Japan's Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in the 21st Century

Japan's Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in the 21st Century

Japan's Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in the 21st Century

Japan's Quiet Transformation: Social Change and Civil Society in the 21st Century


The 1990s have been termed as `Japan's Lost Decade' to describe how the phenomenal growth in the Japanese economy ground to a halt and the country was subsequently crippled by enormous and ongoing political, economic and social problems. Socially, these unprecedented difficulties have led to high rates of suicide, alcoholism and rising levels of crime particularly among the young. Controversially, this book argues that the Japan that emerges from these manifold problems may, in fact, be stronger than before.


In the opening years of the twenty-first century, Japanese people, organizations, and policy makers are responding to the myriad challenges generated by the Lost Decade of the 1990s in thoughtful, significant, and diverse ways that are making possible sweeping social, economic, and cultural change. This book describes their efforts to lay the foundations for a more robust civil society and assesses the portents of this process. Japan's plunge from the giddying heights of the 1980s asset bubble - at a time when it was ostensibly the world's most successful economy - unleashed a social tsunami, forcing people to question and revise many assumptions and verities that lay at the heart of Japan following World War II.

Japan is widely portrayed by both the media and the academy as a nation adrift, doing too little too late to cope with its enduring economic malaise. Its sclerotic political system, tied to the status quo and mired in structural corruption, is rightly identified as a major obstacle to substantive reforms. While these issues tell important stories about twenty-first-century Japan, they are only part of the story.

I wrote this book because so much of what is happening in contemporary Japan is not accounted for in the relentlessly pessimistic prose and stagnant images that dominate media and academic writing, both domestic and international. The ongoing reinvention of Japan driven by creative responses to its admittedly immense problems reveals a far more dynamic polity. This book examines a variety of developments since the early 1990s that are contributing to this ongoing transformation. While Japan's problems are formidable, mine is a story that highlights substantive transformation rather than dismal prospects. Certainly, there are good reasons for pessimism about Japan's future, some of which I discuss in these pages, but there is also much to be learned from examining how a variety of groups and individuals are responding to adversity and coping with the nation's gathering problems.

The substantial and wide-ranging reforms detailed in the book demonstrate a building momentum in the renovation of Japan. The seeds of change are being planted and nurtured; small changes made in the 1980s are bearing fruit twenty years later. The national information disclosure law passed in 1999 is a prime example. Back in 1982 when the first local freedom of

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