Unpacking Japan's 21st century "National Conversation" : images of the future beyond the iron cage of the "Catch Up" model

Wright, David Lindsay (2010) Unpacking Japan's 21st century "National Conversation" : images of the future beyond the iron cage of the "Catch Up" model. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


How does the image of the future operate upon history, and upon national and individual identities? To what extent are possible futures colonized by the image? What are the un-said futurecratic discourses that underlie the image of the future? Such questions inspired the examination of Japan’s futures images in this thesis. The theoretical point of departure for this examination is Polak’s (1973) seminal research into the theory of the ‘image of the future’ and seven contemporary Japanese texts which offer various alternative images for Japan’s futures, selected as representative of a ‘national conversation’ about the futures of that nation. These seven images of the future are: 1. Report of the Prime Minister’s Commission on Japan’s Goals in the 21st Century—The Frontier Within: Individual Empowerment and Better Governance in the New Millennium, compiled by a committee headed by Japan’s preeminent Jungian psychologist Kawai Hayao (1928-2007); 2. Slow Is Beautiful—a publication by Tsuji Shinichi, in which he re-images Japan as a culture represented by the metaphor of the sloth, concerned with slow and quality-oriented livingry as a preferred image of the future to Japan’s current post-bubble cult of speed and economic efficiency; 3. MuRatopia is an image of the future in the form of a microcosmic prototype community and on-going project based on the historically significant island of Awaji, and established by Japanese economist and futures thinker Yamaguchi Kaoru; 4. F.U.C.K, I Love Japan, by author Tanja Yujiro provides this seven text image of the future line-up with a youth oriented sub-culture perspective on that nation’s futures; 5. IMAGINATION / CREATION—a compilation of round table discussions about Japan’s futures seen from the point of view of Japan’s creative vanguard; 6. Visionary People in a Visionless Country: 21 Earth Connecting Human Stories is a collection of twenty one essays compiled by Denmark born Tokyo resident Peter David Pedersen; and, 7. EXODUS to the Land of Hope, authored by Murakami Ryu, one of Japan’s most prolific and influential writers, this novel suggests a future scenario portraying a massive exodus of Japan’s youth, who, literate with state-of-the-art information and communication technologies (ICTs) move en masse to Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido to launch a cyber-revolution from the peripheries. The thesis employs a Futures Triangle Analysis (FTA) as the macro organizing framework and as such examines both pushes of the present and weights from the past before moving to focus on the pulls to the future represented by the seven texts mentioned above. Inayatullah’s (1999) Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) is the analytical framework used in examining the texts. Poststructuralist concepts derived primarily from the work of Michel Foucault are a particular (but not exclusive) reference point for the analytical approach it encompasses. The research questions which reflect the triangulated analytic matrix are: 1. What are the pushes—in terms of current trends—that are affecting Japan’s futures? 2. What are the historical and cultural weights that influence Japan’s futures? 3. What are the emerging transformative Japanese images of the future discourses, as embodied in actual texts, and what potential do they offer for transformative change in Japan? Research questions one and two are discussed in Chapter five and research question three is discussed in Chapter six. The first two research questions should be considered preliminary. The weights outlined in Chapter five indicate that the forces working against change in Japan are formidable, structurally deep-rooted, wide-spread, and under-recognized as change-adverse. Findings and analyses of the push dimension reveal strong forces towards a potentially very different type of Japan. However it is the seven contemporary Japanese images of the future, from which there is hope for transformative potential, which form the analytical heart of the thesis. In analyzing these texts the thesis establishes the richness of Japan’s images of the future and, as such, demonstrates the robustness of Japan’s stance vis-à-vis the problem of a perceived map-less and model-less future for Japan. Frontier is a useful image of the future, whose hybrid textuality, consisting of government, business, academia, and creative minority perspectives, demonstrates the earnestness of Japan’s leaders in favour of the creation of innovative futures for that nation. Slow is powerful in its aim to reconceptualize Japan’s philosophies of temporality, and build a new kind of nation founded on the principles of a human-oriented and expanded vision of economy based around the core metaphor of slowness culture. However its viability in Japan, with its post-Meiji historical pushes to an increasingly speed-obsessed social construction of reality, could render it impotent. MuRatopia is compelling in its creative hybridity indicative of an advanced IT society, set in a modern day utopian space based upon principles of a high communicative social paradigm, and sustainability. IMAGINATION / CREATION is less the plan than the platform for a new discussion on Japan’s transformation from an econo-centric social framework to a new Creative Age. It accords with emerging discourses from the Creative Industries, which would re-conceive of Japan as a leading maker of meaning, rather than as the so-called guzu, a term referred to in the book meaning ‘laggard’. In total, Love Japan is still the most idiosyncratic of all the images of the future discussed. Its communication style, which appeals to Japan’s youth cohort, establishes it as a potentially formidable change agent in a competitive market of futures images. Visionary People is a compelling image for its revolutionary and subversive stance against Japan’s vision-less political leadership, showing that it is the people, not the futures-making elite or aristocracy who must take the lead and create a new vanguard for the nation. Finally, Murakami’s Exodus cannot be ruled out as a compelling image of the future. Sharing the appeal of Tanja’s Love Japan to an increasingly disenfranchised youth, Exodus portrays a near-term future that is achievable in the here and now, by Japan’s teenagers, using information and communications technologies (ICTs) to subvert leadership, and create utopianist communities based on alternative social principles. The principal contribution from this investigation in terms of theory belongs to that of developing the Japanese image of the future. In this respect, the literature reviews represent a significant compilation, specifically about Japanese futures thinking, the Japanese image of the future, and the Japanese utopia. Though not exhaustive, this compilation will hopefully serve as a useful starting point for future research, not only for the Japanese image of the future, but also for all image of the future research. Many of the sources are in Japanese and their English summations are an added reason to respect this achievement. Secondly, the seven images of the future analysed in Chapter six represent the first time that Japanese image of the future texts have been systematically organized and analysed. Their translation from Japanese to English can be claimed as a significant secondary contribution. What is more, they have been analysed according to current futures methodologies that reveal a layeredness, depth, and overall richness existing in Japanese futures images. Revealing this image-richness has been one of the most significant findings of this investigation, suggesting that there is fertile research to be found from this still under-explored field, whose implications go beyond domestic Japanese concerns, and may offer fertile material for futures thinkers and researchers, Japanologists, social planners, and policy makers.

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ID Code: 41516
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Hearn, Gregory & Inayatullah, Sohail
Keywords: futures studies, Japan, casual layered analysis, futures triangle analysis, poststructuralism, image of the future, communication
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 29 Apr 2011 02:37
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 20:01

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