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David P. Janes: Japan, Beyond Tomorrow

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
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.

During a recent visit to Todaiji Temple in Nara with a group of 9/11 survivors from New York City, the Chief Abbot explained to us a Buddhist tenet that perceptions of reality are limited and shaped by position. Perhaps utilizing demographic or economic data, Japan appears to be a country in inevitable decline, withering away to irrelevance. However, for so many Americans, Japan continues to be viewed as a society from which there is much to learn. Within Japan, moreover, there are powerful signs of optimism and growth. Read more »

Yasuchika Hasegawa: Japan’s Untold Potential

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
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.

I am often asked whether Japan is in decline. The short answer is “yes”—and it has been since the beginning of the Lost Decades in the 1990s due to Japan’s inability to return to the growth after its economic bubble collapsed at the end of the 1980s. However, there are many who tend to respond in an overly negative fashion about the outlook for Japan, as if its days are numbered. The truth is that Japan faces similar issues to many other mature economies, such as an aging population, debt deflation, and the impact of globalization and the flattening of the world. If we assume Japan cannot recover, are we to assume that Europe also cannot recover from its current crisis? This “declinist” view assumes that humans have no capacity for responding to crisis and adapting in innovative ways. Read more »

Robert Madsen: Japan Leading the West?

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
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.

In absolute terms Japan’s national power has not declined over the last two decades. The economy is larger today than it was in the early 1990s, and its military capabilities have expanded due to copious investment and steady technological improvements. But power is only meaningful in a relative sense. What matters is whether a government has the means to persuade other peoples or states to do what it wants. By this standard Tokyo’s influence has diminished markedly and will continue to do so. But Japan is not an anomaly in this regard; it is, rather, the harbinger of changes that are now undermining the position of the entire Western world. Read more »

Matthew Marr: Two Improbable Locales for Japanese Optimism

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
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.

Two decades of economic stagnation, surging social problems, and political inefficacy have cast a shadow on Japan. So are there any reasons for optimism about its future? More sophisticated Japan optimists may point to economic indicators like GDP per capita, key cooperation with the United States in geopolitical affairs, or a prominent role in international assistance. Read more »

Kathryn Ibata-Arens: Solving the Japanese Paradox

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
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.

Is Japan in economic decline, eclipsed by rapid growth in China and India? To paraphrase Mark Twain: the news of Japan’s demise is greatly exaggerated. Japan does face a paradox, however, and if unresolved it will lead to (perhaps irreversible) decline. What follows is an outline of the Japanese Paradox—and a proposed solution.

Japan leads in numerous measures of innovative capacity including technology, high-skill human capital, and advanced communication and logistics infrastructure. Despite this capacity, Japan has on the whole—in what has become the “lost decades”—been unable to translate this capacity into new business and new market based growth. Herein lies the Japanese Paradox: awash with talent, yet so far from its economic potential. Read more »

Jennifer Lind: Japan, the Never Normal

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
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.

For some reason we scholars, policy analysts, and journalists seem unable to see Japan as normal. No matter what Japan does, people view it through the lens of extremes. In the 1970s and ‘80s, when Japan’s economy grew rapidly, we concluded that Japan had created a miraculous strain of capitalism that would propel it to overtake the United States and achieve global supremacy. Then Japan’s bubble burst, and the slide began. Analysts now suggest that Japan is in terminal decline. Reading the news, one might conclude that in 100 years, there will only be eleven Japanese people left, all octogenarians. Read more »

Gerald L. Curtis: The Declinist Debate is a Diversion

by Guest Blogger for Sheila A. Smith
Buildings are silhouetted against the setting sun in front of Mount Fuji in Tokyo 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.

Is Japan in decline? Frankly I don’t think that spending a lot of time trying to answer that question is worth the effort.

Japan is declining in some respects and in other important ways it is not declining at all. It is well known that Japan’s relative standing in the hierarchy of the world’s economies has declined. Japan as number one has given way to a Japan that is number three. But would you prefer to live in the number two economy China or the number three economy Japan? If you think about living standards and the quality of the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat, the health care and other social services you receive, and the number of years you can expect to live, the answer is obvious: better to live in a “declining” Japan than in a rising China. Read more »

Is Japan in Decline?: A Conversation

by Sheila A. Smith
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.

Japan is now in the throes of another election, with myriad politicians and parties competing for media air time. While this political drama is capturing the headlines inside Japan, outside the country a more dismissive tone has crept into the conversation about Japan’s future.

A number of public statements in the U.S. media, most notably the front page article in the Washington Post last month, have heralded Japan’s decline. When the Republican candidate for office this summer made an offhand reference to Japan’s decline, I responded by pointing out all that Japan is and does in global affairs and why Japan is so important to the United States. But beyond the policy benefits of our alliance with Japan, I encounter many Americans who ask me about the decreasing role played by Tokyo in global and regional affairs. Read more »