THERE HAS BEEN MORE bad news recently on Abenomics: inflation targets are not being met, growth remains anemic, business confidence is low and national morale is poor (made worse, no doubt, by recent earthquakes). Abenomics, however, was never likely to be the solution, mainly because the problems it proposed to address are the symptoms rather than the causes of Japan’s malaise.
I first came to Japan in 1950 and have returned regularly in the ensuing decades. It is difficult for those who were not there to imagine what a dynamic place Japan was during the 1960s. Japanese, at virtually all levels, were outward looking, internationally curious and eager to learn. As a Frenchman I remember how eager ordinary Japanese students were to discuss Camus, Sartre, Proust and Gide, while taxi drivers, upon asking me for my nationality, would melodiously intone the Japanese versions of French songs such as “Sous les toits de Paris” and “Les Feuilles mortes” until we got to our destination. One such destination was a sushi bar where the chef lectured me on the foreign policy of Charles de Gaulle (and how Japan should learn from him).
我在1950年第一次去日本，之后几十年里常常来回那里。对于没有去过日本的人来说，很难想象日本在1960年代的时候是个多么生机勃勃的地方。实际上不管哪个阶层的日本人，都很外向、具有国际性的好奇心，渴望学习。作为一个法国人，我记得普通的日本学生是多么渴望讨论加缪, 萨特, 普鲁斯特和纪德，而出租车司机，询问了我的国籍之后，会唱起日语版的法国歌曲比如“巴黎屋檐下”和“秋叶”，直唱到我们到达目的地。我去过一家寿司吧，厨师对我大讲戴高乐的外交政策（以及日本应该如何向他学习）。
Mass production of consumer electronics: symbol of Japanese economic miracle
The 1970s were a bit more challenging as Japan was hit by the so-called oil shock, following OPEC’s steep rise, accompanied by the “Nixon shock” when the then president took the dollar off the gold standard, resulting, among other things, in the massive appreciation of the yen. Prognostics for Japan were grim. But it turned out to be in many ways Japan’s finest hour: Government and the public undertook dynamic adjustments. Consumption of energy plummeted, and production boomed as energy-saving measures were introduced and Japanese industry gained competitive advantages in miniaturization.
When the Japanese economy seemed to collapse in 1991, I wrote an article that began by quoting Mark Twain: “News of my death is much exaggerated.” My view was that Japan would bounce back as it always had in the past. Some two-and-a-half lost decades later it is clear that I was dead wrong. As a Japanese friend subsequently explained, Japan had reacted against the earlier external challenges it had faced–total defeat in World War II, the oil and Nixon shocks–but the crisis of the 1990s arose from internal decay and rigidity.
It is true that the sociocultural atmosphere had considerably changed in the 1980s. This was when the “Japan as No. 1″ syndrome emerged. As the U.S. was economically struggling it was looked upon with scorn, in fact contempt, as was vividly illustrated by the publication of the hubristic book The Japan That Can Say No, coauthored by Sony cofounder and chairman Akio Morita and leading political figure Shintaro Ishihara, who was also known for staunchly denying that the 1937 Nanjing massacre had occurred.
Height of Hubris: The Japan That Can Say NO
In contrast to the open and dynamic spirit of the Sixties, in the Eighties there was a whiff of nationalistic arrogance, while in the Nineties an autistic introversion took over. In the latter part of the 19th century, Japan was the only non-Western country to have successfully industrialized, modernized and joined the ranks of the great powers. In stark contrast, Japan has failed to adjust to 21st-century globalization.
Numerous indicators illustrate this. Let me focus on two: the English language and the rise of China. It is clear that English will remain for some decades to come the global language. Japanese score among the worst in Test of English as a Foreign Language results, second to last in Asia, just ahead of North Korea. The number of Japanese students going to study abroad is decreasing, while those from virtually all other Asian countries are increasing significantly. Japanese youth are becoming more, not less, insular.
From the late 19th century until very recently, Japan was the No. 1 power in Asia, having, among other things, beaten the living hell out of China militarily and economically. As I can testify from my stay in Tokyo in the 1980s, Japanese elites, whether in business, politics, media or academe, just did not see the resurgence of China coming.
Decades later, it is clear that Japan has failed to adjust to the fact that China is well on its way to becoming one of the leading global powers, second only to the U.S. What we are witnessing today is “globalization with Chinese characteristics.” One example: Japan, apart from the U.S. and Canada, is the only country to have refused to be a founder member of the Beijing-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. In the face of the China challenge, Japanese policy makers are running around like headless chickens.
Japan will be reinvigorated if and when it regains its outward-looking spirit. Abenomics alone is no more than tinkering at the fringes.
“apanese policy makers are running around like headless chickens” n Fascist Abe hijacked Japan
Anyone who would associate Abe with “fascism” clearly has read nothing about fascism in Europe. I don’t like Abe and as a Japanese citizen I do not vote for the LDP. Nonetheless, I find the association of Abe with “fascism” highly offensive. It suggest contempt for Japan and the Japanese.
If Abe is “fascist,” than so are most Republican political figures and not a few Democrats. In European terms, Abe is center right. In much of the US, particularly the south and south west, Abe would be a left-winger.