In the News

Futuristic Japan heading for the history books?

Vicki Woolven

25th January 2023

Earlier I read an article about Japan's 'population crisis' and just as I was about to blog about that, I stumbled across a really interesting piece about how Japan is stuck in a time warp and refusing to change - which has partially led to the huge decline in fertility (I will get back to that blog tomorrow!)

When I was at school in the 1990s, Japan was the country we studied as an example of an ultra-modern country, which was a vision that we would all aspire to, as well as thinking it was a bit like a real-life episode of the Jetsons! It was the country the rest of the world feared in terms of economic domination, much like China today, and Japanese people were super rich. Tokyo was noisy and crowded but its population seemed to enjoy a fantastic standard of living - why wouldn't the rest of the world aspire to that?

Today Japan has the third largest economy in the world and its residents live longer than anywhere else. It also has the world's lowest murder rate, political stability that the rest of the world can only dream about, and of course those incredible bullet trains, whizzing everyone from A to B in the blink of an eye! But for the last few decades the economy has slumped and now Japanese people earn less than we do in the UK. And if that wasn't bad enough, the population is both ageing and shrinking (think about Stage 5 of the DTM).

So what went wrong?I

Futuristic Japan is the product of the 1980s - then it was shiny and new and undeniably impressive. But nothing has changed since then. In the 1990s the Tokyo stock market collapsed and property prices plummeted, and are still yet to recover - in facts house prices now are lower than they were in the 1980s! Additionally, real-time wages have not increased for 30 years. It doesn't help that Japan is stubborn and refuses to move with the times and is frustratingly bureaucratic, to the point that billions are spent on pointless red tape each year, leaving Japan with the world's largest public debt.

Japan, the country that we all used to look for as being ahead of the times, now seems overly traditional - refusing immigration and promoting patriarchal ideals (which I will talk more about in tomorrow's blog). The country is said to be ruled by an out-of-touch elite, who are kept in place by elderly voters (sound familiar?).

What about the future?

Is Japan likely to become more liberal as the ageing population starts to die off? Not sure - younger generations are less likely to marry or have children, which will lead to demographic issues in the future, but they are also far less likely to have learned a second language or have been overseas than their parents. And in terms of life chances by gender, only 13% of managerial positions in Japan are filled by women and less than 10% of MPs are female - so Japan's modernity seems to be just a smokescreen.

In order to move forward Japan probably needs to make some big changes and look to the countries that once looked to it, before it is consigned to the history books as an example of how not to run your country.

Vicki Woolven

Vicki Woolven is Subject Lead for Key Stage 4 Humanities at tutor2u. Vicki previously worked as a Head of Geography and Sociology for many years, and has been a content writer, senior examiner and local authority Key Practitioner for Humanities.

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