realize — when she is being made fun of by others,” said Ms. Murata, 38, of the narrator of “Convenience Store Woman,” her 10th novel and first to be translated into English. “She did not want to have sex at all and that was fine with her, and she chose that life. I really admire her character.”

“Convenience Store Woman,” which won Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize for literature two years ago and has sold close to 600,000 copies here, will go on sale this month in the United States. Written in plain-spoken prose, the slim volume focuses on a character who in many ways personifies a demographic panic in Japan.

Japanese media is filled with stories about declining marriage and low birthrates, as well as references to ominous surveys about young people who are virgins or have forsaken dating and sex, a narrative that the Western press finds particularly alluring when writing about Japan.

. . . .

In the novel, Keiko’s friends and family are mortified on her behalf, urging her to find a man and settle down or move to a more professionally fulfilling job. Keiko observes their anxiety with head-cocked bemusement. “Here was everyone taking it for granted that I must be miserable when I wasn’t,” she thinks, after a reunion with a group of married high school classmates who seem appalled by her nonexistent love life.

. . . .

“I wanted to illustrate how odd the people who believe they are ordinary or normal are,” said Ms. Murata during an interview in a smoky subterranean cafe in Jimbocho, Tokyo’s book district, where she sometimes comes to write. “They are the so-called normal people, but when you switch the direction of the camera, it is they who appear strange or odd.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

It’s not original with him, but PG says the future belongs to those who show up for it.

Although a demographic collapse has not been seen in a large Western economy during the past couple of centuries, it’s a real phenomenon. Japan’s population is projected to fall from 127 million to 87 million by 2060, at which point more than 40% of the population will be older than 65.

It has little to do with the business of writing, but PG is intrigued by the combination of demographic, social and emotional conditions that cause or accompany demographic collapse. In a recent poll, Japanese respondents were asked if the next generation of children would be better or worse off than their parents. The largest response was “worse off” with a 72% share of the vote.

The current population of Japan is 127 million. One of the government’s major goals is to prevent the population of the country from dropping below 100 million by 2060 instead of the projected 87 million.

Demographic collapse has occurred in societies less advanced than 21st century Japan. For example, from about 1500-1650, the Native American population in North and, particularly, South America experienced a precipitous decline, primarily caused by diseases brought to the New World by European explorers and settlers.

However, the demographic collapse of a wealthy nation through a lack of interest in bringing children into the world, as compared to disease, war, etc., is something that, in PG’s admittedly limited knowledge has not occurred before.

Opening the borders and encouraging large-scale immigration is one solution that comes to mind, but what makes Japan Japanese is the uncounted daily hours spent in the tutelage of Japanese children, primarily by Japanese mothers, teaching what it means to be Japanese and how proper Japanese behave and don’t behave.

If 15 million Indonesians move to Japan and continue the demographic growth rate that has taken Indonesia’s population from 75 million in the 1950’s to over 225 million today, Japan’s culture will become markedly more Indonesian in its character. While correlation is not causation, PG notes the median annual household income in Japan is estimated to be $42,000 while the median household income in Indonesia is about $6,900.

5 thoughts on “For Japanese Novelist Sayaka Murata, Odd Is the New Normal”

  1. Russia faces a simulated but somewhat different issue:

    But unlike the japanese, who are developing geriatric care robots to prepare, the russians are building war robots. Interesting times a-coming.

    Several european countries are also working to manage their declines to avert an actual collapse. It seems to be a signature trait of post industrial societies and affluence.

  2. I love visiting Japan as much as possible – a really alien culture. They don’t do immigration at all, though, not even guest-worker-light … hence the current birth-rate issues biting hard. You see more robots in shops than foreigners, even counting tourists and the ever-popular “English teachers.”

  3. Judging by their actions from 1941-1945, I’d guess the Japanese would prefer to die out as Japanese rather than let themselves be assimilated by a massive influx of foreigners.

  4. It’s also interesting to note that Japan hasn’t been in a war since 1945.
    While some cultures seek to expand their idiologies abroad, others instead choose to focus on their own people and improving their own societies.

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