Tatsuru Uchida cares about Japan. Much like a favorite aunt who drops in “just to know what you’re up to,” bearing an edible gift. Uchida will then proceed to tell us exactly what’s wrong with us and why we can’t find a marriage partner. Tut, tut. Scold, scold. Professor of humanities, author of 42 books and currently Japan’s most popular philosopher, Tatsuru Uchida is genuinely concerned about our welfare. And just as with the auntie, part of us resents him for being so forthright. But oh, how we’ll miss him if he ever stops dropping in and nagging the hell out of us. I personally, will break down in tears.
Tatsuru Uchida was born in 1950, and his father had worked in Manchuria as an engineer during WWII. After the surrender, Uchida Sr. was active in trying to mend and revive post-war Sino-Japanese relations and this perhaps, accounts for Uchida’s broad liberal streak that has made him a champion for the rights of women, children, teenagers, unemployed and/or unattractive adults. If Japanese society was one big classroom, Uchida is the self-appointed teacher in charge of the misfits: the meek underachievers who just CANNOT get dates.
Twenty years ago, these people were a definite minority in the classroom but now it seems, they’ve taken over. According to Uchida’s hugely popular books that analyze the state of this nation, it’s the rich, beautiful and brilliant kids who are sparse and obscure. “These days, Japanese children refuse to study and young people refuse to work,” he wrote in the definitive bestseller of 2007 called “Karyuu Shikou (The Urge to Go Downstream).” This was a chilling (but amusing) portrayal of how the children and grandchildren of post-war baby boomers woke up, smelled the coffee and decided that effort – the driving concept behind Japan’s rise to the third largest economy in the world – just didn’t make sense anymore. This new breed of Japanese were fine with slacking off, with not dating or marrying, and going through life with their gears set to one, FOREVER. Who wanted to swim against the current when it was so much easier to relax the muscles and go downstream, even if it ultimately meant wallowing in mud and trash at the bottom?
Uchida himself is no stranger to failure, specifically in the realm of Japan’s intellectual elite. He was thrown out of high school, couldn’t get accepted to Kyoto University and was 20 years old by the time he got into Tokyo University. Unlike most academics of his generation, he never studied abroad and he quit midway on the path to getting a Ph.d. He became a professor at Kobe Women’s University, which in the eyes of Japan’s male-dominated academia was nice, but… SISSY. He also got divorced, raised his daughter single-handedly and later remarried one of his students (a Noh performance artist 20 years his junior) at the age of 60.
Uchida had lived his life completely outside the mold of the typical Japanese male in Japan’s heavily patriarchal society of the late 20th century. It couldn’t have been easy or lucrative and Uchida himself has written that it was “hard, uphill work all the way.” But now that traditional mores and values have all but withered away, Uchida’s outsider outlook is definitely paying off. The man who broke his back to pay the bills and raise a child, is the same man who understands how the young Japanese of today may want to throw earnestness and hard work right out the window. He also pointed out in “Karyuu Shikou” that unlike their elders, the young Japanese who hate the word effort are actually proud of their slacker lifestyles. “They’re proud of having made the choice and of being individuals,” wrote Uchida.
The culprit, according to “Karyuu Shikou,” is a blind, misguided trust in profit and individualism. “The driving factor behind Japan’s rise to success isn’t effort so much as a willingness to put in the work and be patient about the results. It’s the same with relationships and marriage. But now everyone wants immediate results and instant gratification. They want to see cash up front and when it’s not there, they lose interest.” Uchida concluded that the sooner we toss the idea of value for money, the faster we’ll get back on the track to becoming true and genuine human beings.
That thinking forms the pillar that supports Uchida’s philosophy. “Forget about money, because as soon as you start worrying about money, it will make you weak and miserable,” Uchida wrote in his book “Machiba no Kyodotairon (The Streetside View of Community Theory).” The first step to liberation is to stop thinking in terms of profit and gain. “The problem with Japanese education is that the students have been taught to convert their time in school to money values. They’re always thinking, ‘what’s in it for me? How much is this going to cost? And that’s a damning thought for any young mind. It has lead to the decay and destruction of the Japanese spirit.”
When he’s not theorizing, Uchida is a “budoka,” meaning he’s an Aikido master, and a formidable swordsman. He runs a dojo in Osaka called “Gaifukan” which, along with his incessant lecturing about the Japanese spirit, has lead many to believe he’s a rabid rightist. On the contrary, Uchida has consistenty indicted right-wingers, and has publicly denouced the policies of Osaka’s infamous governor Toru Hashimoto. As a matter of course, Uchida stands behind Article 9 (the peace clause) of the constitution, hates our current PM like poison and has accused him of “unforgivable dictatorship.”
Uchida’s speciality is throwing politics and philosophy, Aikido and women’s issues, the income gap and Japan’s slide into poverty, plus sex and relationship advice – all in one blender and made it palatable. The very people he has called “downstream tribe,” form the core of his fans and it’s no secret that women – young and otherwise – flock to his speaking events. “I know how to be with all sorts of people, which is what the typical Japanese male has never learned to do,” wrote Uchida in “Machiba no Kyoudaitairon.” He has also professed to be a “obasan (middle aged woman)” at heart, which gives him the energy and inclination to listen to people and be interested in their personal lives. Japanese men never like to waste time just chatting but Uchida says he can go on for hours. “People, particularly women, don’t want to be understood or be presented with a solution to a problem. They just want to be listened to,” he writes in his blog. “Remember that the next time you’re in the same room with an attractive lady.”
Coming from a man who’s a positive magnet when it comes to getting ladies into the same room, it’s probably best to pay attention. “I’m worried,” he wrote in “Shintaichi (Knowing Your Body)” which he co-authored with anthropologist Chizuru Misago. “I’m worried that young people in Japan aren’t using their bodies properly, and they’re just not having sex which means they’re not having babies. That’s just sad.”
See? I told you he cares about Japan.