Madness and Moral Panic in Japan, Meiji to the Present Day – Christopher Harding

Japan is one of a number of countries around the world where in recent years government, the media, medics, and pharmaceutical companies have worked to increase public awareness about mental illness. Efforts are made to reduce stigma and encourage openness, with an insistence that mental illness is just like physical illness: it can happen to anyone, and it can be treated. For depression, there was even a popular slogan in the early 2000s: ‘kokoro no kaze‘ – a ‘cold of the soul’.

But alongside these efforts runs a sense that rates of psychological distress are an indicator of wider, deeper problems in any given society: the robustness of the general population, the shifting demands of work and family life, the promise (or disappointment) of each new generation – even the ultimate fate of the country as a whole.

In this talk, we look at how in modern Japan, ‘madness’ and moral panic have often gone hand in hand. We look at worries in the 1870s connecting ‘neurasthenia’ with the alien pressures of Westernized forms of life, the ‘existential distress’ into which the country’s educated youth of the 1920s were prone to fall – and the ‘salaryman anxiety’ suffered by their fathers. We explore the boom for psychological theorizing after the war, pitting the ‘Japanese self’ against the American one, all the way up to hikikomori and depression in our present age. Should societies always try to avoid turning mental health into moral panic? Or in doing so, do they deprive themselves of a powerful tool of social and political criticism – ‘solving’ pressing problems by medicating the human fall-out?

Date: Monday 19 December 2016, 6.45pm
Venue: The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

London United Korean Fan Club

London United Japanese Fan Club