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I am a voracious reader who enjoys curling up with a good book, especially if it’s about Japan. However, it has only been in the last year or so that I have dedicated myself to reading excellent books about Japanese history and culture. I strongly recommend that every missionary to Japan invest time in reading books about Japan. Today I’d like to recommend a book that I have read twice because it’s really that interesting.

Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation
by Michael Zielenziger

Description on amazon.com: “The world’s second-wealthiest country, Japan once seemed poised to overtake America as the leading global economic powerhouse. But the country failed to recover from the staggering economic collapse of the early 1990s. Today it confronts an array of disturbing social trends, notably a population of more than one million hikikomori: the young men who shut themselves in their rooms, withdrawing from society. There is also a growing numbers of “parasite singles”: single women who refuse to leave home, marry, or bear children. In this trenchant investigation, Michael Zielenziger argues that Japan’s tradition-steeped society, its aversion to change, and its distrust of individuality are stifling economic revival, political reform, and social evolution. Shutting Out the Sun is a bold explanation of Japan’s stagnation and its implications for the rest of the world.”

While the main subject of the book is the hikikomori, in order to explain this phenomenon fully, the author delves into many aspects of Japanese culture including marriage, the dysfunctional parent-child relationship, the education system, the government, domestic violence, etc. He also has quite an interesting section explaining (in depth) how Korea embraced Christianity and Japan rejected it and the positive difference it has made in Korean culture.

The author paints a rather bleak picture of Japan as a hopeless, broken, sick, and mad culture. As closed the book I felt like crying and thought to myself, “Geez, Japan is far worse than I imagined” (and I had already thought it was a pretty screwed-up culture). However, it’s not totally bleak and sad, but very insightful and helpful even if you think you already know a lot about Japan. I especially enjoyed the interviews with hikikomori men and their counselors, family members, psychiatrists, etc. Shutting out the Sun is a reminder to us all that it is only by the power of the gospel that Japan will be changed. How this nation needs to drink deeply of the grace of God! This is an important read, even if you don’t agree with the author’s conclusions.