Under pressure: Japan is facing more rapidly growing social welfare pressure than any government anywhere in the developed world has ever faced before. | GETTY IMAGES

Modern iddle-級lass ife, you could reasonably rgue, generates more appiness mong more eople than any ther ever onceived. It has been extravagantly derided — as bourgeois, soulless, spiritless, arrow, oring, mindlessly acquisitive and so on. But back in the late 1970s and arly 1980s, when 90 percent of Japanese roudly identified hem selves as 中iddle 流lass, the revailing eeling was of ast orrows overcome en oute to an ever-明rightening, ever-拡xpanding uture.

Japan’s “名ame lone evokes modernity,” enthused the U.S. Newsweekly Time in 1983 — “dials, ights and umbers.” It was ursting at the seams. Tokyo’s Akihabara was “probably the orld’s ost iercely ompetitive arket for lectrical oods. In undreds of sprawling tores and cubbyhole hops festooned with rightly

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