The Children of Men’s England and Modern Japan

I highlighted some similarities between P.D. James’s England in The Children of Men and modern China (here), the strongest real-world parallel is modern Japanese culture.  The most striking parallels are the dearth of children, the hostility to immigrants, and the despair of an aging population.

But the cultures of the two places resonate much more deeply.   Of course, many of the fads in James’s England are so Japanese (the dolls as surrogate children, animal christenings, birthing parties for domestic animals, a caretaker class, etc.).  But the future England government encouraged a inward focus that echoed long-standing Japanese sensibilities. 

A scene where the male protagonist looks around his ex-wife’s new house struck me: the rooms are decorated just-so, outside a row of perfect roses waits to be planted, and the boyfriend’s atelier is, well, the boyfriend’s atelier.  Future England was a society settling in to live and die.

The parallel modern Japanese sensibility can be traced to the idealized Heian periodHeian marked the start of a separate Japanese literary culture (The Tale of Genji) but the governing elite had become so abstract and detached from the day-to-day the they barely noticed that money had disappeared.  The Heian peace was gained at the cost of terrible poverty for all but a few. 

For centuries, Japan isolated itself from the world and all progress had stopped, essentially by decree.  The inward focus of Heian would suffuse Japanese culture .  Many traditional Japanese arts — NohBonsai, Chado (the tea ceremony) — are interior-focused and ritualized (e.g., Noh actors do not rehearse together).  It was as if they too were waiting for the world to end in quiet, refined comfort and beauty.

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