Katazukeru: What to do with our Parents' Stuff

Below, a good read in the Daily Gomiuri, aka The-Japan-News, aka Daily Yomiuri (lit. Read-Sell) about the issues facing us youngsters now in our 40s and 50s as we have to deal with our parents' stuff. Because die they will and they will leave attics full off stuff. Do we just throw it all away? Do we hire firms to come and pick it all up? Do we sort through it, and more importantly, do we sort through it all?

Decades of consuming, if not a century since industrialization began in earnest, and consumerism that made it all so easy to accumulate. But not just stuff stuff. Also personal things like letters, photos, super 8 home movies. Stuff that actually meant something.

Hope they translate that book, “Katsuo ga Isonoke o Katazukeru Hi” (The day Katsuo cleans up the Isono household), by Aya Watanabe.

Like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, there is a lesson here, somewhere (if I can only find it, where did I put it...)

tidyingup.com has more.

It's a lot like weeding your garden, pruning fruit trees - you have to do it all the time, seasonally, when the weather is right, not just when you feel like it. You have to do it. More about the Philosophy of Weeding and the Humanities on Pure Land, a blog I like a lot. Nothing like it teaches us to deal with stuff.

Shards of a burst bubble litter Japan’s landscape

By Sawa Kurotani / Special to The Japan News

During a recent trip to Japan, I found myself on the 14th floor of a high-rise office building in Makuhari, an area of Chiba Prefecture adjacent to Tokyo.
“This was a bubble-era project,” my guide offered as he gestured at the well-appointed interior of the nearly empty building. His knowing smile told me that he expected me to understand the meaning of this with no further elaboration: It is the legacy of the materialistic excesses of the last years of the 1926-1989 Showa era.
I looked out the bay window at the sea of other sleek buildings, also built during the economic boom in the late 1980s. Behind their shiny surfaces that deflect the inquiring gaze, they, too, were empty reminders of the frenzy that transformed this area in a short decade and left abruptly. They reminded me of another, very different scene of much less shiny and much more modest, yet equally empty buildings I had seen just a few days before.
I was taking a walk around the neighborhood where I grew up. As I randomly turned the corners of narrow, winding streets, I suddenly found myself in front of a cluster of low-rise apartment buildings. Their exposed concrete walls had not been painted for ages and were stained with dirt and rust. The courtyard was deserted and overrun by weeds. The rows of bare windows showed that only a handful of occupants remained in these nearly forsaken buildings.
Numerous danchi housing complexes such as this were built in the 1950s for low- and modest-income families. These no-frills square concrete buildings weren’t much to look at even in my childhood, but still, they were considered a vast improvement over the cramped quarters in which these families previously lived. Nearly 100 families, most with children, occupied small apartments, and it was a crowded but lively place, with signs of day-to-day life everywhere: laundry hung to dry on every balcony, kids running on the sidewalk, elderly women sitting on a bench talking, housewives walking by with heavy grocery bags.
The two clusters of buildings neatly represent the beginning and the end of Japan’s postwar economic ascent through the latter half of the Showa era.
It was arguably the most affluent era in Japan’s history, and most importantly, it was an era enlivened by the drive for production and ownership of ever-newer and shinier objects. People worked hard to make things; then, with the hard-earned money, they bought things that they believed enriched their lives. A single-family home with novel home appliances and a brand-new car in the garage — that was the ultimate embodiment of success and happiness toward which the people of Showa single-mindedly aspired.
Nearly three decades into the Heisei era, Japan seems overburdened by the Showa era obsession for things. Things built in the Showa era are now nothing but discards. Danchi, which once housed Japan’s industrial workforce and nurtured the next generation, now stand decaying all over urban and suburban Japan; office high-rises in once up-and-coming areas along the shore of Tokyo Bay remain empty. It costs precious money to maintain them, but it costs too much to destroy them. So they stand idle, taking up space and reminding us of the era that supposedly ended a long time ago.
Yet another reminder of the burdensome Showa legacy is found in the imaginary home of Japan’s most beloved fictional family. In her book “Katsuo ga Isonoke o Katazukeru Hi” (The day Katsuo cleans up the Isono household), Aya Watanabe presents an unlikely sequel to the cartoon series Sazae-san, in which the Isonos, a quintessential Showa-era family, face Heisei reality. Watanabe’s intent is to provide guidance for middle-aged children who are faced with the responsibility of managing their elderly parents’ belongings, yet, her choice of Katsuo, the only son of the Isono family, as the protagonist of her hypothetical tale has symbolic significance far beyond the practical advice she offers.
To the reader who is familiar with Katsuo’s character as a rambunctious middle child, the image of a grown-up Katsuo in his 40s is in itself humorous. Placing him in his childhood home among the overwhelming quantity of things his parents hoarded, clueless about even where to start, however, quickly brings on a somber sense of reality that so many middle-aged children face today as their Showa-generation parents enter the last stages of their long lives.
The aging postwar generation is buried in their homes, unable to part with things they hoarded, which are more than just things: They are the embodiment of the Showa era and its values. Their so-called bubble generation children enjoyed the affluence of late Showa as they grew up, but they spent most of their adult life in the rapidly shifting economic landscape of Heisei Japan.
It is the fate of this generation to clean up the mess left behind by the excesses of Showa, both at home and at work. Lacking their own material resources, they depend on their parents’ financial support to maintain the quality of life they were promised as children, but they pay the price of being the heirs to houses full of trash.
Together three buildings — the Makuhari office high-rise, the suburban danchi of my childhood and the Isono family home — tell the story of Showa and its Heisei endings. I wonder, though, when, if ever, post-bubble Japan will finally leave the legacy of Showa behind and begin to weave its own story.

Kurotani is a professor of anthropology at the University of Redlands in California.


Pandabonium said…
The U of R ... my ala mater. Kuwatani-san didn't join the Redlands faculty until 28 years after I graduated, so I never met her. Too bad as she teaches some very interesting courses.

Having lost both of my parents in the early years of the 21st century, I can relate to the thoughts about sorting through their "stuff". Letters and photographs can truly be treasures for descendants. A lot of other "stuff" - not so much.

Time to clean up my room.

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