The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8, 2022 is like a political bomb, which has had a considerable impact on Japan’s social economy, party politics, internal affairs and foreign affairs. Abe’s assassination is a small probability event, but under the tip of the iceberg, it is the reality that the deep and hidden worries of Japanese society will not heal, and various contradictions have been intensified for a long time. It strongly reflects a series of profound social problems in the accelerated process of “risk society” after the disintegration of Japan’s “safe society”.
The “safe society” is no longer, and the “risk society” is intensifying
In the 1960s and 1970s, Japan, which underwent postwar reconstruction and political democratization reform, entered a period of rapid economic growth. The accompanying Japanese politics has also tended to be stable for a long time, and the social welfare and security system has become increasingly perfect. Under the action of multiple positive factors, Japan has gradually established an ultra-stable social structure, thus entering the stage of “safe society”.
The so-called “safe society” is mainly manifested in the stability of public security, the mature welfare security system, the prosperity and happiness of the people, and the society is full of competition and vitality without losing fairness and justice. The formation of a “safe society” depends on individuals and groups in the society having a high degree of identification with the existing society, consciously and voluntarily complying with or even defending the existing social norms and social values.
However, with the collapse of the bubble economy in the 1990s, Japan fell into a long-term economic downturn, and the “safe society” that had been built also tended to disintegrate at the same time, and social problems gradually emerged. The main manifestations are: the intensification of the low birthrate and the aging of the family has led to unstable changes in family structure and form, leading to problems such as population crisis, “loneliness death” and the impoverishment of the elderly; the long-term economic downturn has caused unemployment, suicide and crime rates to hover at high levels. , resulting in changes in economic and social alienation, and social security is facing severe challenges; the middle class that makes Japan proud is experiencing “degradation”, “middle-stream consciousness” is in a state of dispersion and dispersion, while the 3.11 earthquake, the Fukushima nuclear accident, A series of crises such as the new crown epidemic have caused a huge impact on the national psychology and spirit. The above-mentioned structural contradictions and risk factors are increasingly depleting the stable foundation of Japanese society and significantly accelerating the process of becoming a “risk society”.
Various symptoms in Japanese society have confirmed the assertion of the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who proposed the theory of “risk society”: Compared with traditional society, the risks of modern society are more caused by abnormal economic growth, technological One-sided development, deformed social structure, excessive gap between rich and poor, imperfect system and mechanism, and damage to the environment and ecology.
The emergence of Japan’s “risk society” stems from changes in the structure of the society itself, which lead to changes in social form. The symptoms that appear on the surface of the society can be explained from the structural contradictions within the society. The seriousness and deepening of social evils to a certain extent will significantly affect social stability, lead to the deterioration of the public security situation, the depression of the national mood and the preference for extremes, and then stimulate some social individuals or groups to no longer identify with the current social norms and social values, and complaints will arise. The potential for extreme anti-social behaviour, such as violence and terrorism, increases.
The class structure is falling, and the middle class is “degraded”
Japan’s ultra-stable society is deeply related to the new middle class that was formed during the period of rapid economic growth, mainly white-collar workers and wage earners. The middle class, known as the “100 million total middle class”, as a social stabilizer, supports the orderly operation of Japan’s political, economic and related systems. At the level of social consciousness, the middle class has a strong identity with itself, and the typical middle-class consciousness such as happiness, security, superiority and so on has also penetrated into the national consciousness, forming a respect for social ethical values, and respect for political parties and governments. confidence in Japan’s economic policies, political system, social development direction, and cultural values.
High employment, low unemployment, and high savings have always been hallmarks of middle-class society. However, the long-term economic downturn and the impact of natural and man-made disasters such as the financial turmoil have caused a large number of Japanese companies to close down and lay off workers, resulting in a serious decline in the income of the middle class and the beginning of a slide to the lower class. The so-called “low-class” does not refer to the bottom of society, but refers to the downstream status of the middle class. The emergence of the lower class, on the surface, stems from class differentiation, but it is rooted in the structural changes of the social and economic environment. With the decentralization of the middle class, the first change is the reduction of income and the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan, in 2005, the Japanese Gini coefficient (between 0 and 1, the closer to 0 the more equal income distribution) reached 0.5263 (that is, more than 0.5 “safety line”) in the years since It hovers between 0.55 and 0.57, and after the redistribution of the social security system, the Gini coefficient in 2017 still reached 0.322, which is a large gap between the rich and the poor in major developed countries.
Correspondingly, the results of the 2021 “National Life Public Opinion Survey” conducted by the Cabinet Office of Japan also showed that 59.7% of people were “dissatisfied” and “slightly dissatisfied” with the current income, which was higher than the 2019 survey (45.6%). ) increased by 14 percentage points.
The decline in national happiness is also the most intuitive sign of the degrading of the middle class. According to an online questionnaire survey conducted by a research institution on 16 to 69-year-old nationals in Japan, 87.5% of the respondents are full of anxiety about the Japanese society in 10 years, and believe that the future life will be even more unhappy than now; about the world in 25 years People’s happiness, 34.9% of people think that they are not happier than they are now, and 12.1% of people think that they will be very unhappy, that is to say, about 50% of the people are pessimistic about the future; for what kind of society Japan will be in the future, the answer is hope An economically fair society has the highest proportion, reaching 29.2%, which is obviously related to the uneven distribution of national income and the great employment pressure caused by Japan’s economic downturn.
The degrading of the middle class has also led to changes in social class consciousness and reduced social adjustment functions. The famous social observer Miura Zhan believes in his famous book “Indecent Society” that since 1996, the number of Japanese people who evaluate their living standards as “middle” has decreased, and the number of “lower middle and lower” people has increased, confirming that The gap between social classes in Japan is gradually expanding, the consciousness of the middle class is weakening, and the degree of self-identity is declining. And this process is intensifying, with a steady stream of younger generations joining the underworld. They not only have low income, but also have a comprehensive decline in communication skills, life skills, enthusiasm for work, willingness to learn, and desire to consume, and have low enthusiasm for life. Miura’s point of view explains from one side the reasons why Japan has formed a “no-go society” and “low-desire society”. The biggest harm of the collapse of the consciousness of the middle class and the decline of self-identity lies in the disorder of social ethics, morality and value norms. Japan, which lacks the support of the middle class, tends to become increasingly unstable amid the differentiation and confusion of mainstream social consciousness.
Ethical and moral anomie, social security is worrying
To a certain extent, Abe’s shooting in public reflects some kind of anomie in Japanese society’s ethics and morals. Ethical and moral anomie is the inducement of social instability, and it is also one of the important characteristics of “risk society”.
Akihabara in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo is an electrical street that keeps pace with cutting-edge industries of the times, and is regarded as the embodiment of Japan’s advanced and prosperous life. On June 8, 2008, a random murder incident occurred here, resulting in 7 deaths and 10 injuries, opening the prelude to the frequent occurrence of vicious cases in Japan in recent years.
Japan is a country with a high suicide rate, which is not unrelated to the Japanese introverted character and the apology formed by the culture of shame, but the most direct factor is the pressure of life and work. Since Japan fell into a long-term economic downturn, especially since the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, the suicide rate in Japan has been on the rise, especially among women. The “White Paper on Suicide Countermeasures 2020” released by the Japanese government shows that in 2020, a total of 21,081 people in Japan committed suicide, including 14,055 males and 7,026 females. obvious.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare analyzed the reasons for suicide and believes that the substantial increase in the number of female suicides is largely related to the deterioration of the working environment caused by the new crown pneumonia epidemic, and more and more women cannot become regular employees. It is also worth noting that in addition to adults, the suicide rate of Japanese adolescents is also very high. In 2020, a total of 499 people nationwide, the largest number since statistics began in 1978.
As serious as the suicide problem is the security problem. Compared with other major Western countries, Japan’s security situation has always been better, and the crime rate is low. However, the degree of social security cannot be measured only by the incidence of murders. Although vicious cases such as the shooting of politicians are rare, their symbolic meaning and negative social impact are huge. In addition, the horizontal comparison by country cannot fully reflect the real situation of public security in Japan. Judging from the overall development trend of the crime rate in Japan, the number of crimes in Japan is not large. The highest peak in post-war crime. After 2019, the crime rate in Japan has dropped significantly, and the implementation of epidemic prevention and control measures is one of the important reasons, not because the public security situation has suddenly improved. But home control has also led to a surge in cases of online fraud, domestic violence and child abuse. Overall, the security situation in Japan is still worrying.
The investigation report on the security situation also confirms this. A survey by the Cabinet Office of Japan in 2022 shows that although most people agree with the current public security situation, 54.5% of people still believe that the public security situation in Japan has deteriorated in the past 10 years, and this part of the population has experienced social security and stability in Japan. elderly male. Comparing with the survey data of the Cabinet Office over the years, the proportion that the social security situation in Japan has deteriorated has always been high, and it has reached more than 80% for many years.
In recent years, the frequent occurrence of vicious cases has caused considerable shock to the society, such as the “Indiscriminate Murder in Akihabara” in 2008, the “Random Murder on the Tokaido Shinkansen” in 2018, the “Kyoto Anime Arson Case” in 2019, and the former Agriculture and Forestry Case. Xiong Zeyingzhao, Deputy Minister of Fisheries Affairs, killed his son who had been living in hibernation for a long time. These iconic cases have had extremely bad effects and seriously impacted the bottom line of ethics and morality in Japanese society. The shooting and killing of Abe, like these cases, is an extreme crime because individuals are full of hatred and dissatisfaction with society and life.
It is worth mentioning that the Kansai region, where Nara, where the shooting took place, belongs, is also an area with a high crime rate. The deep reason for the high crime rate in the Kansai region is the deterioration of social security caused by the regional economic recession and rising unemployment. Toruya Yamagami, who shot and killed Abe this time, also dropped out of school in his early years because his family was poor. Before committing the crime, he was an unemployed vagabond. The guns and ammunition found in his residence reflect his extreme criminal psychology and deep resentment towards society. In fact, not only in the Kansai region, the similar motives of the above-mentioned cases reflect the profound social contradictions caused by the high unemployment rate and impoverishment in the entire Japanese economy.
After decades of development after the war, respect for citizens’ rights such as dignity, life and property, and respect for democracy and the rule of law have long become Japan’s basic social norms and values. The shooting incident is a serious violation of the democratic legal system, condemned by Japan and the international community. But as revealed by the “Heinrich’s Law” proposed by American engineer HW Heinrich, there must be 29 minor accidents and 300 potential hidden dangers behind any major accident. The profound social problems reflected behind Abe’s assassination are thought-provoking, but what is even more worrying is that this incident is likely to exacerbate the anxiety and insecurity of the Japanese people, stimulate the rise of populism, and boost the right-wing and conservative forces in Japan. swell. Under the combined influence of right-leaning conservatism and “risk society”, Japan’s future development path may be full of uncertainty.