The future could be brighter
TIT FIRST The general elections of the Reiwa era went well. Voters crowded into voting booths, voted and gave the LDP a victory, as they’ve done almost twice since the party was founded in 1955. In a sense, it’s a story of stability, despite frustration with the pandemic and concern for the future. Yet in an election with little competition, it is not clear what the voters chose.
In the past, competition came from factions within the LDPSays Gerald Curtis of Columbia University, â€œThere was a lot of corruption and monetary policy, but there was real dynamism. But the influence of factions has diminished. The opposition offered competition for a while, even seizing power from 2009 to 2012. But after the catastrophe that awaited it, it became like the akiya that dot the Japanese countryside: no price is low enough to attract voters. The market for ideas in Japanese politics has collapsed.
Without threat of losing power, any party in power becomes irresponsible. Demographic change is exacerbating things: around 20% of local elected representatives are elected without competition. The result is a government that in many ways does not look or think like its people. Less than 10% of new Diet members are women; only three of the 21 cabinet ministers are. Only two are under 50 years old. Dynastic politicians still dominate.
Society is changing faster than established powers. Japan is in the midst of a quiet transformation, says Hosoya Yuichi, political scientist: â€œThere is a new wind, but within an old-fashioned structure. On social issues, from gay rights to family law, the LDP is out of step. Many voters feel they cannot change the system, which pushes some in business or civil society, not in politics. â€œPeople are kind of abandoning the country,â€ says Mr. Yanagisawa of Gojome. “Maybe it’s not our problem to think of the country, maybe we should just think of the community.”
The lack of competition provides little incentive for political leaders to take risks. Politicians often bemoan the lack of “animal spirits” in Japanese affairs. But the Diet could use it too. Local leaders, especially in aging regions, feel more urgency. â€œWe cannot rely solely on old models or past experiences,â€ said Mr. Satake, Governor of Akita.
Mr. Kishida, the new Prime Minister, praises a “new model of capitalism”. But so far it looks like the old one. He also likes to boast of his ability to listen, of undoubtedly admirable quality. What Japan really needs are visionary leaders. Whether Mr. Kishida and his successors can demonstrate this will determine whether it emerges from the Reiwa era as a model or an uplifting narrative.
They should keep three risks in mind. One concerns external shocks, such as natural hazards and unpleasant neighbors. A second is internal: Today’s slight frustration could turn into something worse. Japan has largely avoided populism and polarization. But nothing protects it from internal divisions. Only 60 years ago the Japanese fought in the streets over the security treaty with America. And then there is the risk of aimless drift. Polls show that around two-thirds of those polled believe their life will be “similar” in the future (9% think it will get better, 27% think it will get worse). Complacency could still deprive the country of a better future.
The world, in turn, would be wise to pay more attention. Previously, Japan received attention primarily as a threat, first in military terms, then in economic terms. Since his “lost decades”, he is no longer in the headlines. It is now generating global interest primarily as a cultural dynamo, travel destination, or source of ‘weirdness’ stories. But supposedly unique Japanese phenomena are used to appearing elsewhere. An excessive focus on Japanese mystique obscures how the country is changing and how political choices shape it.
It is time to withdraw the narrative of a stagnant and isolated country in terminal decline. Japan is at the heart of the geopolitics of this century; its international role belies outdated stereotypes. Great disasters forced the country to change; as a result, it has become more resilient to natural hazards than most. It doesn’t have answers to all the challenges of demographic change or secular stagnation, but it has so far done better on the frontlines than is often thought.
Japan should be seen as a laboratory for studying common challenges. The world has the opportunity to learn from its successes and failures. It would be better if he assimilated the outside world more. The lessons of the Reiwa era will be different from those of Showa or Heisei, but they will be no less valuable. Japan is no longer number one, but the world still has a lot to learn. â–
This article appeared in the Dossier section of the paper edition under the title “The Future”