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Hi Blog. The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan does a very good article summarizing what it was once like for us “Bubble Era” veterans, and how views of Japan were once either Japan as the perfectible society to be emulated or as the irresistible wave of the future (as in, in addition to the pop-culture economic bellwethers listed below, Michael J. Fox’s boss in BACK TO THE FUTURE II being a Japanese). Remember?
Now, as the article indicates below, it’s all collapsed, and former boosters have now become pessimists (with even Japan championer Ezra Vogel now turning his attention to China!). Here in Hawaii, the Chinese consumer is ascendant (look how empty most of the “Japanese Only” trolleys are nowadays in Waikiki), with the likely domination of Chinese over Japanese language on store signs fairly soon. In this year’s remake of TOTAL RECALL, the exotic language being used in the background was no longer Japanese (a la BLADE RUNNER), but rather Chinese. Check out the dominant kanji in this greeting card: Mainland Chinese (with Japanese far receding).
I think this trend will continue as Japan is eclipsed not only by China but even South Korea (Gangnam Style on last week’s episode of SOUTH PARK anyone? It’s Japan with more color and better pronunciation of diphthongs…) in terms of economics, politics, and visions of the future.
Ah well, Japan, you had your chance. You blew it. Arudou Debito
A declining Japan loses its once-hopeful champions
By Chico Harlan. Washington Post, October 27, 2012. Also republished in The Japan Times. Courtesy of WDS
TOKYO — Jesper Koll, an economist who’s lived in Japan for 26 years, says it’s not easy for him to keep faith in a country that’s shrinking, aging, stuck in protracted economic gloom and losing fast ground to China as the region’s dominant power.
“I am the last Japan optimist,” Koll said in a recent speech in Tokyo.
Indeed, the once-common species has been virtually wiped out. It was only two decades ago that Japan’s boosters — mainly foreign diplomats and authors, economists and entrepreneurs — touted the tiny nation as a global model for how to attain prosperity and power.
But the group has turned gradually into nonbelievers, with several of the last holdouts losing faith only recently, as Japan has failed to carry out meaningful reforms after the March 2011 triple disaster.
The mass turnabout has helped launch an alternative — and increasingly accepted — school of thought about Japan: The country is not just in a prolonged slump but also in an inescapable decline.
There’s frequent evidence for that in economic data, and in the country’s destiny to become ever-smaller, doomed by demographics that will shrink the population from about 127 million today to 47 million in 2100, according to government data.
The current doom is a sharp reversal from several decades ago, when Japanese companies bought up Columbia Pictures and Rockefeller Center, and Americans argued whether Japan was to be feared or envied.
Like a separate but related group, known as “Japan bashers,” the optimists were bullish about Japan’s future as an economic powerhouse. But unlike the bashers, who viewed Japan as a dangerous challenger to the United States, the optimists saw Japan as a benevolent superpower — rich but peaceful, with a diligence worth emulating.
Now, when Japan is discussed, it’s instead for its unenviable fiscal problems — debt, rising social security costs, flagging trade with China because of an ongoing territorial dispute.
China, not Japan, is mentioned in U.S. presidential debates and described as the next threat to American supremacy. Japan’s government has announced record quarterly trade deficits while some of its iconic companies — Sony and Sharp — have announced staggering losses.
By 2050, Japan “will be the oldest society ever known,” with a median age of 52, according to the recent book “Megachange,” published by the Economist magazine. Even over the next decade, Japan’s aging population will drag down the gross domestic product by about 1 percent every year. That will further strain Japan’s economy, which in 2010 lost its status as the world’s second-largest, a position now claimed by China.
“If you speak optimistically about Japan, nobody even believes it,” Koll said. “They say, ‘Oh, in 600 years there will be 480 Japanese people left. The Japanese are dying out and debt is piling up for future generations.’ Japan is an easy whipping boy.”
Now a pessimist
Japan optimism became a mainstream movement with the 1979 publication of “Japan As No. 1,” an international bestseller that described the way a country the size of Montana had come to make cars as well as the Germans, watches as well as the Swiss and steel as well as the Americans — in more efficient plants. Japan’s people worked hard, its government guided the economy, and its streets were clean and crime-free.
“Japan has dealt more successfully with more of the basic problems of postindustrial society than any other country,” wrote author Ezra Vogel, a sociologist at Harvard.
But Vogel, who has lived for several periods in Japan, and has traveled here at least once a year since 1958, says he, too, has become a pessimist. Most Japanese still have a comfortable life, he says, but the political system is “an absolute mess,” juggling prime ministers almost every year. The youngest generation, its expectations sapped by years of deflation, “doesn’t have the excitement about doing things better.”
Even the promise of lifetime employment and tight cooperation between government and corporations has backfired, leaving a bureaucracy-enforced status quo that makes it hard for established companies to reform and for smaller, more creative companies to emerge.
“What I did not foresee is that the slowdown would be such a challenge — that many of the things that worked so well on the way up . . . would be so difficult on the way down,” Vogel said.
Vogel, still a professor emeritus at Harvard, says he has switched his focus in the past five years to China.
A disturbing trend
For more than a decade after Vogel’s book was published, his predictions seemed prescient. Between 1980 and 1990, Japan’s national wealth nearly tripled. Real estate prices in downtown Tokyo skyrocketed so high that analysts said the land under the Imperial Palace was worth more than the state of California. Japanese companies bought up American landmarks, and some policymakers feared Japan was challenging U.S. supremacy, particularly by using protectionist trade policies that blocked American products.
Vogel credited Japan’s success in part to its willingness to study others. He described a nation obsessed with overseas travel: Students went to American universities, national sports coaches studied the training programs in other countries, trade ministry bureaucrats went on missions to Europe to hone policies. Japan even had programs in five foreign languages available on its national television networks.
But today, former Japan optimists see a disturbing trend. Fewer Japanese, they say, want to interact with the rest of the world, and undergraduate enrollment of Japanese students at U.S. universities has fallen more than 50 percent since 2000. The generation now entering Japan’s job market is described by older workers here as risk-averse and unambitious, with security and comfort their top priorities.
“They have just given up trying to be number one” said Yoichi Funabashi, former editor in chief of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and chairman of the Rebuild Japan Initiative. “People think you just cannot beat China, so don’t even try. But that’s bad, because if you don’t train yourself on the international scene, you don’t . . . sharpen your edge. And you become more inward-looking. There’s a sense in Japan that we are unprepared to be a tough, competitive player in this global world.”
Japan is famous among historians for its sudden transformations, re-engaging with the world in the mid-19th century after two centuries of isolation, later moving toward the militarism that helped launch World War II. After the mega-disaster last year, Japanese hoped for another transformation, with the reconstruction of a tsunami-battered region prompting a broader political and economic overhaul.
But Japanese increasingly feel that hasn’t happened, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Just 39 percent now say that last year’s disaster has made Japan a stronger country, compared with 58 percent in a similar survey taken right after the earthquake and tsunami. (According to the same survey, released in June, 93 percent of the Japanese public describe the current state of the economy as bad.)
Preference for self-criticism
Global sentiment has swung so far against Japan, the last few optimists now relish the chance to make a case on Japan’s behalf.
Although Japan is commonly thought to be a “Detroit-like zone” with little chance for economic growth, former Sony chief executive Nobuyuki Idei said in an interview, the country still has a chance to prosper if it can tap into Asia’s booming economies as a trade partner or investor. Tokyo-based venture capitalist Yoshito Hori said that Japan’s many strengths are often overlooked, because Japanese prefer self-criticism to self-promotion.
“The value of Japan is, even when we do something good, we rarely say it,” Hori said.
“When the Chinese achieve something, they say, ‘We have done this.’ ” Japanese must learn to do the same, Hori said, “otherwise, we will lose our position globally.”
That’s partly why Koll, a JPMorgan Japan manager, decided this summer to give a TED talk — the common name for a series of pop-education speeches — in which he described his reasons for being the last optimist.
Japan has the world’s most competent financial regulator, Koll said, and a per capita GDP several times that of China. Real estate prices are back down to 1981 levels — “wealth destruction has been tremendous,” he said — but Japan has weathered this while still retaining its social cohesion and relative quality of life, with an unemployment rate of just 4.2 percent.
But Koll also admitted in his speech that being bullish on Japan is tantamount to saying Elvis is still alive.
“Things have changed,” he said. “When I first got here, I had conversations with people who said, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky to speak Japanese, because we’ll all be working for the Japanese soon.’ You know, those are the things they’re saying about China now.”
45 comments on “Wash Post: A declining Japan loses its once-hopeful champions (including Ezra Vogel!) — as Japan is eclipsed by an ascendant China”
Ouch. He hits it nail on the head. Japan’s decline thesis is not an exaggeration any more.
Wonder who will become the first person to write a Japanese version of “The Public and its Problems (1927)” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Public_and_its_Problems ) and/or “Bowling Alone” (2000) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowling_Alone.
Lots of great quotable items in this article. Thanks for sharing Debito. I think the three things that stood out most to me is (1) the stark difference in interest to study abroad, gain experience abroad, and to play on a more international sized field that existed in the 80s & 90s compared to today in which the younger generation now soured on “hard work with little reward” attitude of their fathers and the “low risk high reward” industrial attitude of aged corporate leaders (didn’t we just talk about this?) have little ambition to excel or compete. Living for the moment is their mantra now. My nephews-in-law fit this to a tee.
(2) The part about how self-criticism is more valued over self-promotion in Japan. Couldn’t agree with that more (didn’t you just talk about that?) That sense of false modesty is detrimental to the kind of bravado and risk taking that is needed to jump start the economy and society.
(3) How the optimists still see positive things in seemingly positive numbers like a 4.2 percent unemployment without realizing that most of that can be attributed to the increase in contract employees or temporary workers and part-timers instead of people actually gainfully employed by companies on the move. It’s the usual smoke & mirrors by government agencies trying to portray a Japan that doesn’t really exist on the ground level—at least for those of us living here.
Sobering stuff, but good food for thought.
“Japan has the world’s most competent financial regulator, Koll said”
Is this guy serious? Have we even seen a conclusion to the (most recent) pension disaster?
The decline continues and it is far more noticeable in the regions. It’s hard to see the decline being arrested.
Interesting remarks about Vogel turning his energies to China.
I also noticed that uber econo-muppet Eammon Fingleton has secured a blog for himself on Forbes.com.
If you have time, have a look through his posts and see if you can find one that isn’t about China. Japan is such a basket case, that it”s cheerleaders don”t even bother misrepresenting the data anymore. They’ve all started to misrepresent data for China now 🙂
So long as that international showcase, that facade of affluence known as Tokyo Uber Alles is doing alright Jack, the J Mandarins in their Ivory Towers could care less about the local regions. Tokyo survived 3/11 relatively unscathed, thus reforms did not happen. Business back to usual, just paste over the cracks.
A couple of somewhat oddly phrased expressions in this article though ” later moving toward the militarism that helped launch World War II.” Wow, that sounds like progress!
And this bit seems to go against a lot of what is critiqued on this site: ‘”Tokyo-based venture capitalist Yoshito Hori said that Japan’s many strengths are often overlooked, because Japanese prefer self-criticism to self-promotion.”
Really? Well, maybe in terms of self affacing individuals and modesty. Thus entrepreneurs like Horie who seem to buck the system mainly on image are criticized.
But in terms of Team Japan, as we here all know, Japan is Number 1 and can do no wrong. Japan as a nation needs a big dose of self criticism. Ditto the surrounding North East Asian countries and their obsession with “face” and nationalistic export of culture (seen how South Korea is suspicious of Japan because that cruddy song Gangnam Style by Psy isnt so popular here? http://www.japantoday.com/category/entertainment/view/japans-indifference-to-gangnam-style-riles-s-korea ).
Great post Debito!
Saw the Total Recall re-make, and yes, the ‘asian fetishism of choice’ (as it were) is Chinese these days. Also saw the Halloween South Park (‘Gangnamstein! I wish I’d thought of that!’). Japan is being seen as boring, old and stuffy, and (more crucially) fake (think pensions scandal, Olympus attempted white-wash, mis-managing Fukushima plant efforts, and post disaster recovery funds).
What’s interesting is that all of this exterior ‘pop-culture’ trends away from Japan only serve to inspire still further a sense of self-righteous victim mentality in the Japanese (looks at the hateful, racist comments on 2 chan directed to Gangnam Style). And at the same time as the population is egging itself on to be even insular and narrow minded (and even nationalistic; three territorial dispute flaring in the last year), the families of the wealthy and powerful are quietly slipping off to greener (and freer) pastures…
Hmm…while it’s interesting to see the issue of Japan in decline getting major league coverage, I wasn’t that impressed with the article. For anyone remotely familiar with Japan, it’s old news. And even for newbies, there really isn’t much info there. More to the point, why should we care what the two “Japan experts” have to say, when one of them is still “believing the hype” about Japan (Koll), and the other wrote a book which famously missed all the weak points of Japan and totally misread the future of the place (Vogel)?
Also, it’s worth pointing out that people should be cautious about predicting world domination and good times ahead for China. To do so would be to repeat the mistakes of the “Black Rain” crowd who predicted that Japan would take over the world back in the 80s. China is riddled with corruption, has a whole slew of ethnic conflicts to deal with, has an opaque and bureaucratic government, and has few energy resources beyond coal. And this is not to mention the fact that at Peak Oil plays out, it will be difficult for any economy to sustain growth, let alone expand internally and externally.
There’s no question that Japan is in full-spectrum decline and it’s highly unlikely that it will pull itself out of that decline. But one should not be too sanguine about China chances. As we head into a resource-scarce future, the best a nation can hope for is graceful stability or intelligently-managed contraction. It’s hard to see Japan or China pulling that off. In Japan, a swing to ill-considered nationalism seems very possible, while in China, civil strife and even revolution may be in the cards.
>Japan is being seen as boring, old and stuffy
Well, quite. That was Vogel’s point if you looked past the spin injected by the journalist. The political system is a shambles (like in, say America and parts of Europe), youth are dejected (like in, say America and parts of Europe), but ultimately most people in Japan lead comfortable lives. So Vogel thinks it isn’t an interesting place to study. Fair enough. Sociologists do like to study social problems, after all. And there are certainly more sexy issues to study in China at the moment, although I suspect Vogel is actually focused on what makes China “work” in the solipsistic and rather pointless effort to determine who will take over the United States as “number one.”
Nevertheless, there are academics in the humanities and social sciences who think there is still something to say about Japan. Jeff Kingston, for example, in Japan’s Quiet Transformations, has argued fairly convincingly that social changes as a result of economic and political shifts have given Japanese more social freedom and made Japan a more pleasant place to live over the last few decades. Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, who has written and spoken far more prominently about Japan in recent years than Vogel, posits Japanese economic policy as actually a model example of how to deal with economic depression. In other words, something that the Europeans and Americans should emulate.
Plus, the statistics quoted in the article about trade deficits and overseas student numbers are stupid way of showing “decline,” (whatever that is) not least because they are actually incomplete, which is another way of saying they are wrong.
— Wow, do you always have to be so combative when you wax contrarian? “Spin,” “stupid,” etc.? Besides, Jeff’s (very good) book came out in 2004 based on data now about a decade old. A lot has changed in Japan since then. So under your definitions your citation of those contrarian sources are now “wrong” because they are incomplete.
People making comments to the media and writing columns have long been predicting the fall of Japan and praising the rise of China and the Chinese Communist Party. If the party in China is so great, why aren’t people relocating to China from Japan? Especially for English teaching, there are supposedly more opportunities in China than moribund and failing Japan right?
Of course, there is a much more in-your-face racism to deal with in the People’s Republic. If you are a non-white person, don’t bother to apply.
Many people cite the rise of China, so why are people from majority-caucasian nations still coming to Japan instead of going to the next big thing, the Chinese bubble economy? Perhaps Japan is still a better place for living, raising a family and enjoying a foreign culture for many?
I stand by the words I used. Chico Harlan is actually quite a good journalist but here he is clearly writing an article and massaging his sources’ statements to prove a point that he has used as the basis of a few of his previous articles. Don’t believe me? Watch the Youtube video of Jesper Koll at TED. Jesper gives a speech about why he is still optimistic about Japan (because that’s what Jesper does), and yet Harlan quotes all of the negative parts, which Jesper basically adds for humor, completely out of context (and doesn’t really say where he got those quotes to boot). No surprise there. Anyone who has been quoted by the media more than a few times knows that journalists will hear what fits their own narrative. But just because it is standard practice doesn’t mean it isn’t spin.
Kingston’s book I think has stood the test of time in anticipating a growth in civil society activity in Japan. Kingston was writing long after the decline narrative was established about Japan, and that narrative is as hoary and unsophisticated now as it was then.
Indeed, we can see this in the way that stats are thrown around to justify conclusions in a manner which is highly unscientific–or, if you prefer, “stupid”–just to prove a given thesis. Take the “trade deficit” stat, for example. So Japan’s record postwar trade deficit this year is a signal of its slow decline? Not a signal that we’re currently going through the largest period of economic carnage the world has seen since the great depression and that Japan is an exporter of those finished products that are typically hit hardest in such circumstances? Did the Washington Post report that Japan’s record trade surpluses just before the crash, or indeed its surpluses almost all the way through its apparently “lost decades,” as representative a period of whatever the opposite of decline is? Did it report the fact that China also briefly registered a record trade deficit in March this year, and that its surpluses are not as impressive as those registered before the crash, as a sign of Chinese decline? No? Oh. Never mind.
For trade surplus data, you can check back to the 1970s here: http://www.tradingeconomics.com/japan/balance-of-trade
Japanese not studying abroad, Harlan says? Well, until five or so years ago (well after the decline narrative was established) there was actually a year-on-year increase in the number of Japanese pursuing their studies outside Japan. Certainly there was a shift in destination for outbound Japanese students away from America and towards China and other Asian countries. I’d argue that this actually represents a broader intellectual outlook, as Japanese students are more interested in studying in countries which are not the usual places to do so. Nevertheless, as page 334 of the report at the following link suggests, Japan is still holding its own among OECD nations. When we take into account the fact that the American population is 2.5 times larger than Japan’s, the percentage of Japanese students present in most overseas tertiary education markets is actually roughly proportional to the United States, even with Japan’s aging population. There are a few exceptions, notably Canada, where you would expect to see more American students, but Japan is certainly no laggard in sending students overseas. Indeed, on page 319, we read that it is in the top five OECD countries that do so.
So yeah, citing “record trade deficits” and “declining student numbers in the U.S.” as a sign of decline is “stupid.”
@#11, Man in Holland
I have no idea what you see in his article, and I personally don’t care if you don’t like sociologists or journalists discussing the problems of Japan ‘cuz that won’t make a big deal that much. However, I find one thing you are wrong on your statement. The declining number of Japanese students is “NOT limited to the US.” It is overall trend. The decline began from 2004.
According to the statistics by MEXT’s 2011 White Papers, the total number of Japanese students studying abroad in 2008 is 66,833. In 2009, however, it was reduced to 59,923(6,910 students less (approximately 10% decrease).
And, I will also emphasize that Harlan is not alone in suggesting Japan’s decline thesis.
@ David #10
Thanks for the ‘if you don’t like it, p*ss off’ lecture. I am leaving. How much groveling are you prepared to do for the ‘honor’ of living in the worlds ‘cleanest’, ‘politest’, and ‘safest’ society? When we’re all gone, no one’s going to look out for you and your basic human rights.
@ Man in Holland.
I watched Jespers TED Tokyo talk on youtube. He is one hell of a sycophant, isn’t he? ‘Japan is special because…’, and ‘Only Japan can make….’ (yawn), and he ticks all the right boxes that his Tokyo audience would expect him to;
1. Rejects any criticism of Japan as a failure of the West to understand Japan’s ‘unique culture’? Check!
2. Acts the ‘crazy gaijin clown’? Check!
3. Buys into humiliating Japanese held stereotypes about his own nationality? Check!
All he’s doing is telling a home audience what they want to hear; ‘Don’t worry! You REALLY are special!’, whilst parading the same old tropes used by every apologist to achieve the imaginary ingratiation that only the ‘good gaijin’ can receive from the Japanese. Good boy Jesper, yosh, yosh.
The fact that I have never heard of him until now suggests that he was never such a significant ‘Japan scholar/observer/commentator’, and gets the TED gig by default since all the serious ‘Chrysanthemum Club’ western academics are too ashamed of themselves to stand up in public and repeat that kind of ‘Japan-uber alles’ tripe 20 years after it was proven to be rubbish driven by cold war political imperatives. I mean, seriously, where are they now? Van Wolferen managed to re-surface earlier this year to tell the press ‘See, I told you so’, with no academic riposte what-so-ever.
— Lets’s have a link to Jesper’s TED talk, please.
Timely result just in!
As Japan posts a record trade deficit for Sept’, look at S. Korean exports rise!
And as for all the chest thumping that the Japanese are doing about pulling out of China, China’s doing great!;
And Japan? Ever-so-important in the international community wanabe Japan? Well, it posted record trade deficit in Sept. WAY TO GO J-NATIONALISTS!
Thanks for your feedback. However I don’t think anything I have said contradicts the evidence you cite. I did indeed note that there has long existed a narrative of Japanese decline. The drop in overseas student numbers, meanwhile, began in 2005. So it started seven years ago. I was quoting from memory, and gave myself latitude by saying there were increases until five “or so” years ago. Sloppy, I’ll admit, but still not “wrong.” Also, the drop in numbers from 2005 to 2007 is not so severe. In fact, the rate of decrease is almost flat. It is from 2008 when numbers really start to drop off. Again, external events could explain this sudden occurrence much better than some sort of malaise or disinterest in the outside world (which one would assume would set in more slowly). The decline narrative really started in the late 1990s and continued since then. During most of this period the number of Japanese students going overseas actually rose quite dramatically. So these numbers, at least as they are presented in the article above, are unconvincing as evidence to show that Japan is in decline (whatever that means).
The stats you cite don’t give a breakdown on the country-to-country data, but the Asahi Shimbun (11 December 2009) reported that in 1997 the United States was the destination for 75 percent of Japanese overseas students. By 2007 this had dropped to under 50 percent, so yes, there has been greater diversification.
Jim Di Griz:
It’s a shame Japan didn’t work out for you. I hope you’re happier in your next endeavor. Yes, Jasper is too Pollyanna-ish when it comes to the state of the Japanese economy. But he’s not playing to a Japanese audience. I’ve seen him give the same type of speech in private to a “western” audience too. No Japanese were present.
Jesper at TED: http://talentsearch.ted.com/video/Jesper-Koll-I-may-be-Japans-las
The Sakakibara Eisuke line is more realistic: The Japanese economy is screwed, but so is the rest of the world. At least Japan has nice food and beautiful forests.
— Why are you in Holland, Man in Holland?
For the sake, here’s Jesper’s profile. See below:
Looks like he’s been taking a leading role in preaching economic/financial evangelism on Japanese market–not ordinary people suffering from a chronic economic recession in the last decade. I agree with Jim Di Griz. Koll is a libertarian televangelist in disguise– or “TEDevangelist.” He’s acting like an evangelical Christian preaching an unpromising prophecy of J-kingdom that is about to crumble like a sand castle.
— Quite. I find it interesting how at minute 4:30 of the above video he’s saying that Japanese people’s wages rise until 55 (after which they plummet), meaning Japanese start getting paid “good money” (I’m sure that’s news to most Japanese women in the work force) between one’s early forties and early fifties. He then says that we’re getting base wages rising recently since the Baby Boomer generation is aging beyond 55. In his words, “80% of the deflation in Japan” can be explained by this.
Funny, that. My (and all of my colleagues’) wages in Japan (at a private university) began dropping every year from 2002 or so (when I was 37), soon by 5% per year (matching, our bosses said, the Hokkaido bureaucrats’ pay cuts, note); this amounted to a total annual wage drop of about a third (!!) by the time I quit in 2011 — when I should have been making “good money” at age 46. Maybe in Jesper’s world of financial analysts within the Yamanote, people got paid a stereotypical wage (and bonuses — a distant memory for workers in the retail sector) that matched his “Demographic Sweet-Spot” chart. But it certainly matches nobody I know in, for example, the academic community, or the bureaucrats our wages were being cut (in a private-sector university, no less) to match.
Sorry Jesper, I call crank.
@ Man in Holland, #15
>I was quoting from memory, and gave myself latitude by saying there were increases until five “or so” years ago.
Yes, the number of students studying abroad was increasing in the 90s, exceeding 100,000, and it reached to the highest point (up to 120,000) in 2002 (yes, that was ten years ago!). It never went down until 2004. And if you say, the drop in the last three years is not so severe, fine. Japan was slightly backing up in economy at that time until it hit hard in 2008, 2009, and again in 2011.
>By 2007 this had dropped to under 50 percent, so yes, there has been greater diversification.
Then, take a look at the link below:
Again, drop in the number of students is NOT limited to the US. It seems very likely that Japanese students switch to China over US, even though China is missed out from data. What it is clear from the data, however, is that even an increase in the number of students choosing Asian countries is not catching up to the drop in the number of students choosing western countries as destination. A drop in the number of students going to the West is not translated into that for students bound to China and other Asian countries. If not, then how are you going to prove it otherwise —that is, a trend to switch to China for study abroad is immune to a constant decline of domestic economy and social capital, or even an increasing political tension over the Senkaku islands stirring up nationalistic sentiments?
I”m scratching my head over this interview with financial analyst turned businessman David Atkinson
But won’t the size of the economy shrink in the future? Some people say that, 100 years from now, Japan’s population will be less than half what it is now — around 49 million.
Atkinson- Well, actually, when you look back on the economic history of mankind, there’s no confirmed decline in GDP anywhere.
I-Even in a country whose population has decreased?
A-That’s right. During the Black Death pandemic in the Middle Ages, the population (in Europe) suffered a huge decline. But afterward, economies for the people who survived improved. Population fluctuations by themselves do not change national assets. In fact, if there are fewer people, the value of assets per person goes up. So Japan’s GDP will not grow from (its present) ¥500 trillion, but compared to times before, everyone is working more efficiently.
I think everyone should be more cool-headed. The Diet-commissioned panel’s report on the Fukushima nuclear accident (released last month) was an extremely cool-headed one, by the way. They called the accident a “man-made” one. That is the first time I’ve seen cool-headed thinking in and about Japan in the last 20-plus years I have lived here.
By comparison, after the bubble burst and share prices plummeted, people said it was a speculative move, a conspiracy, and that foreigners were to blame and Salomon Brothers traders were fueling it. But to say you don’t want to see reports about prices going down is not a real argument; it’s just your emotion.”
So Atkinson doesn”t seem to think there’s a problem with the economy. Can anyone explain to me what he’s talking about? I”m a bit thick.
While I’m glad that a country such as Japan hasn’t become the world power which so many specialists and commentators had predicted, I most definitely wouldn’t like to see China and its current infamous regime rise to the heights which those very same specialists and commentators now foresee. It would be the fulfilment of Orwell’s ominous words in Ninety Eighty-Four:
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever”.
China too is, in many ways, a sand castle.
What all those specialists and spin doctors seem unable to (fore)see is that the nation-state, as we’ve known it, is in tatters — and so is our view of a world order based on massive power and force. The future might have some something different in stock for our children and grandchildren, though.
A world more based on influence (rather than force), and where there is no longer one single dominant power — which might actually be a good thing.
I recommend, in this respect, Mark Selden’s recent article on Japan Focus:
Mark Selden, ‘Economic Nationalism and Regionalism in Contemporary East Asia,’ The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 43, No. 2, October 29, 2012.
Thanks again for your response. But I suggest you check those figures again, as they are inaccurate, and actually contradict what you said above. As you correctly pointed out earlier, the peak was in 2004, at 82,945. The numbers never reached 100,000. There was a drop of about 1000-3500 from 2005 to 2007, and then a larger drop (7000-9000) in the last two years for which we have data (2008-9). My main point though, is that these numbers can’t be used as evidence of decline if, during the 1990s, which was supposed to be Japan’s “lost decade”, they rose significantly. The drop in numbers also started at a time when the economy was relatively buoyant and people overseas were saying things like “Japan is back!” So their relation to “decline” is pretty tenuous.
Also, I think you might be attributing things to me that I never said. I never said that student numbers didn’t decline overall in many countries or that the decrease in students not bound for America is being completely mopped up elsewhere. Of course total numbers are going to drop somewhat with the aging population. This doesn’t mean that somehow Japanese people are less interested in the outside world, as claimed in Harlan’s article. It just means there are fewer Japanese students to go overseas.
Some of the drop in overall domestic students in Japan, by the way, is being taken up by an increase in foreign students coming to Japan. This again doesn’t really fit the narrative of decline and insularity.
Anyway, I would say that concerns about the global economy is the major cause for the steeper drop in overseas Japanese student numbers in the last few years. But this, and the drop in overseas numbers due to the drop in the numbers of Japanese students overall, doesn’t necessarily reflect an “inward view” or closed-mindedness in Japan. What I did say was that the PROPORTION of Japanese students studying in the U.S. has declined greatly relative to drops in other countries, most markedly China, and that this reflects changing attitudes about where the future lies. Japanese student numbers to the U.S. dropped since the peak by an order of 30 percent (Harlan say 50 percent since 2000), as opposed to only 13 percent for China, and the numbers going to Taiwan and Korea actually increased (They’ve increased overall since 2002 for China as well). If the proportion of Japanese students who choose to go overseas increasingly shifts away from the U.S., then this says more about America than it does Japan (although it should be noted that the number of grad students going to the U.S. has greatly increased since 2005).
For personal reasons. Certainly not for the fine cuisine or stunning geography. But it’s irrelevant. A bit like me asking you why you stayed in Japan for so long.
— Not at all. We’re critiquing Japan. You’ve been critiquing me / us for critiquing Japan.
Second link should be this:
@ Man In Holland #15
‘It’s a shame Japan didn’t work out for you. I hope you’re happier in your next endeavor.’
I’m not going to let that pass unchallenged.
It’s a shame, you say? Is it? A shame for me? Why? Should I be embarrassed? Am I some kind of failure because I want to leave Japan? Is it not possible that Japan is less than a great place to live? Does recognizing the truth of Japan’s crushing intolerance and insularity hidden behind the squeeky teenage pop and anime eyes make me an object of shame? Does my inability to believe in the lie of ‘Japan’ make me a loser? Does my unwillingness to be ‘the gaijin clown’ (‘why you speak Japanese? SPEAK ENGRISH!’) at the drop of the hat, for the benefit of some old farts insecurity complex make me a loser? If it does, then that’s a rather strange world view to hold, don’t you agree?
Or perhaps you simply worded you statement carelessly. Perhaps you meant to say, ‘It’s a shame YOU didn’t work out for Japan’, don’t you think?
Japan needs more tax payers, yet I will leave. Shame for who?
My 11 years younger than I J-wife (who is a company president and earns about 12 times my uni salary) will move out of the country with me. Japan needs more tax payers. Shame for who?
My 2 gorgeous girls will come with us and go to high school and university in the west. After that, will they give up a western passport for their Japanese one? Shame for who?
We send our kids to an expensive international school. Won’t be needing to pay them next year. Shame for who?
My wife spends 500 USD on bags every couple of months, and wears 600USD hats. She can go shopping for them in any capital city. Shame for who?
After all those years outside of Japan, will my girls grow up and go back to Japan to marry a total man-child who can’t cook or clean for himself? Seriously, shame for who?
When my two girls don’t go back to Japan, and don’t get married and have J-citizen kids, and grandchildren etc for the rest of time, shame on who?
Who would feel sorry for anyone who decided to leave Japan? Really? I wouldn’t. The only people who would feel that someone who leaves should be felt sorry for, are the kind of people who do all the apologizing. The kind of people who haven’t got anything else. The ‘charisma man’ personality that they have adopted/been forced to adopt whilst in Japan is all they have got! Take away Japan, and they haven’t even got that personality going for them. That’s a real loser. Someone whose whole identity is the ‘gaijin clown’. That’s the kind of person that hears that someone else will leave Japan, and imagines how dreadful it would be if they had to actually leave; ‘It’s a shame!’ they scream with genuine sympathy, and not just a slight hint at smugness as they get to be a ‘winner’ in the competition with other NJ to be the most charismatic ‘charisma man’.
But I’m not like that. I had an identity before I came to Japan, and I will have one after I leave. An identity that includes my Japan experiences, but is not dependent on them. Living in Japan for over a decade was a big experience, but not the only, nor the most important of my life. There is a perfectly ordinary world outside of Japan, and I won’t cry for yesterday.
@Man in Holland, #20
>The numbers never reached 100,000.
My bad. You’re right. It never reached 100,000. I was mixing it up with non-Japanese students studying at Japanese universities. Sorry. Anyway, it is true the number was in a constant increase until the early 2000s while Japan was struggling to bounce back from 1997-8 Asian currency crisis.
>this doesn’t mean that somehow Japanese people are less interested in the outside world, as claimed in Harlan’s article. It just means there are fewer Japanese students to go overseas.
Really? Then, you should do a quick survey by asking Japanese students why they are hesitant to step outside their country after finishing high school. The fact that there are more foreign students studying in Japan than Japanese students studying abroad gives a very profound meaning. It well explains Japanese are choosing to stay in the society of insulated culture by turning their attention away from an international community. This is exactly what the Japanese government is worrying about. Even Japanese educators and government spokesman have warned this tendency several times.
>If the proportion of Japanese students who choose to go overseas increasingly shifts away from the U.S., then this says more about America than it does Japan
The vast majority of students are coming from China, India, and South Korea. Contrary to your assumption, the number of international students coming to the US for higher education keeps increasing every year, despite its economic recession and rising cost of tuitions and living expenses.
Finally, I am troubled by what you say “attributing things” to you. I am not making any insinuation to you at all. You are trying to refute a decline thesis argument by dismissing the statistics provided in the article.
Thanks again for your comments,
>You are trying to refute a decline thesis argument by dismissing the statistics provided in the article.
Well, I’m challenging the interpretation of the statistics in the article. I accept the fact that the number of students going overseas from Japan is declining and that those numbers are not just declining in the United States. But I am making two separate observations:
1) That the decline in numbers does not necessarily mean that Japanese are becoming more inward-looking, because there are other factors that explain this. These factors include a leveling off of student numbers overall the aging population and, later, the effects of the global recession;
2) That there is a marked shift in the proportion of students going to countries other than the United States. This suggests that the Japanese students who do go overseas are being more adventurous, that is, being more outward looking.
You seem to be conflating the two and saying that I am stating that students outbound to new countries are replacing those who used to go to America, that the overall number isn’t decreasing, and therefore that Japan isn’t in decline. That’s not actually what I have been saying at all. What I’m saying is that such statistics are a fairly odd way of measuring “decline,” which is an underdefined concept in the first place.
>Contrary to your assumption, the number of international students coming to the US for higher education keeps increasing every year
Actually, more and more Chinese students come to America year after year. The stats for South Koreans and Indians leveled off after the onset of the global financial crisis. The numbers of student in the States from most industrialized countries have been either level since 2000 or have actually shown net decline in that period.
And in fact, even with the phenomenal increase in inbound Chinese student numbers, the number of overall foreign students in the United States did actually decrease in 2008/09. So not an increase every year. Interesting to note that when the numbers do decline (albeit slightly), the people in charge of interpreting them stress other positive signals, like the fact that more Americans are studying in non-traditional education markets. Kind of like what is happening in Japan.
Thanks for setting me straight. Let me rephrase to show there are no hard feelings: I’m sorry that you didn’t like living in Japan. I had a rather enriching life experience when I lived there and assumed I might stay there forever at the time until love intervened. But I guess people have different experiences. I wish you all the best in your next endeavor and that if you are moving to a country that is not your own, you won’t be too shocked to find that many of the things that you complain about as a foreigner in Japan are problems for foreigners elsewhere too. If you are deeply offended at people speaking English to you and telling you to speak English to you when you are speaking their language, I would advise you not to come here. Same goes if you would be uncomfortable watching your kids each December eagerly await Santa Claus come floating on a barge down a canal accompanied by his black slave (a white man in blackface), or have something against xenophobic political parties represented in the national parliament, or if you would have problems with an immigration bureaucracy that is much more infuriating to deal with than Japan’s, or if you want your daughters to grow up in a country where it is the norm for women to work full time and have a career, or if you like to live in countries that are honest with themselves about their colonial history. I personally can bear all this indignity because I know that most individual Dutch people, like individual Japanese, are not “insular and narrow minded,” that “Holland” is not a “system” out to “get me,” and, like Japan, it is actually quite a pleasant place to live.
@ Jim #22, your comment reminds me in style of some of the Greatest Speeches of the 20th Century (the title of a book), a very good comment well written. I especially like your repetition of “shame for who?”
This part articulates the complete mindf**k Japan is which we struggled through the 80 and 90s to articulate without being labelled whiners.
“”Does recognizing the truth of Japan’s crushing intolerance and insularity hidden behind the squeeky teenage pop and anime eyes make me an object of shame? Does my inability to believe in the lie of ‘Japan’ make me a loser? Does my unwillingness to be ‘the gaijin clown’ (‘why you speak Japanese? SPEAK ENGRISH!’) at the drop of the hat, for the benefit of some old farts insecurity complex make me a loser? ”
Yes, all this has for too long been shoved under the convenient carpet catch-all of “cultural differences”.
Oh and you conclude on a Duran Duran lyric “There is a perfectly ordinary world outside of Japan, and I won’t cry for yesterday.”
Did Debito notice this, I wonder? nice touch.
— You know, I didn’t! Shame on me! What kind of a DD fan am I? 🙂
@Jim Di Griz:
Tell it! Tell it! Testify!
You said it. Especially the part about your girls. The idea of my girl bringing back a spoiled man-child makes my skin crawl. That alone would have been enough to make me move.
You nailed a crucial issue: By driving open-minded and internationally-minded people out of the country, Japan is only going to accelerate its stagnation, backwardness and xenophobia. My guess is that it’s not only international couples leaving these days. Indeed, the cover story of Courier Japon magazine recently was a story with a headline that could be translated as: Can you throw Japan away and enjoy life outside Japan? It was aimed, of course, at Japanese readers.
@Jim Di Griz
You come across as somewhat hysterical. The expression ‘It’s a shame….” has nothing to do with embarrassment, it’s just a polite, almost meaningless way of expressing sympathy with another human being. I’m glad to hear you’re going to be happy in your new life, and wish you all the best. At the same time, it’d be nice if you could recognise that some of us live here because we like it. We’re happy here. No “Charisma Man” nonsense for me.
And as to your ‘Why you speak Japanese? SPEAK ENGRISH!’quotation, I don’t recognise it at all. Never happened to me in twenty-three years.
— It’s happened to me, FWIW.
@ Flyjin #25
Thank you for the complement. Just wrote it as I thought it (spelling errors and all, as usual).
@ Man In Holland #24
Again with the backhanded kindness followed by apologist assumption of some perceived weakness on my part, and a defense of Japan.
Why are you ‘sorry that you (I) didn’t like living in Japan’? You’ve elevated yourself to the status of ‘good gaijin’ who is ‘accepted’ by the Japanese, and therefore able to comment on behalf of all of them. I don’t expect you to ‘be sorry’ on behalf of Japan, and take it from me, they wouldn’t appreciate you doing so on their behalf.
I, like you, ‘had a rather enriching life experience when I lived there and assumed I might stay there forever’ for the first couple of years, which makes me wonder if you lived in Japan long enough to get over your starry-eyed blindness brought on by the forced brain-washing that ‘Japan is unique’, and saw the sad truth behind the paper thin front. After 12 years in Japan, I have seen this country go down-hill, and in doing so care much less about pretending to be a modern and internationalized society. They simply can’t even be bothered to fake that they are not racist anymore.
‘I wish you all the best in your next endeavor’, thanks boss! Does this mean that I’m fired? Superiority complex much?
Then you make the assumption that I won’t move to a country where the native language is the same as my own, or that I can’t speak any other European languages. Why? A bit of a mystery that, unless you have made the assumption that I am addicted to getting my ‘fix’ of ‘charisma man’ attention, and will therefore look for another ‘exotic’ destination. Project much too?
Then there’s the ending, where you slate Holland pretty good too, as if to show that Japan’s bad points are universal. We’ve covered that here on Debito before too; the fact that the apologists are always ready to defend the uniqueness of Japan’s good points, but declare that Japan’s bad points are universal to all countries. It’s strange how that uniqueness only applies to the things that apologists think are good, isn’t it?
Then you finish by making an illogical comparison between Holland and Japan re; insularity and anti-NJ systems. This is a strawman. Holland was liberated by Allied forces and able to return to it’s pre-war democratic state and borders after WW2. Japan on the other hand is a failed imperialist state that was defeated by the Allies and had (a distorted vision of) ‘democracy’ forced upon it for the first time in it’s history which it has passively resisted and actively undermined ever since, whilst covertly and overtly seeing to maintain and resurrect as much of the imperialist era ideology and state apparatus as it could get away with (please read some history, I recommend Gordon’s ‘Post War Japan as History’). Again, since you are self-admittedly not living in Japan at present, I would challenge your ability to judge whether or not the Japanese are ‘insular and narrow minded’.
“But I’m not like that. I had an identity before I came to Japan, and I will have one after I leave. An identity that includes my Japan experiences, but is not dependent on them”
Yeah, I tell Japanese that allot. In other countries I’m (insert real name here), but in Japan Im first a gaijin, then some ‘san or ‘kun if somebody know me. My identity has been raped, twisted into something else Im not. I feel what you said; I have a real identity, not what Japan tries to make me be.
@ Man in Holland
> 1) That the decline in numbers does not necessarily mean that Japanese are becoming more inward-looking, because there are other factors that explain this. These factors include a leveling off of student numbers overall the aging population and, later, the effects of the global recession;
Sure. That’s why I’m saying I don’t know what you see beyond the stats. The articles I linked say more than mere statistics. The devil is in the details, you know.
> 2) That there is a marked shift in the proportion of students going to countries other than the United States. This suggests that the Japanese students who do go overseas are being more adventurous, that is, being more outward looking.
Again, why is there a decrease, by thousands, in the overall number in those years, when you suggest that Japanese students choosing other countries over the US are catching up with those going to America? And, if you call those going to study abroad “outward-looking,” then, how are you gonna call those who decided not to do so?
It seems like you’re trying to refute Japan’s trend of decline thesis in terms of socio-economics, demographics, and education. But the reality is that Japan is indeed in a deep trouble especially since the mid- 2000s: GDP per capita price getting even lower than 2006 & 2007; shrinking young labor forces; K-12 students suffered from bullying/suicides; teachers leaving because of undue stress in school environment; and more young and middle-aged people taking their own lives by bumping into the train or hanging themselves. I don’t care how you describe Japanese people in general, but if you believe they are not much affected by the series of problems occurring in the public out there, you’d better have a second thought.
A political machine engineered by Team J and national media is powerful enough to manufacture consent for a total control of citizens who are vulnerable to national sentiments and feudalistic discipline. They are the reason why so many Japanese people are rendered as “insular and narrow-minded,” just like the mindsets Kasumigaseki elitists and ministry bureaucrats have in general.
On the eerie parallels between bubble-Japan and contemporary China — and on the dangers of rejoicing at China’s rise as a kind of ‘Schadenfreude’ in relation to Japan (I’ve noticed that feeling among some readers here in the past) — it’s worth reading Roger Pulvers’s column on today’s edition of JT, “Beware the parallels between boom-time Japan and present-day China”:
Another must-read, in a fictional register, is Chan Koonchung’s novel The Fat Years, which was of course banned in China (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jul/24/fat-years-chan-koonchung).
When you read things like the following excerpt, which country is being talked about, really?:
‘You know, Little Xi, some people are better at pretending about life, and pretending is a good way to protect their real selves. . . .
Obviously, if you pretend for a long time, then you’re not going to be able to distinguish between what is true and what is fake. . . .
Lu Xun said that some people are nostalgic for a “lost good hell” because there’ll always be a bad hell that’s worse than that lost good hell. That goes without saying. But between a good hell and a counterfeit paradise, which one will people choose? Not matter what you might say, many people will believe that a counterfeit paradise is better than a good hell. They know perfectly well it’s a counterfeit paradise, but they don’t dare expose it. As time goes by, they will even forget that it is a fake paradise. They start arguing in defence of this fake paradise, asserting that it is actually the only paradise. But there’s always a small number of people, even if they are only an extremely small minority, who will choose the good hell no matter how painful it is, because in the good hell at least everyone is fully aware that they are living in hell.’
—Chan Koonchung, The Fat Years, trans. Michael S. Duke (London: Doubleday, 2011), p. 133.
Difficult to tell, no?
On China’s property bubble, I suggest at look at this:
(And I’ve seen much worse near the city where I live.)
They are interesting links and posts. However, I think the news clip you posted drives home just how different China is from Japan.
Already, before the property bubble bursts, people are warning about deep social unrest, polarisation etc. Even in a tightly controlled society, people will complain and give their honest opinions to foreign journalists. Japan has been in the doldrums for decades now. Despite the sanguine posts made by some here about being a pleasant place to live, poverty is a huge problem in Japan. I suggest anyone interested do a search on relative poverty levels, poverty levels among single females and males and have a look at the ruins in Rural areas on sites such as spiked.
Incomes for young poeple are woeful. Like their Chinese counterparts they can”t afford their own places. Unlike their conterparts, they don’t even have the vitality to start a family.
Despite the earthquake, the hollowing out of the middle and working classes, the “restructuring’, the rampant corruption, the lies about radiation, the environmental damage etc, ad infinitum, do you hear anyone warning of social upheaval and unrest in Japan? This is because the populace wouldn”t know where to begin.
To me a perfect example of the level of political and social engagement in Japan is in an article in the JT about an 80 year old “cooking celebrity” doling out advice to her students.
“Japan would be foolish to antagonise China” she warns, “Because they still eat traditional food and we Japanese don’t anymore.”
Where do you start?
@ DeBource #33
“Japan would be foolish to antagonise China” she warns, “Because they still eat traditional food and we Japanese don’t anymore.”
That’s priceless in so many ways!!!
But you raise some interesting points about China’s ‘bubble’, wealth inequalities, and social unrest. Whilst I do not deny these exist by any means, I think that they are often vastly overplayed by the J-media. Throughout the Senkaku backlash recently, every J-media report on Chinese anger at the Japanese ended with a set phrase along the lines of ‘the Chinese government is concerned that these public expressions of anger may become directed at them’ (whilst at the same time claiming that the Chinese government was actually behind all the demos). I think the idea that ‘the Chinese people are angry, and just one step from over-throwing their own leaders due to the (still waiting!) bursting of the Chinese bubble’, is a meme of wishful thinking in Japanese media that acts as a kind of security blanket for J-insecurities about China.
“I think the idea that ‘the Chinese people are angry, and just one step from over-throwing their own leaders due to the (still waiting!) bursting of the Chinese bubble’, is a meme of wishful thinking in Japanese media that acts as a kind of security blanket for J-insecurities about China.”
Sorry to disappoint you “;o), but I’ve been hearing pretty much the same from loads of Chinese people — who have no sympathy whatsoever for Japan — I’ve talked to over the past year or so. It’s been one of the surprises that living in the country has brought me, after all the China hype I’d heard from (mainly) Western journalists and academics: how so many people here seem truly anxious about the current regime’s lack of legitimacy and the mounting social unrest. Every week friends tell me of other friends calling them from Beijing with wild rumours of riots marinating. And I often hear Chinese people foreseeing the collapse of the bubble economy within the next few years, so the observation above may not be that far-fetched.
Just one more small provocation: a video interviewing a Canadian author, Troy Parfitt, who published a book in response to the said hype, titled Why China Will Never Rule the World. When I watched it a while ago, I found myself wondering: how many of the very same criticisms he directs at China — the prevalence of Confucianism, the totalitarian mindset, the “social harmony” myth/rhetoric, the intolerance of criticism, the xenophobia, and so on — wouldn’t also apply to Japan?
Two countries separated by a common mindset?
Well, I leave the question to you.
You could be right. I don’t really know much about China. Still, it strikes me, whatever the scale of its problems, that Chinese are generally much more engaged and have a generally more vital social discourse DESPITE being a one party state/censorship etc. How ironic is that?
Now that you mention it, in the last couple of years the discourse against “the Chinese” has become extremely shrill in Japan. I was actually getting sick of the constant complaining about Chinese and Koreans from my students. (In fairness, there were exceptions).And I was working in Hokkaido, where the governor is begging Chinese to start visting again! What”s it like further south I wonder
@ DK #35
Thanks for the youtube link, very interesting.
@ DK #35 & DeBourca #36
I am not an expert on China. China does have a looming demographic issue, much as Japan has, and does appear to have the makings of a bubble. I am not sure how this will play out due to the Chinese governments ability to take some kind of action (conversely, the J-govt is just in a state of grid-locked denial).
All that I wished to highlight was a perceived Japanese media preoccupation with China’s ‘imminent economic collapse’, and the possibility of a (people’s?) revolution. It’s a kind of spiteful attitude at having fallen to 3rd place in the world economically, and not being ‘top dog’ in Asia. Given that China is (was until Sept) Japan’s biggest trading partner for imports and exports, it seems to be such an immature attitude. Like a child who breaks the toys so that others can’t play. This is exactly the same attitude that drove the Japanese in ’44-’45 (take a look at the actions of the Japanese troops in Manila after MacArthur made a radio announcement that the US had won the battle).
There is simply no way that you lived in Japan for more than a year if this hasn’t happened to you before unless you just don’t interact with Japanese people; even still, you’d have seen it on television by now pretty much half the time any non-tarento foreigner is on.
Denial is second nature to apologists. It’s their go to escape clause anytime the reality of NJ oppression in Japan hits them in the face.
For the record, I have been abused and yelled at for speaking Japanese many times although a more common response is pretending not to “understand” my (fluent) Japanese or ignoring me altogether. I have been harassed on the train and when I politely refused to talk to a drunken salaryman in “Engrish”, I was told not to use Japanese because I was ‘just’ a foreigner who didn’t understand Japan.
I’m curious. I’m trying to envisage who exactly would demand that I speak “Engrish”. Nobody at my department at the university (despite four of my colleagues being totally fluent English speakers), nobody at the bar I’ve visited once or twice a week over the past twenty years, none of my neighbours. A total stranger?
No, I can honestly say it’s never, ever happened once in twenty-three years.
And I’m not saying it hasn’t ever happened to anybody, or that it’s not a problem.
Welp: I’ll weigh in and say I’ve lived in Japan for several years and never heard that phrase, so it doesn’t seem impossible to me that Joe has never heard that phrase in his 27 years in Japan. I’ve interacted more with Japanese than non-Japanese, but I’ve lived in central Tokyo or surrounding suburbs the whole time. Maybe it’s the people where you live, the people you surround yourself with or the aura you exude (in your case, in Joe’s case and in my case), who knows, but our experience is surely no less valid than yours.
— Drawing this thread to a close. It’s too far a tangent from this blog entry, and it’s one of those “not in my experience”/”yes it is” inconclusive discussions.
An astute article (IMHO).
I would say, however, that there are some things that were not quite right:
“The value of Japan is, even when we do something good, we rarely say it,” Hori said.
I have to agree with Baudrillard (#6) here as personal modesty and self-effacement are juxtaposed with national chest beating and a collective pat on the back for any achievement by any Japanese in any field. A jingoistic and heavily biased media never miss an opportunity to toot the Japanese horn and further promote the idea that Japan is (still) leading the world. The truth, however, is becoming harder and harder to veneer.
One point the article raised did get me thinking:
“But today, former Japan optimists see a disturbing trend. Fewer Japanese, they say, want to interact with the rest of the world, and undergraduate enrollment of Japanese students at U.S. universities has fallen more than 50 percent since 2000. The generation now entering Japan’s job market is described by older workers here as risk-averse and unambitious, with security and comfort their top priorities.”
How exactly are the youth of Japan supposed to break the mould and “interact with the rest of the world” when the very system they have to learn, live and work in does not look kindly on anyone who does exactly this? The nail that stands up gets hammered down, remember? The whole mechanics of Japan is based around uniformity and conformity and anybody who “thinks outside the box” will somehow be punished for this. It is easy for the elderly in Japan to point the finger at the young. Yet these “risk-averse and unambitious” young people are the product of a system that dictates they behave that way; the same system that the elderly have helped to create and continue to perpetuate. Now that this system is no longer producing the results it once did it must be the fault of the young (and certainly not this outdated model). As Vogel aptly says:
“What I did not foresee is that the slowdown would be such a challenge — that many of the things that worked so well on the way up . . . would be so difficult on the way down”.
“I was actually getting sick of the constant complaining about Chinese and Koreans from my students.”
I’m curious as to what the complaints are about if you could elaborate? Are they older students? High School? I always assumed it was something isolated on the internet.
All ages. I was told by a high school student straight out that he hated koreans. He was then backed up by the two other students at the table.
The Chinese comments were made by all ages. One occasion that sticks out is a middle aged woman who was complaining that her elderly father wanted to visit China and no-one in the family would go with him, so she had to! This was greeted by a round of understanding from all other students, ranging from middle aged doctors to college students. I was so bemused, I asked why the big problem over getting a free holiday, and I was informed by the ‘spokesman’ of the group (Its amazing how people just slot into roles in Japan) that the Chinese were obnoxious, hated Japanese and didn’t know how to behave (or words to that effect). This was met with mutterings of agreement from all students. When I asked if anyone actually knew a Chinese person, one student said she did. I asked her what this person was like and she said “very nice”. Schizophrenic!
I lived in an area with alot of Chinese tourists and had to put up with constant moaning from Japanese from all walks of life about their (totally innocuous) behaviour.
In fairness, there were some students who studied the Chinese language and spent time there.
@DeBourca I’ve heard similar comments from children, saying things like “I hate China because it bullies Japan” without any understanding of the background or specifics of the issue. I presume they are just repeating things heard at home or seen on TV.