Hope for Japan's Henjin

By Richter, Stephan | Chief Executive (U.S.), October 2001 | Go to article overview

Hope for Japan's Henjin


Richter, Stephan, Chief Executive (U.S.)


When will Japan surpass the United States in financial power? That question was bandied about a little more than ten years ago when Mitsubishi Estate Co. purchased Rockefeller Center and other Japanese investors snapped up Pebble Beach, Columbia Pictures, and other American crown jewels. In the late 1980s, Japan-and its successful mix of capitalism and socialism-was regarded by many as a successor to the U.S. as global economic leader.

Today the question should be: If the Japanese economy continues its downward spiral, when will Turkey surpass Japan in power?

Never, if Japan's locally known "Henjin," or wildly popular and eccentric Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, manages to recharge his nation's economy and break up its system of political patronage. After all, Japan is the world's third largest economy, and an important engine behind world markets. It is an anchor of political stability in Asia. Japanese industrial quality is recognized the world over.

But the country fails to live up to its potential. When explaining their problems, the Japanese like to compare Japan to Italy. The political process needs to be cleaned up, just as it was in Italy, locals offer.

Actually, Turkey makes a better comparison. Consider key characteristics of Japan. It is an ancient Eastern culture, and former military powerhouse. It adopted Western economic and political ideas under foreign pressure. Financially troubled banks and a sclerotic political system have halted its growth.

At first glance, Turkey and Japan couldn't be more different. Japan's per capita GDP nears $26,000; Turkey's is $6,300. Japan swamps the world in manufactured goods, exporting some $455 billion worth yearly20 times more than Turkey. With a savings rate of about 30 percent, Japan is the world's largest supplier of capital. Turkey is a chronic borrower.

However, both countries were warrior nations that made peace with the West and embraced democracy relatively late. Modern Turkey dates from 1923, when soldier-turned-political reformer Ataturk established the present republic. Japan's current economic and political systems date back to its defeat in World War II when the U.S. forced it to change its ways.

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