The Y2K panic wouldn't enter the public consciousness for nearly another decade and already Japan was contemplating the end of the world. On January 3rd, 1990 the national public broadcaster, NHK, aired a New Year's special predicting what society would look like in the year 2001.
Hosted by "intellectual rapper" Ito Seiko, his strangely prescient predictions include the collapse of the lifetime employment system, rise of Russian sumo wrestlers and rampant anti-foreigner discrimination should the country accept Vietnamese refugees.
The final segment, shown below, looks to yesterday to see tomorrow. Nakamori Akio, pop culture pundit who coined the term "otaku," narrates the failings of futurism against an Adam Curtis-style backdrop of archival footage and eclectic music.
Itoh wraps the special up by rapping a warning about the future. His track "The End of the World Was Nothin' but Hype" is a play on the Japanese word seikimatsu--literally "the end of the century"--that also connotes the end of days.
The post-credits scene shows Ito broadcasting from the year 2001--the future from our standpoint in 1990--meaning the end of the world never came, and the self-inflicted panic during the interim was all for nothing. History may not repeat itself but like Ito's lyrics, it rhymes. Don't believe the hype.
The '60s Generation
The media christened Ito Seiko, Nakamori Akio and others born from the late '50s to early '60s as Shinjinrui--literally, "the new humanity," for how their values differed so greatly from their parents.
These analog media natives were the first to grow up with television, video games and relative wealth. Notable contemporaries include Akimoto Yasushi, Miiura Jun, Togawa Jun, Matsuda Seiko and Fujiwara Hiroshi (who produced the music for Nakamori's segment).
Architectural researcher Morikawa Kaichiro argues that Expo ’70, the Osaka world fair, was the beginning of the end for counter culture. Anti-establishment sentiment lost to ambivalence when the future promised failed to come true and youth realized that the establishment wasn’t as powerful as they were led to believe. This Expo ennui forms the backbone of Urasawa Naoki’s 20th Century Boys and the apocalyptic sci-fi anime of studio Gainax, for starters.
On September 19, 1998 the media reported that Emperor Hirohito was in poor health due to internal bleeding. The public responded by tacitly outlawing joy--seasonal festivals were cancelled, weddings were postponed. The period of national mourning lasted more than a year after his death on January 7, 1989.
We saw a similar, though milder form of self-restraint following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Likely a reference to the Recruit Scandal. Real estate subsidiary Recruit Cosmos Co. bribed politicians, public officials and businessmen by selling shares before the company went public. Telecommunications giant NTT funneled the shares through political slush funds. Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita stepped down from office over his involvement and the ruling LDP lost the subsequent Upper House election.
Girl Found Encased in Concrete
Sensationalized by the media as the concrete-encased high school girl murder case, on November 25th, 1988 a 16-year old high school student went missing and was discovered the following February murdered in an oil drum filled with concrete. Police discovered that she had been kidnapped and held ransom by four boys who abused, raped and eventually killed her. Even more shocking than the young age of the perpetrators, the parents of one of the kidnappers were complacent in the girl's confinement.
On July 24th, 1989 rescue helicopters combed the mountains of Hokkaido in a desperate search for a missing hiker. Just as hope seemed lost the pilot noticed something below--tree trunks arranged into letters, five meters from head to tail--a giant SOS! The rescue team swooped down to recover the hiker three kilometers north of the sign, unconscious but otherwise healthy.
The hiker awoke in the hospital with excited officers at his bedside. But when they asked about the SOS, he blanked. The message wasn't his. So who the hell left it? Read the rest of this bizarre case here.