June 12, 2012

Looking for change

How do you discover change in a society? Or, how fast does a society change anyway?

I hadn't been in Japan for 7 years, after being in Japan regularly for the 7 years before that. And somehow I came to Japan expecting to see a lot of differences with before. But this trip has made me realize that change is hard to spot and it takes a lot of time to show itself.

Of course, cities like Osaka or Tokyo are a little changed. Osaka station, for example, has undergone a huge renovation so it's hard to find my way around. One of the clubs I used to go to has moved locations, and clubs are now ID'ing guests. In Tokyo, Tokyo Sky Tree is the newest attraction and the city has several new musuems. But all if this is superficial. Buildings, which can be built quickly but don't way anything about the society that they are part of.

In any society change will be gradual and, initially at least, underneath the surface. Attitudes towards marriage, child rearing, sustainability, education - all of these are essential to a society but also invisible until talk to enough people. Change in these attitudes is even more difficult to see clearly.

There are slow changes. A friend told me that he occasionally sees couples holding hands, more than before. And a Japanese friend was telling me that, despite an earlier promise to her mother-in-law to not go back to work, she went back to work already this spring when her son was only two. For traditional Japan this is a little unusual and it was good to hear. But I guess I was hoping for more. Everything else in the country is the same, feels the same - and this despite a major trauma last year which could have been a catalyst for many things.

Why am I looking so hard? I love being in Japan, it's a very comfortable and familiar place to be. But I also think it has some major issues to work through. And I would love to see those changes happening to make it an even better place to live, though I suppose it is also arrogant to say so as a non-Japanese, occasional visitor to the country. Nevertheless, some of these issues are why I wouldn't want to live in Japan long-term. And maybe more importantly, they are why several of my Japanese friends are leaving the country and are now living in New York, London and Paris - to name just a few places. So hopefully a lot more is happening underneath the surface than I could spot in my travels and my discussions with people.

No comments: