In this lecture, Eiko Maruko Siniawer will examine how ideas about waste and wastefulness have shifted in postwar Japan, from the mid-1940s through the present day. Discussions of what constituted a waste of time, stuff and resources, she will show, reflected a changing if persistent search in daily life for meaning, value and well-being in a financially affluent and mass consumerist Japan.
Siniawer is a professor of history at Williams College. She is the author of Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists: The Violent Politics of Modern Japan, 1860-1960, which explores the relationship between political violence and democracy through an examination of how the ruffianism of the professionally violent became embedded in the practice of modern Japanese politics. Her most recent book is Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan, which traces how waste—in terms of stuff, possessions, time, money and resources—have been thought about in Japan from the mid-1940s to the present. The book illustrates how changing ideas about waste and wastefulness reveal a fundamental tension in Japan’s postwar experience between the desire for the privileges of middle-class lifestyles made possible by affluence and dissatisfaction with the logic, costs and consequences of that very prosperity.