Japan & Globalization: Hubertus Hoffmann reports from Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima
Beautifully open and Japanese minimalist, so is the Kantei, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Japan—a glass structure with natural quarried stones, symbolizing solidity and strength, and resilient green bamboo, symbolizing the challenges of the future.
And those who walk from the bulky parliament building the Diet, built in the 1930s with its dark-brown assembly hall and dated 1930s rooms, experience both sides of Japan: a dust-covered political tradition, an almost stubborn clinging to the old as well as a mistrust of all things new arriving from outside, and the modern.
Japan loves and celebrates its centuries-old traditions: such as Geishas in their white makeup, sumo wrestlers, swordfighters or Aikido masters, Shinto and Buddhist temples and gardens. The nation derives identity and stability from all of these.
But Japan also worships modern, precision technology such as the high-speed Shinkansen train which purrs along from Tokyo to Osaka at 270 km/h, carrying 300,000 passengers daily with a new train each 20 minutes. Throughout its 40 years of commercial operation, the Tokyo Shinkansen has maintained a flawless record of no passenger fatalities or injuries due to train accidents.
The land of smiles finds itself in a confounding, long-lasting crisis of self-discovery, which has its causes in the bonds of tradition which have turned away the new and the foreign.
Japan has not sufficiently prepared itself mentally for globalization and the rise of China, India, Korea and other Asian tiger economies. The Chinese are able to “think around the corner”, and are known for their flexibility and affinity for new ideas—not so, however, with the stubborn Japanese. China absorbs know-how where ever it can be found—and Japan? There, even the elite speaks little or no understandable English because the State educational system resists cultural opening, persisting in its own maintenance of tradition.
Now, the balance of power seems to be shifting: it is no longer to the Japanese who dictate power and economics in Asia, as was the case the previous 100 years, but rather it is the rising power of China and the prospering boarder nations such as South Korea or Malaysia. Japan is no longer militarily significant, instead China is now. Rather than Japan, it is China who is growing economically. Japan is no longer the motor of Asia, but rather China and India are. China is gaining power, influence and economic dynamics—Japan is losing. And this mega-trend is only just beginning.
A visit to the Sony headquarters in Tokyo reveals the enormous business vision of its founder Akio Morita. However, Sony and the consumer electronics industry of Japan—bursting with power in the 1970s and 1980s, and the world market leader, e.g., with the Walkman or PlayStation—have for years surrendered technological leadership to innovative firms such as Apple (iPod and now the iPhone), Microsoft and Nokia. The corporation has even been in the red for three years. Sony has become analogous in the digital age for a company that has forgotten the importance of innovative software as a link between hardware and content.
Many Japanese businesses are suffering under a tradition-bound Japanese culture of “consensus at any price” from top to bottom. They are organized centrally like spiders rather than decentralized like starfish—too slow in the rapid machinery of today’s globalization (see the new book of the member of the WSN International Advisory Board Rod Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider)
The deeds of the past weigh down like a blanket of lead upon the land. Nationalism covers the land.
In contrast to Germany, Japan has yet to fundamentally process and come to terms with its past—its role as an imperialistic power in Asia. In the 1930s, Japan conquered Korea and Manchuria, which were administered by a puppet government under the command of Tokyo. The elite in China were to be eliminated in a genocide by the, at that time, Asian master race.
Defiantly, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine, in which class A war criminals (not mere foot soldiers) are honored. His successor Shinzo Abe and the newly elected Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda have consistently distanced themselves from such symbolic acts which are so important in Japan, and rightly so.
The majority of Korean women forced into prostitution in Japanese military bordellos during WW II have still not been recognized as victims or given compensation—such as, for example, through the $10 billion fund for the compensation of forced laborers paid in half by Germany industry and in half from the German government—rather, they continue to be discriminated against as “comfort women”.
Japanese school books continue to minimize the racist and imperialistic conquests of the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s, and thereby perpetuate the mechanism of suppression.
At the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, Japan continues to present itself as the victim rather than the perpetrator. It is immensely important and commendable that the history of the first usage of atomic weapons on August 6, 1945, and the suffering of the population is presented there. However, the events leading up to that, namely Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the abuse of U.S. prisoners of war in violation of all human rights, the inhuman propaganda of high Japanese military officers to hold the line, the conquests in China and Korea motivated by racism, and the inability of the Tenno to restrain his nation from this insanity are all swept under the table and simply suppressed.
The dead of Hiroshima were also victims of the nation’s own inhuman military policies and the inability of the Tenno to assume responsibility and political leadership.
On one plaque it is written that the Americans dropped the atomic bomb "in order to demonstrate their power to the Soviets, in order to restrain them, and to not leave $2 billion in development costs unused".
In fact, the U.S. General of the Army Douglas McArthur, after the bitter resistance in Okinawa and Iwo Jima in which many more Americans had fallen than expected, had calculated with over 300,000 American casualties in the conquest of the lowlands of Tokyo alone.
Neither the Japanese High Command nor the Tenno surrendered on time in a war that had clearly long been lost. Rather, they embarked on an un-winnable, hari-kari-like struggle of collective suicide of the entire nation—stubbornness to the bitter end.
Thankfully, the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims is more advanced in its coming to terms with the past and describes the “responsibility of the national government”; however, it avoids any critique of the Japanese military strategy and the Tenno
Japan’s new Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda faces significant challenges with his back against the water as the Japanese say. His Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has governed since 1955, lost control of the Upper House for the first time to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)—this was the primary reason Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to step down in September.
His 71-year-old successor Fukuda is solid as a rock but lacks all charisma and vision. “I’d like to revive the LDP and regain the public trust,” was one of his first statements. He stands for minimal change—but is this sufficient with regard to the Chinese challenge, public opinion polls and threats from North Korea? He will have to reduce Japan’s massive debt with a debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio of 170 percent, increase productivity, and fix a scandal-ridden pension system with millions of mishandled accounts.
The new Prime Minister is defending a LDP one-party rule against the opposition of the Democratic Party. A decade-long recession only ended in 2002. But since then, consumer spending has not gone up nor have real wages increased in a decade. Most probably, the new Prime Minister will start a race-to-spend to please voters just like after the LDP’s nine-month loss of power in 1993, when debt financed cement-and-asphalt fuelled the economy again. The need for deregulations and reforms have been seen for decades but never implemented. Will this style continue?
Fukuda has been around for a very long time and was the longest serving chief Cabinet secretary in history. Fifteen out of 17 ministers were reappointed from the previous administration. The party apparatus must reconnect with its voter base which is primarily in the province. This, however, runs contrary to the necessary stimulation of mid-sized businesses. Even the VAT must probably be increased.
Fewer and fewer wage earners must pay for an ever increasing number of older retirees. In 40 years, the population of Japan will have decreased from 128 million currently to 100 million.
Economic development will be stimulated above all from exports to China. Eighty percent of the largest Japanese companies already produce in mainland China. When the Chinese cough, Japan becomes ill.
Most Japanese view North Korea, armed with its nuclear bombs and rockets as well as its unpredictability which permits millions of its own population to starve, as their main concern. A revolutionary order challenges the legitimate order in Asia. Due to its civilian nuclear program, Japan would theoretically be capable of putting together an atomic bomb within three months, in case North Korea actually builds several nuclear devices and thereby threatens its vulnerable neighbor. In this case, a national rolling consensus would likely topple the constitutionally mandated military restrain in existence since WW II and force the country into nuclear deterrence. Regarding the question of North Korea, Tokyo aligns itself closely with its protecting power in Washington. A North Korea armed with nuclear weapons would force Taiwan and South Korea into a nuclear build up within a few months —a nightmare for Beijing, which explains why China has now forced North Korea to change course.
A “renegade Chinese province Taiwan”—as perceived by mainland China— armed with nuclear weapons would be a status belli for most politicians in Beijing.
The ability of China to wage war steadily increases, and at the same time the traditional American superiority is melting away. New Russian Sukhoi SU-27 Flankers and SU-30 airplanes—and since January Chinese J-10 state-of-the-art fighters—are filling the skies. China has also improved its ballistic missile defense and air defense making it impossible for the Japan-based F-15s and F-16s to penetrate. Only the few new F-22s have that capability, and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter which are, however, not yet combat ready. The Supreme Commander of the 50,000 U.S. troops in Japan, Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright, recently revealed that the too few and too old airplanes of the U.S. Air Force in Japan can no longer securely enter into Chinese air space. Never before were the airplanes of the U.S. Air Force so old as they are today. The average age of the F-15 fighters is 24 years, while the KC-135 Stratotanker is already 46 years old.
The Japanese continue to waver when it comes to the question of taking on military responsibility. The Parliament has until November 1 to decide if it will continue to allow the Japanese Navy to refuel American ships supporting military operation in Afghanistan. The governing LDP is in favor, the opposition DPJ, mainly for tactical reasons, is against it arguing that the mission infringes the constitution.
The balancing act between postwar pacifism and traditional nationalism, combined with the rise of Beijing at their backs prevents the land of smiles from coming to peace. From its striving for power in the past, to its shunning of power in the postwar period, Japan will have no other choice than to become stronger militarily and more active in foreign affairs. Without a coming to terms with the sins of the past, it will never achieve this future.