A subtle but profound shift appears to be taking place in the Japanese psyche

This weekend I was very pleased to read Japan For Sustainability’s April newsletter article, Good-Bye ‘Ownership,’ ‘Materialism,’ and ‘Monetization” in Lifestyles:
A New Era Dawning in Japan
, as it is a timely reflection of what I feel to be a very important, and hopeful, trend occurring in Japan, and later, the world.

In recent days and weeks there have been numerous articles in the Japanese media describing (and bemoaning) the growing trend away from consumerism and materialism. These are moves away from what I think of as “old-paradigm” thinking, and it is my thesis that these reflect a deep structural change emanating from within the individual and collective psyches of the Japanese people, not from a place of weakness or defeat, but in a very positive response to the needs of our time.

For example, isn’t it fascinating the Mainichi Daily’s article from last week, More Japanese children lack motivation, value inner happiness? And, today’s Japan Times piece titled Accusations about Japan’s youths lacking ‘animal spirits’ off mark?

These admittedly anecdotal pieces, when taken together with so many other signs, such as the growing interest among young people in returning to farming, all help affirm that ‘something big is happening’ that is much deeper and more profound than simply a superficial reaction to economic malaise and social stressors.

Indeed, I strongly believe that Japan is poised to once again become a world leader, not in conventional economic terms of course, and not necessarily in green technological innovation (though it probably will continue to lead the world there), but in something currently more elusive and subtle, but ultimately more important: The remembrance of a sustainable way of life on this planet, based on the understanding that we are not separate from this earth, rather that we ARE the earth.

The United Nations University and Japanese government’s Satoyama Initiative is a fantastic effort, I believe, not just for it’s promotion of biodiversity, important as that is, but even more so for its potential to preserve and revitalize the Satoyama culture. This culture of living embedded within the land, not just living on it and off of it, I believe is a key to the future.

The Japanese people are the only developed country in this world who have only recently lived sustainably for centuries (Edo period), largely in Satoyama landscapes, and while this know-how is almost disappearing with the older generation, it isn’t too late to recover critical understanding and knowledge.  But time is very short. And we need to be building practical bridges of understanding and action between the modern world of urban life and the traditional roots of sustainable Japan.

Japan is the first developed country to depopulate, and will likely be the first developed country to re-localize and transition to sustainability. Not purely out of necessity, though circumstances will likely force it, but also from a deep inner change that is happening on this planet. It is my contention that on a subtle level, those who are open-minded in the Japanese population are hearing the whisperings deep within themselves that the individual, social and cultural connections to the earth that sustained their worldview from the Jomon and Yayoi times, and which are continuing through the Shinto and Buddhist understanding of nature’s sanctity and our ultimate interconnectedness and interdependence, are once again becoming paramount. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if the essence of Shintoism and Buddhism’s ecological understandings became once again the guiding principles for Japanese society?

The Japanese opened themselves to the world in the Meiji Restoration and in the process began to lose their sacred connection to nature as industrialization took hold. This reached its zenith in the Post-War era and Bubble, but I believe Japan is now poised for what I call the Satoyama Resurgence, a return to sustainability and relocalization, and a recognition and revitalization of the spiritual nature of our existence, which has the potential to restore meaning and fulfillment to individual and collective lives, as well renew a harmonious relationship with the natural world of which we’re a part.

With memories of its ancient history of living as part of the land only recently (last 150 years) submerged in their unconscious, I believe the Japanese can and will lead the world in setting an example for a new paradigm. Toward this end I am truly excited to do what I can to further this evolutionary trend.

One response to this post.

  1. […] as Number One, Again?” in which I argue (as I have in previous posts – for example, here) why I believe that Japan is poised to once again become a world leader, not in conventional […]


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