Twenty years ago, Gavan McCormack depicted what he called “the emptiness of Japanese affluence.”14 A society hell-bent on economic triumph had become trapped in what McCormack termed the “3Cs”: construction, consumption, and control. Corrupt, profligate state-funded construction served no purpose; high-volume consumption produced no lasting pleasure; and advertising, social pressures, and other “soft” forms of coercion pushed people into conformity and relentless labor. Anne Allison's moving and important new book might be read as a sequel to McCormack's insights. Today, emptiness has darkened into precarity. Japan, Inc. has crumbled, and many Japanese people teeter on the verge of despair. Misery erupts in murder, as in 2007 when a fired temporary worker drove a two-ton truck into pedestrians and then leapt from his vehicle, slashing with a knife. Poverty smothers the hopes of many employed young people due to the extremely low minimum wage. Even college graduates cannot find decent...

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