UK Guardian compares South Korea’s relatively open-minded future with Japan’s possible “Second Edo Period” of insulation


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Hi Blog.  Here is a thoughtful essay alleging that Japan will lose out to South Korea due to the latter’s relative openness.  If true, that bodes ill for those of us making a life on this side.  I’ll put this article up for discussion for people who know enough about both countries to make a comparison.  Arudou Debito


Japan’s dangerous deglobalised dream
South Korea’s economy has gone from strength to strength, while Japan’s stagnation may turn into a ‘New Edo’ era
Guy Sorman,, Tuesday 9 November 2010, courtesy of TK

In mid-November, all eyes will shift to Seoul when G20 leaders convene for the first time in the South Korean capital. The choice is long overdue, as South Korea is a remarkable success story: in one generation – the South Koreans, formerly pummelled by civil war, under constant threat from their northern communist brethren, long mired in poverty, and ruled by military dictators for 40 years – have built the world’s 13th largest economy and Asia’s most vibrant democracy.

Historically squeezed between its two giant neighbours, China and Japan, South Korea had long been perceived as an underdog with a fuzzy cultural identity. In Asia, however, Japan’s leaders are not waiting for the Seoul summit to take a closer look at South Korea. South Korea was formerly a Japanese colony (1910-1945) and the natives were treated like an inferior race. Today, South Korean’s economy has been growing annually by 5% on average for 10 years, whereas Japan grew by 0.42% per year during the same period.

One could argue that South Korea is not yet a mature economy and is only catching up with a more advanced Japan. This was the case in the 1970s, but no more. Whereas China’s growth is fuelled by low-cost labour as millions of peasants enter the industrial economy, this is not the South Korean recipe for success, which has been driven by private entrepreneurship, innovation and quality products: Samsung and Hyundai, not cheap wages, are South Korea’s growth engines.

Another key to South Korea’s success story is the well-balanced relationship between stable governments and the private sector. This was clearly demonstrated late last year when a South Korean consortium won a contract to build four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates late last year, beating out the French.

The Japanese knew how to co-ordinate state and private-sector goals in the 1970s, but then lost their way. “We should now emulate the South Koreans,” says Eisuke Sakakibara, a leading Japanese economist, who was one of the architects of the Japanese “miracle” of the 1980s. Japanese in search of a miracle now travel to Seoul.

“In Japan, 1990 to 2000 was called the ‘lost decade,'” says the free-market economist Fumio Hayashi. Now Japan is completing its second lost decade. Hayashi and Sakakibara – indeed, most Japanese economists – more or less agree on the fundamental reason for such spectacular stagnation: the Japanese have stopped working hard. Fewer hours worked, longer vacations, and a declining population (since 2005) have, predictably, undermined Japanese growth. To turn this situation around, says Sakakibara, “the Japanese should work more, have more children, and allow immigration.” But the incentives to make any of this happen are just not there.

The Japanese still live comfortably, better by one-third than the South Koreans, thanks to their past investments. Japanese companies abroad remain profitable and Japan is still the global leader in high-tech niches like electronics or carbon fibres. For example, Apple’s iPhone and Boeing’s latest aeroplane rely heavily on Japanese-patented innovations. These comparative advantages may keep Japan above water for a while, but only until China or South Korea catch up.

One would thus expect Japan to be anxiety-ridden, but it is not. True, new forms of poverty and unemployment are rising, but they remain well hidden behind family solidarity or corporate customs. Companies reduce their superfluous employees’ annual bonuses, but do not get rid of them. Young Japanese tend not to work before their 30s, and married women stay at home.

Political parties that rely on an ageing constituency are not tempted to call for change. The sort of shaky short-term political coalitions that rule Japan nowadays prefer to buy time through so-called public stimulus, or to preserve inefficient companies with subsidies. Twenty years of such shortsighted policies, whatever the party in power, have fuelled government debt, hindering private investment.

More strikingly, stagnation has found its promoters in Japan itself. A leading public intellectual Naoki Inose, who is also Tokyo’s vice governor, has declared that “the era of growth is over.” When Japan was threatened by western imperialism, he says, the country had to open up (in 1868) and modernise. This process has been completed. Japan is now ready to reconnect with its own tradition of social harmony and zero growth.

Referring to the 1600-1868 period, Inose calls this future the New Edo era: “A smaller population will enjoy the sufficient wealth that has been accumulated, and, from now on, it will invest its creativity in refining the culture.” The first Edo collapsed when the United States navy opened up the Japanese market with the arrival of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” in 1853. Will the second Edo be able to resist Chinese ambitions? “The New Edo era needs a strong Japanese army,” admits Inose.

This second Edo era may sound like a poetic utopia, but it has some influence: Sakakibara observes that Japanese students do not study abroad anymore and that “nobody learns English”. At a time when South Koreans are becoming more globalised, learning English, and welcoming a growing number of immigrants, Japan is entering a “deglobalisation process”.

That is a worrying trend, and not only for Japan: South Korea can hardly stand alone as the lone Asian democracy. If the Japanese do not wake up from their Edo dream, Asia might very well become a Chinese empire.

Will this be debated at the G20? Not openly, but certainly in the corridors.

41 comments on “UK Guardian compares South Korea’s relatively open-minded future with Japan’s possible “Second Edo Period” of insulation

  • The other day in “zemi” (graduation thesis seminar), one of my students came up with a wonderful expression for this cultural phenomenon: she called it “Hikikomori Taikoku” (“Land of the Shut-Ins” or, alternately, “Shut-In Land”). She said it is Japan’s cultural default setting, and that the country’s history shows that extracultural contact is only sought and/or tolerated under duress. A lot of Japanese her age (early 20s) seem to hold to some form of this argument, and are not particularly interested in seeing a Japan configured alternatively. I’ve never met a single one who advocates large-scale immigration of foreigners.

  • I’m planning on doing a Masters on comparative immigration policy starting in April, and based on my preliminary research, the parts about immigration are a bit surprising.

    So far, the only thing I read about South Korea is a bit out of date (2004). It’s from the book Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, and it has chapters on both Japan and Korea. It says Korea’s immigration system is modeled directly after the Japanese system, and made more extreme in keeping people out. Also, according to Wikipedia (not the best source, I realize) the fertility rate in South Korea is lower than that of Japan.

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    I love the confusion between working longer hours and being more productive. People need to work in smarter and more efficient ways.

    I’m not sure what Inose is smoking but what comes with population decline will be a bigger bill aka a larger share of the accumulated debt, not wealth.

  • Hello-
    I find it concerning that economic success and creative/cultural development are seen as mutually exclusive by Inose. It’s an interesting counterpoint when the first half of the article implies that Korea’s growth is in some ways due to its creativity, at least in a modern economic and governmental sense.
    Is that Japan’s view? That we can either be creative or economically successful but not both? Lots of academics out there would argue that those ideas are mutually dependant rather than exclusive. Living in a society that gives up on one or the other seems like a dark option.

  • Debito,
    Interesting article. Thanks for posting. Not sure about that part about Japanese working less and taking longer vacations, however, as I am certainly not seeing that with the friends and family around me. Maybe he meant Japanese are working forless and taking longer vacations thanks to rearrangements of holidays to allow more three or four day weekends?

    Regardless, I think the article makes some interesting observations that I certainly have seen. This whole row about islands with China and Russia is indicative of Japan focusing more on shaping a strong image of itself rather than taking the steps to actually be strong (i.e. some of the steps taken by South Korea). I deal with an industry that has a close rivalry with its South Korean counterpart and have come to admire SK’s “high risk, high reward” mentality versus the paradoxical yet all too common “low risk, high reward” philosophy I always encounter on the Japan side.

    My wife can attest to the study abroad part of the article as well. She used to work for a major study abroad company and saw marked decline in applicants and more interestingly, the quality of applicants. She spent most of the latter time at that company hand-holding “flaky” Japanese youths out for an extended vacation under the guise of “study” as homestay is cheaper than hotels and there is no real penalty for skipping classes.

    But a Second Edo Period? Yeah, I can see that happening if the old guys have their way.

  • The notion of the “Second Edo Period” is an unsettling one, but it certainly seems possible. I’d go as far as to say that’s probably the most likely course they’d take.

    It is all indeed very much like a hikikomori mentality. What they’re painting as a pretty picture of “strengthening the culture” looks (to me) more like “the neighbours are getting successful, I am not #1 any more, things are no longer easy for me, I don’t want to take the effort and I’m frightened of change, so I’ll just give up and isolate myself and the hell with the world.” A very hikikomori strategy. Instead of recognising and rectifying mistakes and rising up to the challenge, the gov’t takes their ball and goes home, keeps the status quo, and eventually the nation fades into the background.

    But what makes it all the more grim is that (going only by what I’ve seen/heard) most people would seem like they’d prefer this “easy way out” strategy over something like Sakakibara’s more bold and progressive one. I should hope I’m dead wrong.

  • The myth of hard-working Japanese salarymen died for me, when I first had a chance to peek into a Japanese office building in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi – in the opposite building, I could watch the guys readig newspapers and slapping OLs’ butts, but they sure didn’t do anything that looked like work. As has been said before, spending long hours at work has nothing to do with productivity…

    What does South Korea have, what Japan doesn’t? Conscription! You can say all you want about military service, but it teaches young men to do things they don’t especially like to do (like getting up early in the morning and getting the room in shape), and with people they don’t especially like.
    Despite all the drill in schools – it is nothing compared to military service, and the levels of discipline (including self-discipline) are not comparable.

    And immigration may in the short run help stem the population decline, but won’t contribute to solving any other problems, unless the country manages to attract those immigrants that contribute to society – specialists, scientists, you name it.
    8.9% of Germany’s population do not have a German passport, and many of those immigrants refuse to learn the language and make a mockery of local laws. Problems weren’t solved, but new ones were created by taking in whoever knocks at the door. And other European countries with higher immigration rates are economically less stable. No country has to select immigrants based on place of birth, race, or religion (and none should!). But all countries have to select according to prospective immigrants’ willingness to learn the local language, willingness to integrate into local society, obey local law, and the ability to actively contribute to the countrie’s wealth and well-being.

    This is related to Sakakibara’s mention of immigration in the article…

  • Whether Japan is headed in to Edo Redux, or to another later half Showa Era, in my mind depends on the people at the top, whether it be government (both elected and bureaucrats), corporate, or intelligencia. As I see it, the elite call the shots, and then feed information to the media in order to manipulate the population.
    It’s ultimately up to lone voices in the crowd to rise among the masses and ultimately bend the ear of those who make the decisions.
    Despite the success of Dynamic Korea, the country still has it’s problems. Overdomination of its economy by the conglomerates, discrimination based on educational background and social class that drives some it’s more ambitious citizens abroad for opportunities, extremely high taxes on imports, a press machine whose domination of the media puts Kyodo to shame, and oh yeah, a million man army north of the 38th parallel who’s trained to invade south and conquer it by force.

    Yes, Korea brings more foreigners these days, but it’s not all professional talent; a lot of them are working doing the dirty jobs Koreans don’t want to do anymore — At least they can spend their hard earned Won at the casinos at COEX and Walker Hill in Seoul, something that South Korean citizens aren’t allowed to do.

  • BTW, does anyone know whether foreigners have to be fingerprinted in the ROK? What happens in case of “civil disobedience”? Do foreigners in the ROK have to carry ID at all times, like we do in Japan? If so, what happens to foreigners caught w/o ID? My total stay in S. Korea was about ten hours so far, so I really don’t know…

  • A very thought provoking article.

    If there is less interest in the outside world from young Japanese, I feel that is a down to a combination of a greater self confidence in Japanese culture such as music and movies, a rather Japan-centric education curriculum, a percieved decline in security in western countries and finaally a lack of money with which to travel.

    Japan needs to remain open for immigrants who can offer special skills to Japan and who are likely to make a significant positive contribution, but needs to avoid the severe problems experienced in European countries such as the UK, Germany and France, where vast populations of poorly educated immigrants, some who have no respect for the local culture have cause massive social problems. Japan should also make sure it facilitates the raising of children within its boarders by helping familes financially and ensuring free access to quality education and healthcare.

    I completely agree that the Japanese do not need to work longer hours, but they do need to work harder during those hours and in particular smarter and more efficiently. There needs to be a culture and policy shift towards facilitating entrepreneurship as well. If Japanese who had been made redundant started businesses (or joined new startups) instead of committing suicide that would be a much better way to go.

    If Japan entered a new period of isolation, it would be very dangerous and could amount to the deconstruction of modern Japan along with democracy and the current quality of life, ultiamtely it would only be the elite that would end up in a good situation – which may very well be what some of these commentators from the elite would like to see.

  • In case no one actually read my comment under the original Guardian article, please go and read the comments at the original site now.

    — Or please, repost it here.

  • “The myth of hard-working Japanese salarymen died for me, when I first had a chance to peek into a Japanese office building in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi – in the opposite building, I could watch the guys readig newspapers and slapping OLs’ butts, but they sure didn’t do anything that looked like work”

    Yeah I think that everybody who has worked long term in Japan knows that the hard work story is a myth. Its not hard work, its obligation. It squashes imagination and individualism, two things Japan really need to moved forward. Ok, so you bring back the military. Your bringing back the same mind numbing, mind control shit that we see a residue of today. Its just what the uyoku and other facist want. Conscription isnt what Japan needs. What they need is to get rid of the old guard and the wishful thinking of glory days in the bubble economy. I see scary things for Japans future with China becoming stronger and Japan moving backwards.

  • I have extremely mixed feelings about this article. For what it’s worth, South Korea and certain companies from South Korea HAVE been on a roll while Japan has been stagnant for 2 decades. However, South Korea didn’t become a leader because they were outward looking in the sense of accepting foreigners – from what I understand, in South Korea for foreign workers, your visa is owned by the company you work (rather than being yours as in Japan), so if you’re fired you can be shipped out too. They are changing, however; they used to require a drug test for the visa, and have since dropped it. In any case, South Korea’s competitiveness has little to do with welcoming foreigners, though it does have a lot to do with companies like Hyundai aiming for world-class status. Still, Japan has way more than it’s share of successful industries, noble prize winners (notably in Chemistry and Physics), and is still #2 or #3 by GDP (depending on how you measure it).

    As for Japan, just from the outsider’s perspective, it does seem an awful lot like Japan is moving in an isolationist, nationalist direction (seriously, Ishihara is governor of the largest city…). But I do think this is NOT exactly the same issue as a no-growth society, which I think we will ALL be facing, in every industrialized country, simply because we’re bumping up against planetary limits in energy and resources. A future of no growth does not necessarily mean sakoku part 2 or global isolationism.

    On top of that, we have Japanese culture, yet ANOTHER issue, that is mixed into the article regardless of it’s true relevance. As a sort of culture otaku, I’d personally find it a gas if suddenly people started reading Basho (or even Kawabata), studying the tea ceremony, and wearing kimono on normal days again, but to be honest that’s not going to happen. In the context of business, though, I don’t think Japan is that bad, and I seem to remember not long ago it Japanese culture was hailed as the reason for their success (Japanese craftmanship still carries weight in the world, even decades after the boom years).

    As for the comment, “nobody learns English”, everything I’ve heard about Japan’s school system is that they have been trying to get every single person to learn English regardless of it’s relevance to their life, and doing it in the most failtastic manner possible on top of that (reading emphasized over speaking, pronunciation almost ignored, etc), thus making everyone hate English and shooting themselves in the foot.

  • Oh yeah, I have heard those tunes before… 😉

    Of course, the conscripted ROK military and its fascist leadership under uyoku PM Kim are invading neighboring countries and suppressing freedom and democracy all over East Asia. Whereas the Dear Leader (the latter translates into “Fuehrer” in German, who’d have thunk it!) to the North was democratically elected by his father and thus legit, and his over a million strong military is purely for defensive purposes, as are his nukes… [/sarcasm]

    I see you’re seeing “scary things for Japans future with China becoming stronger”. How do you suppose Japan reacts, if (or rather, when) a stronger China comes aknockin’? Like messing with supply lines around Japan to exert pressure? Should Japan act out of a position of weakness? Or rather out of a position of strength?
    Remember, the Cold War was won without turning into a hot war, because the West showed strength and determination, something stable and strong democracies should and must be able to do…
    Conscription is exactly what Japan’s youngsters need. What else should instill the discipline and self-discipline in them that will be needed to rebuild and reform the country?? Neither parents nor schools seem to be able to accomplish that job…
    Of course, the lousy politicians representing lousy examples for the young generation should go. I for myself have never understood why politicians have to be addressed as “sensei” when spoken to, and I sure won’t do so should I ever have the chance to talk to one.
    But I see a gloomy future in politics – I (and I’m sure many, many others) have pinned great hopes on the DPJ, but so far, they have been a complete failure.
    Younger South Korean workers are diligent and disciplined, at least more disciplined than their Japanese counterparts. I wonder why that is so… (hint: it’s not the genes…)

    — Er… because they’re on a war footing? Great. Plans for everyone. Engineering societies to reinforce bunker mentalities and perpetually defensive postures isn’t quite the answer I personally would want.

  • Good article except for the bit about the Japanese not working as hard and taking more vacations. I’d like to see some statistics or research backing this gem up, because it certainly doesn’t fit in with my 20 years take on living here. To me the Japanese work ethic is like a cartoon I once saw: Four hamsters on a wheel – mummy, daddy, and two kids and the kids are saying – Are we there yet? They work for the sake of working rather than working so they can enjoy luxury time with their families or two week vacations overseas. Gaman and ganbaru with no objecgtive or end in sight except for gaman and gambaru.

  • “..Fewer hours worked, longer vacations, and a declining population (since 2005) have, predictably, undermined Japanese growth…”


    All Japanese are coerced to work longer and longer hours, with less and less efficiency. My wife used to work from 8am until 11pm, despite her contract stating clearly until 5pm. One is “not allowed” to leave early. Thus everyone sits around trying to look busy.

    It is extremely poor management with the male dominated working structure that exacerbates this. My wife’s ex-boss just sat all day waiting for a report she complied with no assistance from him, so he could stamp it with his hanko, that is all he did!

    The Japanese need to do the opposite, enforcement of strict 40 hour weeks, go home after 5pm..relax, then you may start to enjoy life and then may be, just may be, be creative again. Make mangers etc accountable for their actions…and enforce anticorruption behaviour.

    Of course having totally useless laws/rules which only serve Japanese companies and nationals and thus with no incentives for anyone to immigrate, other than poor 3rd world/lesser developed nationals, why come here?

    Japan is indeed inward looking (more so than usual), the only outward looking it does, is with envy at China and Korea, yet does nothing constructive about it, save for stating the usual empty words and rhetoric. Hopeless…the sun is setting, will the last person turn out the lights!

  • @ Bucky and “Hikikomori Taikoku” being the “default thinking”, made me think of this cultural study:

    “The Japanese tends to ignore the world of strangers until they are perceived as a threat or interest. Then they act superior (an old battle strategy). If that doesn’t work (and strangers can no longer be ignored), they will attempt to identify with them and adopt their ways. Amae teaches the Japanese to be comfortable with identifying and assimilating. This helps explain why Japanese have been so open (particularly since World War II) to incorporate many aspects of US culture.

    (based on Phyllis Kepler, Brook S. Royse and John Kepler. Windows to the World: Themes for Cross-Cultural Understanding. Glenview, IL: GoodYearBooks, 1996. Pp 168 – 171.

    For along time I thought it was just my personal paranoia that Japan was kind of closing in on itself, but since the mid to late 90s onwards, a lot of people just seemed less and less interested or curious about in “foreign stuff”. I cannot prove this, and its a generalization which doesnt include a minority of people who are genuinely interested in foreign markets or living abroad, but it seemed there was a shift towards Japanese cultural products, hobbies music etc and away from foreign, or American stuff, as Chris B (comment 13) says above.
    Then things seemed to take a further “downward” turn as about 5 years ago in Tokyo, I started to get comments like “We feel we dont need you or your services anymore”, as if they d just “lost interest” in foreign markets.

  • This article is timely, but is flawed for some of the reasons others have mentioned. My own objection (and I am restating my comments to the original Guardian thread) is that to account for a deflationary society, Sorman moralises the Japanese as lazy, as if the decline of value is simply a matter of not working hard enough. This not only rankles with anyone working standard hours here (and in what real sense does he mean that the young don’t work until their thirty?) but it ignores the argument that it is falling consumer demand, rather than labour indiscipline, that is the main internal problem in Japan; see the interview with Noriko Hama in the JT here:
    Furthermore, although the elitist nostalgia of Naoki Inose is worth interrogating, it is presented as culturally dominant, when there is arguably just as much popular nostalgia for the boom years of Showa. To do that, Sorman would have to acknowledge conflict and difference in Japanese politics and society, but even the election of the DJP goes without comment. Not for the first time, a critique of Japanese insularity falls for a myth of a seamless hegemony.I would also point out (as the Guardian doesn’t) that Sorman is a philosopher officially employed by the South Korean Government as a special advisor.

  • “Er… because they’re on a war footing? Great. Plans for everyone. Engineering societies to reinforce bunker mentalities and perpetually defensive postures isn’t quite the answer I personally would want.”

    Debito, too bad you didn’t see the reality as it was – it was the BAD guys who were in the bunker (=behind the Iron Curtain), and it was the GOOD guys, who were prepared for anything and everything, and the BAD guys are gone (with the exception of a few die-hards), and their ideology landed on the garbage heap of history.
    And the ROK isn’t exactly dug in – they’re just prepared, and that’s what you need to be.
    Look at it on a smaller scale – would a bully rather attack the weakest opponent, or an opponent who would fight back?? No need to be in a bunker, just the need to be prepared… ;-).

  • Per Capita GDP in USD
    2007 $21,653
    2008 $19,162
    2009 $17,074
    Exchange rate
    2007 W929.3/$; 2008 W1,102.1/$; 2009 W1,276.9/$
    Korean per capita GDP is falling rapidly.

    Per Capita GDP in USD
    2007 $34,268
    2008 $38,271
    2009 $39,731
    Exchange rate
    2007 Y117.76/$; 2008 Y103.37/$; 2009 Y93.54/$

    — Anyone else want to introduce HO to economic growth that is not based upon exchange-rate fluctuations? I can’t be bothered, sorry.

  • Heh, what HO? Are you serious?

    2007: $21,653 * W929.3/$ = 20122132 W
    2009: $17,074 * W1,276.9/$ = 21801790 W
    2007->2009: 8.3% *increase* in GDP/capita in KRW

    2007: $34,268 * Y117.76/$ = 4035399 Y
    2009: $39,731 * Y93.54/$ = 3716437 Y
    2007->2009: 7.9% *decrease* in GDP/capita in JPY

    Did you even think this through when you posted? Or did you intentionally cherry pick the numbers to make Japan look better? Honestly, I’m curious.

  • @HO

    thanks for the info, but the link doesn’t seem to work… :-(.
    Do you happen to know what happens to a foreigner in the ROK, who is apprehended w/o ID during police checks?

  • Debito, this is one of those situations where HO contributed something of value to the discussion.
    It makes no sense to compare Japanese yen GDP changes to Korean won GDP fluctuations. You have to pick a single unit for both to do a meaningful comparison. The dollar is the international standard currency, so it makes sense to use the dollar. HO is right.

    In yen terms, Japan’s GDP might have fallen or risen only slightly, while Korea’s fell more precipitously. Also, the won has been appreciating a lot lately, so the same might be true for the won.

    However, GDP fluctuation in relation to openmindedness is a non sequitor. There are way more factors at play.

    The fact is, though, that it is disingenuous to say Japan’s been in the crapper for 20 years based on a yen now to yen in 1990 comparison and a dollar US economy now to dollar US economy in 1990 comparison, let alone taking the population fluctuations into account. That doesn’t stop the press from doing it again and again because it’s a sexy, exciting story. But it is still absolute nonsense. Anyone with a basic understanding of math and economics would understand this is utter stupidity, but unfortunately the press doesn’t generally have those skills or chooses not to use them.

    The link worked for me and showed exactly the per capita GDP numbers HO used.

  • Sorry, it makes excellent sense to compare yen GDP changes to won GDP changes. GDP is the measure of economic output of an economy, defined as (private consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exports − imports)). When governments release economic reports, they don’t say “GDP grew 5% in terms of US dollars”, they always says “GDP grew 5% in terms of our own currency”.

    HO said “Korean per capita GDP is falling rapidly”, which, based on his own data, is clearly false. The dollar value of per capita GDP may be changing due to the exchange rate, but like Debito said, this does not make economic growth. Otherwise, the Japanese government could solve all the economic problems by just stop printing yen – the value of the remaining yen would go up further, the exchange rate would further favor the yen and GDP (in dollars) would rise.

    Or to put it another way, why is the Japanese government and business sector so concerned about the rising yen? If the dollar is the true measure of economic output, wouldn’t the rising yen mean Japan’s economy is doing great?

  • Eric, you advocate comparing apples to oranges.

    The reason serious economists came up with concepts such as real GDP as opposed to nominal GDP is to avoid idiotic comparisons like yen GDP growth and won GDP growth.

    Japan’s economy is doing great. Last quarter it put in a 4% GDP growth rate in REAL GDP, which you would know if you read a newspaper like the Nikkei.

    — Link please if you have it.

  • Fair enough, let’s compare real GDP growth rates. Though I should point out you’re changing the terms of the debate halfway through. And also I should point out that real GDP still measures growth in the nations own currency, which you said results in an “idiotic comparison”. But I digest…

    It seems to me Korea has had a higher real GDP growth rate since 1999. Unless populations have wildly fluctuated, I still think HO’s original statement that “Korean per capita GDP is falling rapidly” is wrong. And it seems my assertion that Korea has a better economic growth rate is still correct, unless you consider economic growth to only matter in terms of dollars (my questions regarding this still remain open). Of course you can debate the reasons for this until the cows come home.

    And I should also point out that the 4% real GDP growth rate was the annualized rate of a single quarter. Japan’s real GDP growth rate for all of 2010 is expected to be much lower. And here’s the article you are referring to:

    “(The growth) was due largely to last-minute buying of certain types of vehicles and cigarettes before the end of government subsidies for environmentally friendly vehicles and a record-high hike in the tobacco tax.” Government subsidies an economy do not make.

    — Okay. Now let’s get back to the point made in the original article that SK is better poised for the future. However you wish to measure the growth rates over the past couple of years (which is HO’s way of inferring “We’re still better than them”), the article’s point is that in any case this will not continue.

  • Hey Debito, heard you this a.m. on CBC in Canada! You were part 2 of a 3 interview segment with the Japanese former Tokyo immigration bureau (?) head who advocated letting in 10,000,000 immigrants over the next 20 years or so, then you, then a prof of Japanese ancestry at U.of Toronto who tried to explain the anxiety (?) many in Japan feel about immigration. All-in-all a very nice morning radio show. Congrats!

    (Didn’t know where to post this positive news.)

    — I was wondering where that interview had gotten to (I gave it in early October). Can you track down a link? Then I’ll post it as a separate blog entry and delete this post. Thanks for notifying! How did it sound?

  • Having lived in South Korea for five years, I disagree with the UK Guardian article and would even call it “gushing” about South Korea. South Korea’s story is impressive, but South Korea has patterned its system after Japan’s in almost every way, and will face the exact same problems that Japan currently does once it reaches the same state of maturity. Let me write a short article of my own:

    “Matthew is 12 years old and 5’6″. Last year, he grew an incredible two inches!

    Mark is 20 years old. He is 5’10”. Last year, he grew zero inches.

    At this rate, Matthew will overtake Mark in two years, and at age 20, he will be 7’2″! By 2050, Matthew will have reached a Guinness Book of World Records height of 12’2″! Matthew’s incredible story of growth is astounding and an example that Mark should follow. Matthew is the fastest-growing boy at his school and has continued to grow despite bullying, difficult classes, and a nagging mom.”

    Like my story? 🙂

  • I would like to present the idea that Japan for so long has put such a huge emphasis on the importance of a college education as opposed to working a trade or skill, that this society has largely become a collection of white collar workers whose work cannot be physically seen or measured. I would argue that working with intangibles and rarely seeing the work you do solidified in the real world after a long enough time may contribute to a kind of detatchment and lack of passion except to maintain the status quo.Perhaps this is where the lack of drive in many young people comes from? A long hard day of work when you come home covered in dirt and grime feels different than a long day at work reading newspapers and stapling documents. You may be dead tired but you FEEL like work was…well work!!!
    The idea about reinstating conscription into Japan is a bit scary as the Japanese have this inherent tendency to never ever be able to put the brakes on something once it gets going. However, I for one would like to see young people work a crappy job for a year or two while living in a small dumpy apartment and supporting themselves with a meager salary BEFORE going to uni. Maybe then people would begin to take pride in themselves and realize why it is important to have an education OR begin to understand that there is no shame in being a laborer. Society needs both.

  • Anybody see the interview on CNNs Talk Asia with PM Kan … here in Japan? She asked some very pointed questions about the economy and will Japan open up its markets etc. Kan gave very evasive answers, and kept refering to the old people situation and how Japan needs to get more young people to farm etc. He also gave a weak example of how Japans economy could grow if more people would join the nursing home industry. He also of course blammed the yen problem on the U.S. and mentioned something about regional identity, and a few complaints about Chinas adolescent behavior in the region.

  • tianchaodaguo says:

    Hilariously short-sighted analysis, typical of the West.

    Korea’s economy is nowhere near mature, dismissing it in one sentence only weakens his argument. Korea, at nearly half Japan’s population, should be able to output twice the GDP it does today. That’s the capacity that allows them to grow. Difference is, the Korean population has aged quicker than its economy has grown. They will face the same demographics problem Japan does in a decade, and their immigrant quota is more or less the same. Will they “open up” to immigrants the way Westerners hope? I doubt it. The difference right now is that Koreans make up for it by sending out huge waves of migrants/students overseas, then bringing back whatever ideas they’ve absorbed. Japan is pretty much the opposite, stewing in their own outdated and recycled nonsense. Ever meet a Japanese that spoke good English? I haven’t. The Koreans know to continue buying foreign land property to grow more assets because their own land is limited. Japan used to do this, but not so much today. China is adopting this strategy ASAP. The problem with Japan is they aren’t scared enough. China and Korea are constantly vigilant of outside threats and competitors. Japanese are content to drift by, their men are weak and effeminate with no spirit, no desire to compete. That will only change once the money runs out and the real suffering starts.

  • tianchaodaguo says:

    Second note: What’s wrong with Asia being dominated by China? It has been for nearly all of history, and it’s worked out fine for all Asian countries. Japan and Korea are but tiny upstarts in millennia of Chinese supremacy. Westerners talk like South Korean democracy is the final bastion of civilization in Asia. They are dead wrong.

  • Surprised Debito didnt make any comments on the above.

    Quote “What’s wrong with Asia being dominated by China? It has been for nearly all of history, and it’s worked out fine for all Asian countries. Japan and Korea are but tiny upstarts in millennia of Chinese supremacy. Westerners talk like South Korean democracy is the final bastion of civilization in Asia. They are dead wrong.”

    Whats wrong with China dominating Asia? Err, how about it still being a repressive dictatorship with an appalling human rights record? How economic domination/cheap producrs destroy local economies?

    I m just playing the Devil’s Advocate here but even so…

    “It has been for nearly all of history, and it’s worked out fine for all Asian countries.”

    Yeah, tell that to the Tibetans. (cue massive argument), the Uigyurs, Taiwan (incl the native aborigines), Vietnam etc.

    Japan and Korea are but tiny upstarts in millennia of Chinese supremacy?

    So I suppose Korea should go back to being a protectorate/tributary state of China? Tell you what, why not just rename all of East Asia “The Chinese People’s Co Prosperity Sphere” while you re at it?

    Westerners talk like South Korean democracy is the final bastion of civilization in Asia. They are dead wrong.”

    And (PRC) China is?

  • @Tianchaodaguo

    “Ever meet a Japanese that spoke good English? I haven’t.”

    You’re quite overgeneralizing based on personal experience. While it is true that there are deep-seated problems in the education system here (or, rather, Japan, just in case you’re not in Japan as well), especially when it comes to the English language, and that this is reflected in the fact that the majority of Japanese have minimal to no English skill, your implication that Japanese with good English are nonexistent is quite incorrect. To counter your personal experience with my own, my wife (Japanese), and the vast majority of her Japanese friends, are all bilingual with fluent or near-fluent English.

    While it is true that these kind of people are generally not in any sort of position of power or significance (and therefore, you may argue, may as well not exist), the fact that they do, in fact, exist, means that there is at least some motivation among certain portions of the population to become internationally minded. (Although my wife, for some inexplicable reason, believes Japanese television to be superior to all other forms of entertainment. 😉 )

    (PS: To Debito, a while back (maybe the end of September) I emailed you inquiring if you would like to see a copy of a survey inquiring about living conditions I received from the local government targeting foreigners living in this area of Japan. I can’t remember if I sent it from the email address I provided when submitting this comment or not, so I apologize for any confusion there. However, I never received a reply (so far as I can tell, although it could have been lost in the somewhat flaky spam filter). I know you’re busy, but if you’d like a copy of the survey I do have it.)

    — Hi there. I checked my mail and haven’t received anything from the email address you provided. Sorry. Yes, please send.

  • Wow, that’s an eye opener HO. As someone who has since moved to Korea from Japan, and being given the ID check treatment on the way out, this was one of my very first questions. Not only was I told the law doesn’t exist here by a government department, the very system involved in getting a valid foreign registration card actually requires new arrivals to be without any of those listed ID types in their possession (unless they happen to hold a second passport) for up to a month.

    I have however yet to hear of any incidents, nor have I met a single soul who has said anything about ever being randomly checked. Perhaps police in Korea are more willing to escort people home to check their ID if the event arises? (I hope so!)

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