Is an 80-year old novel, and the best-selling comic book adaptation of it, influencing a generation of Japanese youth to embrace the waiting arms of Japan's communist party?
What many young Japanese view as an erosion of their economic security and employment rights, combined with years of political stagnation, are propelling droves of them into the arms of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the nation's fourth largest political party.A "manga" comic book depicting the same Marxist tale is also winning over young Japanese, with 200,000 copies sold in a year. Kosuke Maruo, editor at East Press, which publishes the manga version, said: "The story succeeds in representing very vividly the situation of the so-called working poor today.
New recruits are signing up at the rate of 1,000 a month, swelling its ranks to more than 415,000. Meanwhile a classic proletarian novel is at the top of the best-seller lists, and communist-themed "manga" comics are enjoying soaring success.
And the job losses, financial insecurity and social dissatisfaction that are expected to go hand in hand with the current global credit crisis are expected to increase the ranks of the party further.
Spearheading the lurch to the Left are young Japanese in their twenties and thirties, who have become increasingly disillusioned with changes to employment laws which they blame for creating a climate of insecurity.
The [communist] party's charismatic chairman, Kazuo Shii, triggered a rush of new recruits with a rousing parliamentary speech attacking the "exploitation" of young workers, which has become cult viewing among young Japanese on video websites.
Another sign of the growing allure of the Left is the sudden surge in popularity of a classic Japanese novel, Kanikosen - the Crab-Canning Ship - about embattled factory workers who rise up against their capitalist oppressors.
Nearly eight decades after it was written by Takiji Kobayashi, a communist who was tortured to death for his political beliefs aged 29, its sales have leapt from a slow annual trickle of 5,000 to 507,000 so far this year, unexpectedly catapulting it to the top of the nation's bestseller lists.
"They cannot become happy and they cannot find the solution to their poverty, however hard they work. Young people who are forced to work for very low wages today may have a feeling that they are in a similar position to the crew of Kanikosen." Kyudo Takahashi, 31, a freelance writer from Tokyo, attributed the popularity of the story to a growing sense of displacement among his generation.
"Kanikosen was a textbook in school but we didn't read it seriously then," he said. "Now, we're reading it again because we're frustrated with the government.
"In the book, people are exploited again and again. They are not treated like humans, more like cows at a hamburger factory. That is how many people feel today. When we find work, someone is always exploiting us. We cannot feel secure about the future."
As we grow older, and live to see the death of our family and friends, humility should teach us that a tragic vision of life includes the reality that there can be no guarantees. People aren't perfect, therefore the systems they build, being imperfect extentions of their imperfect selves, will be flawed in their turn. People's reasonings, attitudes, and judgments, are as likely to fail as the light within them is likely to one day flicker, and dim. One day the candle goes out for each of us, in one way or another.
In a culture haunted by the specter of Karoshi , "death from overwork", lurking at one extreme, it is probably a natural, human reaction to swing to the opposite extreme, in order to perceive to be re-balancing the material world. They also see an emptiness within themselves and seek to fill it, they take their own lack of faith and project it onto the population as a whole, hoping that the state may bring about a new man, one filled with faith in his fellow men, that each shall share willingly of the fullness of their abilities, to each according to the least of their needs... or else.
Who decides these needs, or the extent of these abilities, who is the new super-man with sufficient brilliance that his light of reason will never fade? Who is this infallible God walking the earth whose will is forged of such perfect wisdom that it should replace our own? I can only hope the marxist Japanese start asking themselves the same questions that I once asked of myself, when I threw away my red books and false hopes in a rising sun that would shine on new men... that they start learning how to love the flawed fool they see in their mirror, and teach him how to put faith in himself.