The 1980s in Japan
October 7, 2010 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What was Japan like during the mid-to-late 1980s?

I'm interested in learning about the condition of Japan during the boom years of the 1980s. What can you tell me about Japanese society during this period? I'm particularly interested in hearing personal anecdotes - if you lived in Japan during this time, what was it like?

posted by Despondent_Monkey to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You may want to make this question a little bit more specific as right now it's pretty much chatfilter. Is there a specific aspect of Japanese society you're interested in?
posted by griphus at 6:14 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: I disagree, griphus - I feel like my question is quite specific. I'm looking at a specific country in a specific time period that I'm genuinely curious about, and I'm seeking responses from the people who lived there or who can point me towards unique sources that describe the period.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 6:20 PM on October 7, 2010

Would you like references and primary sources in Japanese as well, or just English?
posted by armage at 6:42 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: You might want to check out this book. It was written by an American author who lived in Japan during the late 80s and early to mid 90s; it's a s "a life in the day" stories about various people in Japan--mostly people outside the mainstream (a computer hacker, a right wing nationalist, a motorcycle thief). I'm not sure if it's fiction or not--the reviews at that Amazon link seem to imply it is, but the library I first discovered it at had it under "Case Studies." Plus, the porn story in the book is clearly based on a real person.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 6:43 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: try to find video from a show called Soko Ga Shiritai it was a popular vidoelog about Japanese life that ran taped from 1982 to 1997 it covered aspects of Japanese life and trends of the time.

after a quick search of the web I only see places where the videos have been removed but might be able to find a copy or two on the torrents or elsewhere
posted by kanemano at 6:43 PM on October 7, 2010

Speed Tribes was a great book.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:46 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: CNN used to have a great weekly program on Saturday nights called This Week in Japan. I remember being in junior high and looking forward to it. Sadly, there is scant reference to it and I can't find any archives. Maybe contact CNN? Or hope that someone has old VCR tapes and can shoot them up to Youtube.
posted by asockpuppet at 6:59 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: >Plus, the porn story in the book is clearly based on a real person.

Choco Bon Bon was and is a very popular porn star (one of the few popular male ones).

The mid-to-late eighties were probably the happiest time Japan has ever experienced. It was the end of history. Everyone had a job, a home, a car, and disposable income. The stock markets were booming, as was real estate, and company "bonuses" were fat. My father-in-law actually took a taxi home from Osaka to his home town about 150 kilometers away - it must have cost $1000.

Men didn't own change purses - having the correct change at the till just wasn't important.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:21 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: I taught English in Osaka around 2004-2005, and there were a few old hands around who had been teaching in Japan since the bubble years. One of them had a gig in the late eighties where a group of about 10 businessmen - on expense account of course- would pay him for a weekly English "lesson." It involved being taken to an extremely high end restaurant or bar and speaking English as the food and liquor flowed. The men paid him about 10 000 yen each for the privilege of his company, which was roughly $100 per person. Must have been good times.
posted by Ladysin at 7:45 PM on October 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far! They're exactly what I'm looking for - I'm fine with both English and Japanese sources, since it's interesting for me to have both perspectives available. And I should add that I think the anecdotal stories so far have been fascinating.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 8:14 PM on October 7, 2010

Best answer: This page has several (anonymous) anecdotes about salaries and finding employment during the bubble years.

バブルの肖像 is a collection of essays and photos originally published in Shukan Asahi by Tsuzuki Kyoichi, a well-known photographer. It might be a bit too arty for you, though.
posted by armage at 12:50 AM on October 8, 2010

Best answer: The "end of history" analogy is apt. It seemed that years of hard work and scrimping during the 高度成長 period had culminated in prosperity that was the rightful inheritance of everybody. News articles appeared regularly (as they do today) citing economic figures, but these were mostly positive, particularly in regard to the climb in 設備投資(corporate investment). The boom times for companies seem to justify the wildly inflated prices for real estate and stocks. Hey, Japanese companies were buying prime foreign real estate, like the Rockefeller Center. Shouldn't domestic stocks and real estate soar as well? Stock analysts talked about a potential 100,000 mark for the Nikkei index in a few years.

At companies, it was all about expansion, expansion, expansion. A few minutes into a meeting, people would talk about their firm's international offices and foreign expansion efforts. The word 国際化 was coming into vogue. Companies spent lavishly on travel junkets, parties, and PR events that inevitably ended in the red. Many shoved their hands in to the real estate market, buying resort condos under the guise of "welfare" for the employees. Smaller companies and 中小企業 were constantly developing new products, opening new branch offices, planning for expansion to offices in the US.

There were flies in the ointment. In the mid eighties, when the yen climbed above 200 yen to the dollar, a mini-recession called the 円高不況 took hold, stoking fears of a bigger economic slump. Around that time, the trade deficit with the US entailed other economic fears. People began to talk about the effect of the 地上げ屋--unsavory gangster types who were inflating the real estate market.

Although companies were liberal with parties and 忘年会 and money to pay for taxies for a ride after work, I don't think the man or woman on the street benefitted much from the boom times, or even felt them in a direct, personal way. Apart from entrepreneurs and entertainers and the like, most people worked hard for income that always seemed insufficient for living in Tokyo or Osaka. Houses and condos were always expensive, even though they rose in price somewhat after purchase. People began to buy stock as individual investors, playing the "money game" as it was called, sometimes buying on the margin. But very few got into options or derivatives. Day-to-day life was the same as it was during the 高度成長 era, and similar to what it was now (minus the hard drinking). Work during the day, drink with coworkers in the evening, "family service" on weekends. The only difference existed in the perks from companies, like lavish 忘年会 and PR events. The entertainers, politicians and CEO-entrepreneurs were high fliers, but the average Joe (Ichiro?) Sixpacks lived lives that greatly resemble those of the present.
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:20 AM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "What were the 1980s like in Japan?" is such a broad question. For me, an important part of the answer would be conveyed through media. Not because it reflected reality so much as it influenced (and continues to influence) the narrative in everyone's head.

Movies and TV: Kanojo ga mizugi ni kigaetara, Watashi o ski ni tsuretette, Marusa no onna, Ososhiki, Stewardess monogatari, Tokyo love story, 101me no propose (in Thai, sorry)

And here's some music to get you started:

Anzen Chitai: Wine-red no kokoro, Koi no yokan, Kanashimi ni sayonara
posted by No-sword at 4:58 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't think the man or woman on the street benefitted much from the boom times, or even felt them in a direct, personal way.

I'm going to disagree with this slightly. It wasn't that everyone was rich or lighting cigars with one-man-yen bills, but the effects of the boom times in terms of stability were huge. Basically, every man in the middle class was more or less guaranteed to be able to find a job as long as they met a few simple requirements based mostly on showing up. Maybe not a great job, but a job they could expect to hold for life, with wages guaranteed to rise for life based solely on seniority. In exchange, they did the hard-drinking, never-see-your-family thing. Women, on the other hand, were expected to quit their mostly administrative/miscellaneous office stuff jobs once they got married, but paid quite well until then, and since many of them lived at home with their parents until that marriage they had a lot of disposable income. (And this was different from the older system when the more was more recent, when you had to work just as hard but couldn't afford any sort of consumer pleasures in return.)

Compare this to now: It's harder to find a job in the first place and that job isn't by any means guaranteed for life any more. Many companies prefer to hire people on contracts with fixed terms, rather than making them employees. Contract employees get paid less, enjoy fewer perks, and have other non-work-related issues (much harder to get a home loan, a little harder to rent an apartment, etc.). People have responded to this by being much less willing to devote their entire lives to work, which means more men go home for dinner with their families, etc. Also, women's employment is less of an "until marriage" thing, and while there is still crazy sexism it is much easier than it was in the 80s or even the 90s for a determined woman to have a real career. You often read surveys nowadays of young people: they don't want to buy a car, they don't want to buy a home, they don't want to follow the traditional rails. What do they want? To travel, to experience things now, and also to save money because they know that they're one bad quarter away from getting fired.

I would argue that if you are talking about the man in the street, the main difference between the 1980s and now is the range of choices and the attitude towards the future. In the 1980s, it was hard to be unconventional, but if you agreed to be conventional, your life would be relatively easy within those parameters. People also tended to be positive or at least blase about the future: most expected it to just keep getting better (many outside Japan expected this too -- remember all that fearmongering about Japan buying up the entire Western Europe-o-sphere, etc.). Today, it's much easier to be unconventional, but even if you want to make the old lifetime-guarantee-of-conventionality bargain, it's hard to find a taker. And people are less positive about the future: they saw the bubble pop, the younger generation know that they got seriously screwed as a result, and they know that they have to take care of themselves.

All of the above is an extreme oversimplification, of course, and there have always been people who didn't fit in and/or disagreed with common wisdom, but it is a story you hear repeated a lot. Certainly a lot of people in their 20s and 30s get extremely resentful when someone who rode the economic boom to undeserved (in terms of performance) wealth and power dismisses the younger generation as insufficiently tough or ambitious or whatever, without recognizing how dependent on circumstances their own success was.
posted by No-sword at 8:02 PM on October 8, 2010

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