East Asian Languages and Cultures | Cultural History of "The Good Life" in Modern Japan
E352 | 3902 | O'Bryan


All modern societies have shown great interest in defining what
constitutes the good life, the values and experiences that ought to
inform a life of meaning led well and the social settings and
professions in which these might best be achieved. These definitions
are usually, of course, greatly idealized and tell us as much about
the anxieties of an age as about any truly existing social
conditions. We will consider the ways in which Japanese during the
twentieth century set about defining what they saw as particularly
Japanese forms of the good life. In the process we will explore the
ways in which these visions of social value and individual
experience often reflected a tension between the demand for constant
change during the modern period and a desire for locating fixed,
transcendent values immune from the disruptions of the present. We
will discover, moreover, the ways in which all industrializing
societies experiencing the dislocations of older social arrangements
have sought to pin down a definition of the good life quite similar,
in fact, to those Japanese were expressing at the same time. Topics
covered will include ideals regarding career and personal ambition,
consumption and urban lifestyles, the notion of the countryside as
the home of true Japanese values, and discourses lamenting what is
described as "lost Japan."