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  • The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan by Andrea Gevurtz Arai
  • Christine R. Yano (bio)
The Strange Child: Education and the Psychology of Patriotism in Recessionary Japan. By Andrea Gevurtz Arai. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2016. xvi, 233 pages. $85.00, cloth; $25.95, paper.

Scholarly works on recessionary Japan and the triple disaster of 2011 have become a genre of research that periodizes contemporary life. Within a neat 20-year span, 1991 began the domino effect of change that 2011 seemed to physicalize with destruction of mythic proportions, an isomorphic natural and manmade armageddon. Anthropologist Andrea Gevurtz Arai's research takes as its backdrop this frame of Japan's recent cataclysmic events: economic changes in the bursting of the bubble; social changes in the dismantling of postwar structures of family and well-being; and natural and linked manmade disasters in the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and the ongoing Tohoku catastrophe. These events are not unrelated, and Arai details ways in which these link up in people's minds in deeply unsettling ways.

Based upon initial fieldwork from 1999 through 2001, and extended with return visits to Tokyo, Kobe, and Kochi through 2014, this book has benefited greatly from the processes of long-term research resulting in a complexly woven engagement with Japan as it scrambles to make sense of its own dislocations. By this engagement, Arai is able to follow trends, incidents, media, and individuals as their concerns shift over time. These include: legal changes in defining the age of adulthood and neoliberal revisions to the Fundamental Law of Education in 2006 that emphasized the individual; educational changes that decreased public trust in the school systems, while elevating belief in private tutoring; and discursive changes in promoting a new affective ("heart language") tie to the country, dubbed "neoliberal patriotism." Arai also traces some adults born into anxiety (the "strange child" has grown up into part of a recessionary generation), forced to make their way in what is considered an unstable, although not necessarily untenable, world. Amid these changes that are central to Arai's research, her long-term project encompasses not one but two major natural disasters, through which she analyzes Japan's processes of recovery. Her methods include classroom observations at schools and cram schools, attendance at school meetings (e.g., teachers, parent-teacher associations, community gatherings) and public lectures, media analysis, interviews, and archival research. In many ways, this is a book that could not have been written immediately after Arai's initial PhD fieldwork; it has grown deeper and richer over time, through both the wealth of data as well as the intellectual and personal experiences the author herself brought to the project. [End Page 492]

Arai's basic argument is this: recessionary Japan experiences its many social and economic dislocations through the figure of the "strange child" that coalesces neoliberal reforms, modernity, moral panics, and nationalist concerns. Citing various criminal incidents involving under-age individuals that made sensational headlines in the 1990s, Arai provides detailed accounts of the national soul searching that followed. The strange child thus became emblematic of the strange Japan—the "strange new ordinary"—cultivated within the "lost decade" of the 1990s. The strangeness of the child and the nation brings to the fore the estrangement of Japanese citizenry from standard-issue postwar institutions of government, education, and business. If promises of stability could no longer be kept by those institutions, then the search was on, not only for new solutions but, perhaps more pressingly, for new scapegoats that embody such large-scale institutional failure. Arai skillfully traces the sense of unease by which the sense of impending disaster has settled into the population.

In Japan studies outside Japan, there has been much made of the country's family and educational systems, particularly in the 1970s when those systems were viewed as part of the answer to the global question, how does Japan do it? The "it" was Japan's postwar ascendancy, which created a dramatic success story of its rising from the ashes. The answer to that question from family and educational perspectives lay in the socialization intrinsic to home and school. In tightly...