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'' SHOWA RETRO '' : Japan is nostalgic for a past that was in some ways worse than its present.

THE YEARS slip away as one walks through the gates of Daiba Itchome Shotengai, a 1960s-themed shopping district in Tokyo's bay area. Children / students munch on dagashi, cheap and old-fashioned Japanese snacks.

A couple of 20-somethings take turns at dialling a rotary telephone. A newspaper headline on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics reads dreamily : 

'' Clear Blue Sky - opening ceremony of the century.''

A model of an under-construction Tokyo Tower, the building that would come to symbolize Japan's post-war recovery and economic boom, stands in one of the hallways.

The mall is one of many odes to Japan's  Showa era, which corresponds to the reign of Emperor Hirohito [ 1926-89 ] but which has become synonymous with the boomtime  1950s-80s.

Seibu-en, an amusement park in Saitama, near Tokyo, rebranded itself as a 1960s-themed townscape in 2021. Rural areas have started promoting Showa architecture to attract tourists.

For some young Japanese students, the epitome of cool involves visiting 1960s-style cafes known as Kissaten; pictures of their archetypal fare, such as emerald-green melon soda floats, flood social media.

Kayokyoku, tunes from the Showa era, and city pop, an upbeat, Western fused music genre that peaked in the 1970s, are back in vogue.

The fascination with Showa reflects a longing for Japan's more dynamic past. The country has never been richer or safer at home than it is today. Yet to many Japanese it feels stagnant, mired in political apathy, slow economic growth and pervasive sense of relative decline.

A recent survey showed that only 14% of young Japanese believe their country's future will ''get better''.

Showa Japan, a place of remarkable growth, was a different case. Voter turnout among young Japanese was then twice as high as it is today.

'' It was a time when people strongly believed : all your dreams can come true,'' says Kubo Hiroshi, 64, who founded Daiba Itchome Shotengai.

That social and economic dynamism is reflected in Showa's adventurous aesthetics.  Bright colours and exuberant designs - such as the glitzy chandeliers and plush velvet seats in many kissaten - are common features.

An exciting inrush of Western influence on music and fashion added to the feeling of post-war transformation; a disco-likecity pop often features English lyrics.

The atmosphere of the subsequent Heisei imperial era [ 1989-2019 ] can feel cold and sterile by comparison. [ Otaku culture, which involves geeks obsessing over manga and video games, emerged during Heisei. ]

Showa retro has a demographic significance, too. It reflects the country's bulge in pensioners, who naturally hanker for the time of their lost youth.

Inamasu Tatsuo of Hosei University, suggests that Showa nostalgia is distinct from the retro fashions of America and Europe because of how many of those who experienced the period first hand are participating in it.

Some nursing homes and sports gyms aimed at older users have been redecorated in the 1960s colours and style.

There is a downside to Japan's nostalgic obsession. Young Japanese use the term ''Showa'' to denote outdated, yet irksomely persistent, views. similar to the way that young Americans use the phrase ''OK Boomer'' to express indignation at pampered and entitled babyboomers.

Outworn Showa attitudes include sexism, wage slavery and an adherence to seniority-based hierarchies.

When Banyan asked a group of 20 -something Japanese, including aficionados of Showa chick, if they would actually like to have lived in that bygone time, almost all shook their heads.

'' May be I'd like to experience Shoowa just for a day to see the architecture and culture,'' says Shichijo Min, 20, who runs a Showa retro student club at Musashi University in Tokyo.

'' But when it comes to social attitudes, there's a lot I don't support.'

The Publishing continues into the future. The World Students Society thanks Banyan |  The Economist.


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