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The myth of Japan’s failure and lessons we can learn for the future


Future, History. Now. studied Japanese at Cambridge University as he was fascinated by how Japan was both modern and yet not Western.  Japan, a relatively small country with few friends, continues to fascinate 20 years later as it adapts yet again to the changing social and geopolitical forces around it.

Japan had self consciously isolated itself from the rest of the world for over 200 years before it was forcibly opened up by black hulled American steamships in 1852.  Unlike many other non Western countries who were subsequently taken over by Westerners, Japan adapted and rapidly became a major modern military power in its own right, culminating in the destruction of the Russian navy, the conquest of Korea and China and the Second World War.

The Second World War was a catastrophe for Japan’s neighbours and Japan itself.  Undeterred however, it picked itself up in the 1950s and by the late 1980s looked set to topple America from its loftly perch.  Then the housing market crashed and for the next two decades Japan looked as though it had lost its way.  To many outsiders, it appears as though it still has not recovered.

Eamonn Fingleton, who has been writing about Japan for decades and has a great perspective on the country, disagrees with this view and explains his position eloquently in an informative article in the New York Times in January 2012.  The whole article is worth reading and History, Future. Now. agrees with his conclusions.  He writes:

DESPITE some small signs of optimism about the United States economy, unemployment is still high, and the country seems stalled.

Time and again, Americans are told to look to Japan as a warning of what the country might become if the right path is not followed, although there is intense disagreement about what that path might be. Here, for instance, is how the CNN analyst David Gergenhas described Japan: “It’s now a very demoralized country and it has really been set back.”

But that presentation of Japan is a myth. By many measures, the Japanese economy has done very well during the so-called lost decades, which started with a stock market crash in January 1990. By some of the most important measures, it has done a lot better than the United States.

Japan has succeeded in delivering an increasingly affluent lifestyle to its people despite the financial crash. In the fullness of time, it is likely that this era will be viewed as an outstanding success story.

How can the reality and the image be so different? And can the United States learn from Japan’s experience?

To read more click here:  The Myth of Japan’s Failure – NYTimes.com.

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