【Editorial】Showa Day:Civilizational Implications from the Retro Boom

Original April 29, 2024】

Today is Showa Day, the birthday of Emperor Showa.

Reflecting back on the “Showa Era (1926-1989), a period of reconstruction after the upheaval,” we would like to consider today’s Japan as a mirror of those times.

A Dense History Carved Out

The Showa period includes stretches of war and reconstruction, followed by a chapter of prosperity after the commencement of World War II. A dense history was carved out over 64 years. Numerous subjects can be studied and researched, such as war and peace, the state and the individual, and society and ideology.

The main focus of the Showa period can be placed on the great war, which claimed 3 million lives, and the road leading up to it, but the process was complex. If we simply criticize it as an era of militarism, we will never truly learn from this moment in history. It is not enough for those of us who know the course of history to point out the failures and uncertainties of those days, with the benefit of hindsight. We need to examine what we would have done if we were in their shoes.

What supported the recovery of the country after it rose from the ruins of war is also a topic that needs reexamining. The major premise is that peace prevailed and people were able to concentrate on daily and business life. However, without the diligence of the Japanese people and the accumulation of prewar knowledge, the subsequent rapid growth would not have been possible.

Continuity from the pre-World War II era was more important to the framework of the nation. Emperor Showa’s decision to end the war, without regard for his own life, was to protect the nation and the lives of its people. By doing so, Japan was barely able to preserve its national identity. However, continuous and steady progress needs to be made to correct historical views that emphasize the disconnect between the prewar and postwar periods, such as the 8/15 revolution theory of Masao Maruyama.

Having achieved rapid growth and becoming the world’s second largest economy, Japan reached the peak of its prosperity in the 1980s. For a time, Japan was regarded as a world leader for its advanced technology, public safety, and social stability. It is meaningful to consider what made prosperity possible and the driving force behind it. On the other hand, why it did not continue is also a subject that should be examined in depth.

When examining the Showa period and its aftermath, attention should be placed on the “Showa retro” boom among young people today. The term “Showa retro” is usually associated with nostalgia among middle- and older-aged people who have experienced this era. What is noteworthy, however, is the current phenomenon where the younger generation, unfamiliar with the Showa period, somehow feel nostalgic and visit coffee shops and restaurants with a Showa vibe.

Not a Temporary Fad

The reason young people are drawn to Showa retro is probably because of the unique “warmth” it possesses. The use of smartphones as if they were a part of life and having grown up in a highly digitalized and IT-oriented information-based society, the younger generation likely find retro styles refreshing and appealing.

Nostalgia for Showa retro is thought to be rooted in fundamental human inclination. Its significance needs to be explored from a civilizational perspective, rather than as a cultural phenomenon or a temporary fad. Now that artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more a part of our daily lives, this inclination is not insignificant.

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