Eiko Maruko Siniawer
’s Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan
(Cornell University Press, 2018) is an absorbing look at the multiple and changing ways that waste—of resources, possessions, time, money, etc.—has been conceptualized in Japan since 1945. More than a history of garbage and waste disposal, Waste
is a look at the aspirations and discontents of a rapidly changing society in which waste has been everything from an existential threat to a critical part of the “bright,” good life of the affluent and aspirational middle classes. Siniawer is attentive to the socioeconomic contexts of waste, from the poverty of the first postwar decade to the boom years of the 1960s, from the traumatic oil shocks of the 1970s to the roaring and opulent bubble years of the 1980s, and then into the post-bubble reckoning with waste in a slow-growth era and beyond. The book ranges widely, beginning with early postwar admonitions against waste, following the development of an ideology (and economy) of leisure and “affluence of the heart,” and tracing both the rise of ecological consciousness and Japan’s progressive recycling and solid waste management systems and the coming of the post-2000 decluttering movement. Peppered throughout with delightful and illustrative examples from period sources and always conscious of historical continuities and discontinuities, Waste
is not just a story about waste consciousness in postwar Japan, but a story about the ways that we make meaning in our lives.