Japan lives and dies with its ghosts

What we have here is one of those New York Times think pieces about an important trend among important people in an important corner of the world. This is something that the Times does really, really well, most of the time. This story -- under the headline "Japan Goes From Dynamic to Disheartened" -- is very well written. It's an important topic, built on life-and-death concerns. For me, this is gripping stuff.

However, there is no religion in it at all, at least not when viewed through the Times lens.

I, however, sense the presence of a ghost roughly the size of Godzilla. Here's the top of the report:

OSAKA, Japan -- Like many members of Japan's middle class, Masato Y. enjoyed a level of affluence two decades ago that was the envy of the world. Masato, a small-business owner, bought a $500,000 condominium, vacationed in Hawaii and drove a late-model Mercedes.

But his living standards slowly crumbled along with Japan's overall economy. First, he was forced to reduce trips abroad and then eliminate them. Then he traded the Mercedes for a cheaper domestic model. Last year, he sold his condo -- for a third of what he paid for it, and for less than what he still owed on the mortgage he took out 17 years ago.

"Japan used to be so flashy and upbeat, but now everyone must live in a dark and subdued way," said Masato, 49, who asked that his full name not be used because he still cannot repay the $110,000 that he owes on the mortgage.

Few nations in recent history have seen such a striking reversal of economic fortune as Japan. The original Asian success story, Japan rode one of the great speculative stock and property bubbles of all time in the 1980s to become the first Asian country to challenge the long dominance of the West. But the bubbles popped in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Japan fell into a slow but relentless decline that neither enormous budget deficits nor a flood of easy money has reversed. For nearly a generation now, the nation has been trapped in low growth and a corrosive downward spiral of prices, known as deflation, in the process shriveling from an economic Godzilla to little more than an afterthought in the global economy.

This is a business story, of course. I know that. However, the editors clearly know that it is more than that. Eventually, the Times moves from the nation's wallet to its psyche.

And, of course, all of this is a glimpse into the future of America, right?

Just as inflation scarred a generation of Americans, deflation has left a deep imprint on the Japanese, breeding generational tensions and a culture of pessimism, fatalism and reduced expectations. While Japan remains in many ways a prosperous society, it faces an increasingly grim situation, particularly outside the relative economic vibrancy of Tokyo, and its situation provides a possible glimpse into the future for the United States and Europe, should the most dire forecasts come to pass. ...

Japan's loss of gumption is most visible among its young men, who are widely derided as "herbivores" for lacking their elders' willingness to toil for endless hours at the office, or even to succeed in romance, which many here blame, only half jokingly, for their country's shrinking birthrate. "The Japanese used to be called economic animals," said Mitsuo Ohashi, former chief executive officer of the chemicals giant Showa Denko. "But somewhere along the way, Japan lost its animal spirits."

When asked in dozens of interviews about their nation's decline, Japanese, from policy makers and corporate chieftains to shoppers on the street, repeatedly mention this startling loss of vitality. While Japan suffers from many problems, most prominently the rapid graying of its society, it is this decline of a once wealthy and dynamic nation into a deep social and cultural rut that is perhaps Japan's most ominous lesson for the world today.

Note the reference to a sharply falling birthrate. Sound familiar?

However, it seems that big trend is all about a decline in the nation's sense of fashion and the activity level in trendy bars. And politics, of course. Japan has slipped into "survival mode," which is a totally materialistic matter. Naturally.

Depression is a totally secular matter. A loss of hope is a totally secular matter. A nation without few if any children? No ghosts there.

Remember, there is no hole in the soul of this story. None whatsoever.

Hat tip: To Rod "Crunchy Cons" Dreher.

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