The Japanese public's impression that the country was behind the times in addressing mental health got a boost after the devastating earthquake in the city of Kobe in January 1995. The government response to the disaster was criticized by Western mental health experts for being lackluster on many fronts. Researchers from the United States were soon on the scene and garnered much press attention by suggesting that the population needed not just food and shelter but more attention paid to their emotional and mental health.
Several prominent Japanese psychiatrists and mental health advocates used the authority of the visiting mental health experts to make a broad argument that Japanese culture discouraged talking about emotionally loaded issues. “The comparison, quite unfavorable to Japan, was often made to the United States, where the emphasis on psychological issues is generally believed to be culturally strong and given proper priority,” the anthropologist Joshua Breslau reported. “One well-known newspaper critic noted that his friend told him how nearly everyone in US cities has a psychological counselor.”
A critical turning point came just three months after the Kobe quake. A TV producer named Kenichiro Takiguchi was browsing through the English-language section of a Tokyo bookstore and started to flip through a paperback copy of Peter Kramer's American best seller Listening to Prozac. Always on ...