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Guan Zhaoyu: Japan still struggling to move on after lost decades


By Guan Zhaoyu    Source: Global Times    Published: 2017-9-26

The concept of a "lost 20 years" is used to describe the prolonged period of stagnation in Japan since the country`s 1991 economic crisis. People who experienced the Showa period (1926-89) and Heisei period (1989 to present) will be able to recognize the changes in Japanese society. However, compared to the former glory, what the mediocre Heisei period has lost is far more than just the economic downturn reflected by data.

Aspects of the country`s normal national mentality have also been lost. For the Japanese, the biggest psychological impact in the past 30 years has been the rise of China. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe`s foreign policy has been to contain China, this has affected Japan`s policy flexibility. The vast majority of Japanese people can only passively stare at China`s haze and food safety problems, missing the chance to know the real changes in the country.

Social responsibility has also been lost. In recent years, Japan`s sense of social responsibility has been diluted. In the face of the increasingly severe aging and baby bust phenomena, the younger generations have not only resisted the pension payments they are burdened with; they have also refused to get married and have children. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the lifetime unmarried rate reached a new record in 2015, with almost a quarter of the male population unmarried. Up to 2016, the total population of Japan has experienced negative growth for more than six years, exacerbating a labor shortage that has weighed on the economy.

What`s more, the interest in the outside world has been lost in the past 20 years. Learning from others has always been the secret of Japan`s progress. But unfortunately, today`s young Japanese people are losing their curiosity in the outside world. The special funds from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology supporting students to study abroad are faced with the embarrassment of not being fully applied. At the same time, the country`s economic stagnation has led to a significant decrease in the proportion of the population who are willing to study at their own expense.

After the lost two decades, Japanese society had a sense of frustration and powerlessness, which also altered our impression of Japan. In accordance with the Security Index released in 2016 by the British Institute of Economics and Peace, Japan`s ranking has fallen to ninth place in the world, while in 2010 it still ranked third.

Since 2000, there has even been an increase in crime in the older generations, and the country`s environment is generally perceived to be not as good as before.

There has also been a lack of strong political figures in the country. After it won the election in 2009, the Democratic Party regime made numerous mistakes, partly because of lack of experience. The disappointed Japanese people turned back to the Liberal Democratic Party in 2012, bringing Abe to power. In order to achieve constitutional amendment, the Abe government made full use of right-wing conservative forces to control public opinion, especially in the area of press freedom. Since Abe has been in power, press freedom in Japan has weakened rapidly, ranking 72nd globally in 2015 and 2016. This is a great irony for the Abe cabinet, which emphasizes value-oriented diplomacy.

In the 1970s, the sociologist Fu Gaoyi wrote the masterpiece "Japan as Number One: Lessons for America," noting the Eastern country`s rise to prominence. However, the rapid changes may be beyond his knowledge, and perhaps it`s time for us to reform our stereotypical view of Japan.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

Key Words: Japan   society   economy   Guan Zhaoyu  

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