Japan's Sunny Uplands

By Lamont-Brown, Raymond | Contemporary Review, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Japan's Sunny Uplands


Lamont-Brown, Raymond, Contemporary Review


FROM the windows of Japan's mainstream hotels a result of the country's recent downswing in economic and politico-social strengths can clearly be seen. Japan's taxis have long had a role to play in divining the state of the nation's well-being. Today's gloom is reflected in the long queues of vacant taxis waiting for fares in an economy that is seeing unprecedented examples of Japanese friability.

The old ways of stimulating Japan Inc. have failed. Once the well-tried and tested formula of flooding a problem with cash through rigidly apportioned subsidies for construction tied in with vested interests, like agriculture, would have done the trick. Now an amalgam of insufficient and tardy tax cuts, the cutting back of staff in financial institutions, the drying oases of credits, the stranglehold of bad loans, have driven the small and medium-sized Japanese businesses, once the backbone of the country, into bankruptcy. Again the once formidable internationally famed high-technology manufacturers are groggy from sudden, and unexpected, downturns in world trade and domestic markets spreading alarm through Japanese society.

All this has had a curious effect on Japan as seen by 'old Japan hands' from the West. Commentators report the escalation of weird crimes in the world's most crime-free society: suicides amongst managerial staff, newspaper reports on captains of industry who now are perceived as having feet of clay; and as to politicians, the concept of an honest political legislator is a running joke in Japan. Fear of unemployment, worries about pensions, savings and the future in general have caused the once rock-solid Japanese society to unravel. Yet Japan has every reason to look for measures that will lead to the sunny uplands provided by an economically strong country content with itself.

Japan has considerable economic, military and political potential wherein lie the routes which lead to these sunny uplands. Yet there is a developing uncertainty as to which aspects of these strengths will lead to power and influence in the world in the next century. To begin to reach the sunny uplands contemporary society needs to solve one basic problem: the Japanese have to decide what they want to be as a nation. Two main choices present themselves. Are they to be a country large enough in financial potential and spirit to be of international hegemony? Or are they to aim at being a motivated small country significant on the world stage but modest in international influence?

In seeking international hegemony Japan has already come dreadfully unstuck. When Koshaku (Prince) Tomoni Iwakura led his fact-finding mission to Europe (and the United States) as Gaimu-daijin (Minister of Foreign Affairs) in the latter part of 1871, soon after the Meiji Restoration of 1867 had yanked Japan from her feudal torpor into the modem world, he and his vice-envoys were impressed by the unification of Germany and the spirit of being an international leader. The adoption of the Prussian way of government (as a model of the Meiji Constitution of 1889) opened the door for rampant militarism to develop and the resultant World War II consequences.

Japan's encouragement to be a non-military leader, through her economic and financial achievements of the 1960s, has left her confused in a hostile economic world. Neutrality and pacifism have been fine for Japan as long as her umbilical cord to the markets of the US dollar and elsewhere has not been knotted. But these outlets for nourishment are drying up. History has been kindest to Japan when she has not tried to be Dai Nippon Teikoku (Empire of Great Japan), so the decision to be a 'small Nihon Koku' (State of Japan), would seem to be most likely to be in the best interests of the nation. Certainly Japan seems to be happiest in herself when public opinion takes comfort in being a small country. Logically it would seem that therein lies step one in reaching sunny uplands. …

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