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The Conversation on Japan’s Decline Concludes

by Sheila A. Smith
January 14, 2013

Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo December 2, 2009 (Gary Hershorn/Courtesy Reuters).

This blog post is part of a series entitled Is Japan in Decline?, in which leading experts analyze Japan’s economy, politics, and society and give their assessment of Japan’s future.

Last year, as Japanese were getting ready to vote in the Lower House election, I hosted a broad conversation on the question of whether Japan was in “decline.” The result was a two-week conversation on the subject that began with America’s foremost Japan politics specialist, Columbia University’s Gerald Curtis. Our experts included the chairman of Japan’s leading business executives forum, American social scientists, a distinguished Japanese scholar of China, non-profit foundation executives, a successful global entrepreneur from Japan, and concluded with the thoughts of two smart Japanese twenty-somethings.

The responses to my simple question—is Japan in decline?—were as varied as the participants. The discussion raised many questions as to how to evaluate Japan’s current government policies, but it also highlighted many aspects of Japanese civil society that shed a more sophisticated and positive light on Japanese society. For some, Japan’s future is dimmer; for others, there is plenty of evidence that suggests the Japanese are doing just fine (or at least, no worse than the rest of us).

Off-blog, I heard many comments from friends in the field. They directed me to their own work on this topic, such as this insightful piece on Japan’s economy by Columbia Business School professor emeritus Hugh Patrick. I even stimulated a thoughtful op-ed in the Washington Post by Harvard University professor emeritus Ezra Vogel, the scholar originally interviewed in Chico Harlan’s piece last October.

But there are four more who have been waiting patiently in the wings as Japan’s elections and new government captured our attention, and so this week, I would like to add their thoughts to conclude our series. We begin with insights on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s challenges ahead in reversing Japan’s decline from Yomiuri’s senior political writer, followed by some thoughtful suggestions for Japan from two American observers, and we conclude with a provocative suggestion from a widely-acclaimed Japanese scholar to allow Japan to have some breathing room in its effort at “soul-searching.”

In closing, let me thank all of our guest bloggers. It has been a terrific and rich discussion, and I am delighted to have been able to bring such a diverse and revelatory conversation on Japan to Asia Unbound.

The essays in this project will remain on CFR.org at a dedicated site: Is Japan in Decline?

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Arun

    Thank you for such a great series of posts on Japan. I hope this blog will be able to do similar series in the future on other topics.

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