25 March 2014
I Love Japan

Japan is my favorite Asian nation

"Japan is my favorite Asian nation", writes James Pereyra from Tokyo's Sophia University, "but there is still much work to do for the country to realize its full potential".

"Japan is my favorite Asian nation", writes James Pereyra from Tokyo's Sophia University, "but there is still much work to do for the country to realize its full potential". Here is James' essay.

Japan is my favorite Asian nation. I love the people, the sights, the culture, the food, the technology, and the services available. It is also one of the most advanced nations in Asia. As an American, I enjoy how clean and safe the streets are. Some of the infrastructure found in Japan is eye candy, cleaner and much more modern than what is usually found in America. The festivals in Japan happen more often and are much more orderly than in America.

Overall, Japan is a great nation. Despite all of that, there is still much work to do for the country to realize its full potential.

Many first world nations tend to have mostly resolved equality issues regarding gender, race, and age. Japan has not advanced far on these issues. Japan’s rate of innovation is not helping the country either. Due to a little trap they got themselves in, it is very difficult to light the spark of innovation. Japan’s schools are great at teaching the children facts and close-ended questions. What about any open-ended questions? Is there any philosophy? Are kids encouraged to speak their own mind? Such shortcomings in the education system hinder the development of leadership and innovation.

What is Japan doing about the environment and becoming more sustainable? Japan isn’t necessarily emitting as much carbon dioxide as other nations such as China. However there is much work that can be done. Solar and wind power are just asking to be harvested from a technologically advanced nation like Japan -- as is geothermal energy. Japan, famous for its onsen, the hot baths heated by geothermal energy, only uses geothermal for about one percent for all of its energy needs. How shocking to see such wasted potential! Other prosperous nations such as Iceland take advantage of geothermal energy to obtain the power they require.

Lastly, Japan does not get along with all of its Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea. The hatred runs deep in many people from these three nations. Asians must learn to live in peace with one another before widely desired goals such as prosperity can be fully achieved.

Under very fortunate conditions, it is possible to see Japan resolve many of its concerns and become a model for other Asian countries. The Japanese are finally learning what it means to protest, and to try to have a voice. They need to, because while globalization is advancing, Japan is still quite slow on the road to progress. Playing catch-up with the United States, Great Britain, Sweden, and much of the western world isn’t an enviable position for Japanese people to be in.

It seems that all the Japanese need is a boost to start a snowball effect, with an ever-increasing momentum. That initial spark, that catalyst has yet to emerge. No one truly knows what it may be exactly be, despite much speculation. Nevertheless, Japan is still far away from reaching its full potential.

Let us begin with inequality. What do other first-world nations have that Japan doesn’t? The United States, France, Great Britain, Sweden and Luxembourg have more gender and age equality. Japan is run by men and by the old. Old men call all the shots in Japan. The youth are expected to listen. The lack of equal treatment for women is notorious. Women have difficulty in obtaining high ranking jobs. Young people hardly ever have a say in Japanese society. Sadly, not enough is being done to help the youth gain some kind of influence.

What's more, the youth themselves aren’t taking advantage of their bountiful energy and tackling causes they feel strongly about. During class, it was mentioned that many young people take an anti-nuclear stance in the nuclear energy debates. And yet, so many of these young people don’t even participate in the protests that usually occur every week. Many job opportunities are also not given to the young, but rather to older men. This is distressing, knowing that there may be some young individuals who have the same potential as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, and who are denied employment over someone who may be less qualified to hold the position but obtains it anyway, because they are older.

When Japan was attempting to develop rapidly as a nation many years ago, it did not completely open its markets to the world. Some of its bigger domestic companies such as Toyota would have been crushed by foreign competition from American and European corporations, ruining the chances that Japan could have powerful, giant corporations they can call their own. To realize this dream, Japan protected and tended to these corporations until they were big and strong themselves.

When the Japanese believed that their corporations grew big enough wings, they opened their markets and let their corporations fly with the rest. The overall results have been successful so far. Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba are world-known brands. Car companies such as Nissan and Honda have been successful globally, and Toyota is more successful at making profits than any other car company. Toyota is still widely successful, but Japan’s electronic industry has been suffering until recently.

Until earlier this year, Panasonic and Sony had reported losses for several quarters. Severe competition from other prominent corporations such as South Korea’s Samsung and America’s Apple has really been applying pressure. Samsung and Apple are some of the most progressive corporations in the industry.

Some critics blame the iron triangle that was forged during the time the Japanese government was nursing big business. Politicians, bureaucrats, and businessmen got to know each other very well. Retired bureaucrats were able to get positions in big business easily. Politicians were given money from big business to cater their constituents and run their own political campaigns. In return, many businesses could get away with heavy lobbying and politicians assisted to help them achieve privileged and favored treatment. The government would also provide cheap financing to influential corporations so they may not fail.

This “developmental state” was very successful, but it must be phased out now. Politicians also cut deals with other businessman and bureaucrats to disregard illegal behavior. This of course makes it very hard for small businesses to climb up the ladder, when big business is already more than just best friends with government. It is even harder for younger people to acquire a job when all higher-ups are mainly helping themselves out.

When a corporation is about to go bankrupt or is doing very poorly, the Japanese government often steps in and saves them from collapse. In a free market this should not happen. A corporation that deserves to fail should fail, to make room for others to grow. Keeping a corporation on life support can be detrimental to others. It is difficult to compete with something that is backed up by the government. This also inhibits innovation, taking away the need for favored companies to reinvent themselves or to provide better products and services, while making harder for smaller businesses that may do the opposite.

Younger people and women also get punished by this system. Without a position to call their own, the loss of future intellectual potential could be gigantic. Some of America’s most successful people started from the bottom. In Japan, those who start from the bottom or from entry-level jobs almost never make it to the top.

This issue has to be addressed quickly, since many senior citizens aren’t going away anytime soon. Japan has the longest average life-span in the world. Also, the ratio between the young, working class and the retired elderly is headed towards a negative path. With a low birth rate, many of Japan’s citizens are seniors. It isn’t really advantageous to have more than a quarter of the nation’s population wanting to be catered to.

However, the changes needed may only come gradually, unfortunately. Thanks to the weaker yen, many corporations like Sony and Panasonic posted surges in profits for the second quarter. This may provide less incentive to change. Japan needs someone from the inside to come forth, championing equality or for the youth to follow the example of the Arab Spring and rise.

How can the youth ever possibly rise and question the status quo when they are subjugated to the education system that only asks them to regurgitate answers and nothing more? My fears became true when I heard some of my classmates of Asian descent agree that many students in Asia are taught to give only straight-forward answers, not answers of perception. Perhaps schools in Asia only want their students to study mathematics, science, or to properly recite phrases in English. This is just as if the countries themselves (including Japan) are asking for no innovation. Children are the future. If they are not taught how to perceive or how to speak one’s mind, the current educational system will have an arduous time developing and expanding creative minds.

There is no cookie-cutter formula to spawn creativity. The only real environment for children and adolescents to experiment with their creativity is an open, loose setting where they can draw, play, question, and reply freely, with teachers proactively engaging each student. Some countries such as America require such classes in some of their schools. America may not have the highest test scores in the world, but America is one of the most innovative countries in the world. The most innovative in Asia is Singapore, which is still far away from being considered very innovative.

To have an Asian century, an Asian renaissance would be most helpful. Japan must reconsider how its education systems function to ensure that the next Bill Gates hails from Japan. Having no regard for the youth is the equivalent of throwing away possible solutions for Japan’s current economic dilemmas or solutions for renewable energy and sustainability. Abenomics has in some aspects ameliorated the country’s situation, but Japan is still swimming in debt. Also, only three percent of all energy from Japan comes from alternative energy, with only one percent coming from geothermal. The solutions that Mr. Abe is looking so hard to find could be found inside of the mind of a junior high school student that passes his office building, looking forward to arriving at school on time.

When comparing Asia to Europe, Europe may not be growing as fast as Asia (most of Europe is already highly developed), but most if not all European countries get along with each other and are progressive towards alternative energy. Europe lived through conflict for hundreds of years, just like Asia. Finally, most of the major European nations are now at peace with one another. Asian countries (especially Japan) must strive to build peace with one another.

China, Japan, and Korea have a history of conflict. Japan’s most recent aggression towards China and Korea is still remembered by many Chinese and Koreans. The Japanese government’s attempts at covering the imperial army’s atrocities in its history books further angered the other two countries. China’s current conflict with Japan is the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands while South Korea has never really forgiven Japan for its invasion and forcing Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II. As the most recent aggressor, it would be logical that Japan be the first country to push towards peace and take the initiative toward peace talks. Perhaps a happy ending can be finally found among the three nations one day. It may take years, but there is no better time to start than the present.

So what can Japan do to be more successful than ever? First and foremost, Japanese employers must fairly include all possible employees, regardless of age or gender. With real talent and the other half of the Japanese’s population getting a fair chance at employment, only growth and innovation can be expected. The Japanese government must also provide the breeding grounds for creative minds for Japanese students. An empowered Japanese youth could significantly change the future of the country for the better.

The Japanese version of Steve Jobs could help Japan surge faster in development. The next great mind can provide feasible solutions to its current environmental and energy problems. Japan has to invest its citizens of the future and the energy of the future. Corporations should be allowed to fail, allowing those who are truly efficient and productive to emerge successful. Japan’s economic growth must be driven by innovation. Japan must try to take the initiative to commence the peace talks with South Korea and China, not when China and South Korea feel like it. They both see Japan as the aggressor, so neither will want to voluntarily speak with Japan first. Mr. Abe has always stated they are always open to talks to China. If this is true, then Japan should be the ones to approach them for peace and ask for reconciliation.

With the Japanese discovering what it means to protest as more speak out against nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and when the Japanese government is becoming aggressive with its economic policies, this can only mean one thing: The Japanese are on edge, craving change. It seems like all what Japan needs is one small push, perhaps an increase in foreign direct investment, since Japan receives so little of it, compared to other nations that really attract many foreign corporations like China. Japan can receive that investment when its economy manages to take off through innovation. Perhaps it will be the youth that will rise and help bring forth change. Maybe women may stand together and demand equality someday. It could be the government that shakes things up, with its current risky economic policy that becomes successful.

There are many factors, but only one thing remains certain. The Japanese must not wait for some hero or some leader to come out of nowhere. North America and Europe have thousands of people protesting every year. Japan’s population must not be afraid to speak, despite peer pressures at home or at work. They must be the change themselves. They must break the silence instilled by the current order, for a more prosperous and enriching future.
Tags: japan, economy, gender, youth, aging society, education, innovation

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