Capitalist Romance In Modern Japan

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-Vice, The Japanese Love Industry

It has become clear to us in recent years that the economic and moral consequences of vampiric global capitalism are incompatible with the foundations of free society. Social inequality and expansive corruption have pushed masses of people across the globe into the streets in response to this blatant dysfunction of our worldwide system, from Los Angeles to Istanbul. In this public acknowledgement of the need for drastic changes to the way we think about economics, it seems there is a point which has gone unnoticed. Capitalism is not only harmful to social systems, it is antithetical to many of our basic human traits.



In Japanese culture, the astounding power of commodification and cultural capitalism is changing things in a very profound (and increasingly strange) way.  The newest generation of younger Japanese now has the option of living their lives independent of traditional interpersonal relationships. There are markets for cuddle clubs, digital dating services, robotic sexual encounters, and many other new types of emotional satisfaction. For every emotional void, desire, fetish, disorder, there is a nightclub or service in Tokyo that will cater to your needs.


In the short Vice documentary found above, we catch an inside glimpse at this eerie change that is underway in Japan, and like all good documentaries the interpretations are left open to the viewer.  While some may watch the footage and remark on the intrinsic strangeness of Japanese culture, I see one byproduct of a much bigger problem. The ideology that defines our modern economic system promises satisfaction of problems that are not monetary. Capitalism offers people the opportunity to circumvent a personal connection to the world in favor of easy alternatives. As Jordan Belfort puts it in The Wolf of Wall Street, “See money doesn’t just buy you a better life, better food, better cars, better pussy, it also makes you a better person.” This idea sounds like the hyperbolized dialogue of an over-the-top Hollywood blockbuster, but is it? What is happening in Japan suggests that, in fact, the impact of capitalism on individuals is precisely as narcissistic and degrading as Jordan Belfort’s statement would imply.

Today there are many young Japanese people that openly shun the archaic notion of personal relationships in favor of digital seduction and commercialized romance, but the problem isn’t isolated to Japan. The BBC estimated in 2011 that online dating services are a two-billion pound a year business.   The message of this cultural shift  is clear, with enough money you can find whatever kind of love you need, it may even come from a robot or digital projection. People like to look at Japan’s lack of romantic connection as a cultural idiosyncrasy, a sign of the changing times. But to understand the way that the situation is impacting the basic tenets of Japanese culture speaks to a much broader issue. The worldview promoted by capitalism no longer divides the world unequally between rich and poor, it also produces a very serious misanthropy. When money becomes the bottom line for every facet of our lives, there is no need to find another person who is important to you. All you need to do is head down to your local nightclub and pay for someone to massage your neck and listen to your problems, that is the new economics 101.



-J.A. Young

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