JAPANESE PEOPLE ARE very aware of their densely layered past and how much of it informs the present, so despite the extravagance, complexity, super-modernity and rampant kitsch of the urban terrain, which infects the way we ‘see’ Japan, older models may be more potent. The neighbourhood is certainly one of them, but its manifestation and manipulation are paradoxical. There have been many kinds of neighbourhoods which people defend or resist. They may be deep in the mountainous countryside, part of the urban sprawl, or the virtual neighbourhoods created by a generation of young Japanese people talking to each other via PCs, laptops and mobile phones.
The neighbourhood about which the Japanese are most ambivalent and confused is the region of which they are part: for a long time Japanese nationalists insisted North-East Asia was theirs, but since 1945 it’s been a region in which many Japanese feel they have not been welcome. In the 1970s, the Japanese corporate thrust back into Asia was too aggressive, and in more recent years hubristic displays of nationalist recalcitrance – official visits by politicians to the notorious Yasukuni shrine, and denials that the Imperial government had anything to do with the organisation of sex slaves for the military in World War II – have made Japan’s neighbours angry enough to take to the streets.
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