SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Making Sense of Japan's Lost Decades

Andrew Gordon (Harvard)

Date: 21 February 2014Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 21 February 2014Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Lecture


Since the 1990s an extraordinary change has taken place in the way Japan is understood and discussed both domestically and around the world. A country spoken of in the 1980s as model or as menace came to be described as a “soured” system beset by profound problems in society, economy and politics. By the end of the 1990s, the appellation that won the day (and still prevails) is that of “lost decade(s).” The discourse of Japan’s decline has been as confused as it has been enduring. It is full of contradictory assessments of what has been lost and where the problems lie. In this talk I will introduce these diverse and divergent perspectives highlighting contradictory assessments of what has been lost and where the problems lie, and making three main points. Contrary to the rhetoric of stasis, tremendous change has occurred over the “lost decades” in public mood, socio-economic practice, or state policy. These changes, however, have unfolded in the context of existing and relatively enduring norms and structures. Finally, the discourse of stagnation is always a value-laden claim with political valence. Escape from the condition of “lostness” is not a technocratic matter of discovering the current global best practice and following it; it is a profoundly political challenge.

Speaker's Biography

Andrew Gordon is the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund Professor of History at Harvard University. His teaching and research focus primarily on modern Japan.  He has also taught Japan’s premodern history and courses on comparative history of labor.  He has written, edited, or translated numerous books and has published articles in journals in the United States, Japan, Great Britain, France, and Germany. His most recent publication is Fabricating Consumers: The Sewing Machine in Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2011), on the emergence of the modern consumer in Japan, using the sewing machine as window on that story.

Organiser: Centres & Programmes Office

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893