Japan Update

Is America's Political Class in Denial about the Lessons from Brexit?

I recently gave a short presentation on Brexit at the Japan Strategic Management Society in Tokyo. The main theme was the anticipated effects on Japan and Japanese business, but as we examined the reasons for the Leave vote in Britain, it was impossible to avoid making links with the rise of Donald Trump in the USA. I will come to these later, but first I would like to recap on some key take-aways from the Brexit result. These are not a new insights: it is clear that the disaffection and feeling of alienation from the rest of the nation and from the political class expressed by a large section of the […]

Reactions to reactions to reactions to the flu

The sequence of events has been interesting. First, people fall ill and die in Mexico. The government closes down significant parts of Mexico City. The WHO issues a level 4 pandemic threat alert. Japanese newspapers report the threat. The WHO raises the pandemic threat alert to level 5. Japanese media report the increased threat alert level and run articles on the reactions to the threat around the world. Japanese media are vilified by the Japanese government and public for over-reacting and exaggerating the threat level. Following mass travel to infected areas by the Japanese public during the Golden Week holidays, permitted by the Japanese government, the disease starts to spread in […]

Osaka Coffee Shop Conversation

Over a year since the last post. We continue to live up to our title. It’s a good thing no-one relies on Tsurezuregusa for up-to-the-minute commentary. Amid the debate on television and in the press about how Japan needs to change, I popped into a coffee shop near my house, owner-managed and full of people living locally. An older gentleman sitting at the counter engaged me in conversation in typical outgoing, Osaka fashion. For about half an hour we discussed his views on how Japan was changing and I think they are worth sharing. As an ex-teacher you might expect him to have been worried by the large number of […]

Changing Japan

Many people expected the events of March 11th and the subsequent mismanagement and deception by the government and TEPCO to provoke a revolution of sorts; a backlash from a long-suffering public against the corruption and incompetence of the ruling politicians and bureaucrats. So far there is no sign of this happening. A documentary on national TV exposing inaccurate calculations over many years by politicians and the bureaucracy over the official figures for the relative costs of nuclear and renewable energy which showed a far greater benefit for nuclear power than actually exists, provoked little reaction. The Japanese media do not have a particularly good record of investigative journalism, but if […]

Disaster Management

The events of the last four days have put an enormous strain on the government of Japan. Politicians and TEPCO managers are struggling to find a balance between preventing panic and providing necessary information to the public at the same time as managing the multiple crises facing the country. They are hampered by a lack of credibility stemming from decades of misinformation and by a tendency to hide the truth rather than release the information necessary to allow the public to make informed decisions. Looking beyond this unfortunate incompetence, however, we should remind ourselves that, in the face of a natural disaster of terrifying proportions, the social fabric is holding […]

Effect on the Economy

There is a lot of pessimism about the economy, but there may be a positive side to the disaster. If the nuclear plant situation doesn’t escalate, the sense of purpose and investment in re-building may have a positive effect in the slightly longer term. The contribution of the Tohoku area to GDP is only 1%. The major negative impact is from power cuts, but the Japanese are very good at matching consumption to supply.

Adapting to the Rise of China and India

Both inside and outside Japan there appears to be a widely held view that economic decline due to relative lack of competitiveness, hollowing out of manufacturing and demographic change is inevitable. This seems to me an analysis based on the current situation, extrapolated forward on the assumption that nothing will change in Japan. Whether this scenario becomes reality or not depends on choices that have to be made in the near future. The Japanese economy has adapted to external change successfully in the past (oil shocks, currency shifts) and has consciously directed itself through internal coordination over many years Europeans complained in the 70’s and 80’s about METI’s “laser-beam focus” […]

Yes we Kan

Mr. Kan replaces Mr. Hatoyama as Prime Minister and effectively Mr Ozawa at the head of the Japan Liberal party. Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa were ousted for financial irregularities. Mr. Kan was also forced to resign a few years ago for a few missed social security payments in his student days. He then embarked on a pilgrimage around the temples of Shikoku island and has clearly atoned for his misdoings. Perhaps the LDP politicians who engineered the review of his contributions and the bureaucrats who aided and abetted them should also go on a pilgrimage… Hopefully, Mr. Kan can compensate for the embarrassing Hatoyama effect and allow the experiment […]

Recession in Japan

As with the last recession, it’s hard to tell there’s actually one on. The restaurants and izakaya are still full and the shoppers are as indefatigable as ever. Nevertheless, politicians are talking about extending the social safety net. One reason for this is the move away from full employees to contract and part-time workers over the past two decades. This flexible workforce acts as a useful safety valve for companies as they can easily be fired in downturns, but exposes those people “downsized” to life without medical insurance or unemployment benefit. People have now started questioning the morality of this arrangement. In a recent Sunday morning TV political debate a […]

Farewell Fukuda

Well, we saw his arrival as a return to grey nothingness so his departure is hardly grieved. The “all-star” line-up on the LDP side presages a return to power for a non-LDP coalition – a rare event to be treasured, but, unfortunately not inspiring much hope. The chances of such a coalition ramming through sweeping reforms are not high. The best hope would be for the LDP to stay out of power for a couple of terms forcing them to seek a Koizumi-style radical to win back power. This might put a serious shake-up of the political, bureaucratic and legal structures back on the table.