To Japan, with Curiosity

As a 10-year-old, my late afternoons, barring very rare exceptions, were spent sitting in front of the television set, glaring at India’s only anime channel – Animax. Little did I know then, that an anime I saw 14 years ago – Cardcaptor Sakura would still be a part of my everyday tv routine.  However, the only difference,  as a 10-year old I saw it innocuously and today as a 24-year-old – I noticed more than just the brilliant storyline. 

The anime aired between 1996-2000. Now in 2020, we observe so many fine details that left the audience baffled. For instance, while the main protagonist Sakura’s family is cooking in the kitchen, sitting on the floor is a wet waste dustbin. Not only was the concept of waste segregation in India introduced only recently it is still not being followed adequately. While an intricate detail which may go unnoticed by most, it might make some of us wonder to how developed Japan has been, and for how long?

Although developed now, Japan’s economic history is nothing short of a roller coaster ride.  Ridden with devastation as an effect of the Second World War, the country took some time to regain its economic stability. After experiencing a few hiccups every now and then, by the 80s, Japan was hailed as the second-largest economic power in the world. Their fast-paced economic development owes itself to various factors, such as rapid industrialisation, high exports, trade with economic giants, great economic planning on the part of the government, easy monetary policies, etc. In the 90s though, the economy began to experience a decline. Unemployment was on the rise, growth was sluggish, demand for its exports went down as a result of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, etc. This period of recession or slowdown is known as the Lost Decade in Japanese history. During this decade, its GDP grew only at the rate of 1.14% annually.

In comparison to other developed nations, this was very low. Even a developing country like India had an average growth of 5.52% during the same period. The after-effects of this though continued well into the next decade as well.

Fast forward to 2012. Enter Shinzo Abe, serving his second term as the country’s Prime Minister. He had resigned from his position during the first term only after a year in 2007, due to health reasons. His appointment for the second term only happened as the opposition leader and then Prime Minister Noda resigned. Abe most definitely had his work cut out for him. The people had very little faith in him due to the previous term, which was marred by financial scandals involving his Cabinet members.

In the economic world, his policy approach from then on is known as Abenomics. His objective was to achieve growth by making the fiscal, monetary, and structural reforms policies work together in unison. Albeit Japan has been a developed country for a while, it is vastly different from the other nations of the same category.  The Japanese did not believe in spending much, this led to low domestic demand. Low birth rates resulted in a depleting working-age population that was accompanied by a scarcity of easily available credit from banks.

With Abenomics, the objective was to address all of these problems. Shinzo Abe and his government, in the last 8 years, have tried their best to do so. The Bank of Japan even resorted to negative interest rates, i.e. they began paying people to borrow money. The government used various incentives and increased spending on social programmes to encourage parents to have more children and increase the birth rate in the country.

Another policy referred to as “Womenomics”, wherein women were encouraged and incentivised to join the workforce, was also implemented. Abe announced policies which would extend maternal/childcare leaves, provisions would be made to increase the number of day-care facilities in the country, etc. These have shown a positive impact as Japan’s unemployment rate fell from 4.5% in 2012 to 2.34% in 2020.

Policies might have certainly helped Japan to improve its economic position, but there is still a long way to go. There are cultural taboos and restrictions, such as expecting women to only be homemakers who provide for the husbands and birth future generations, which needs to be challenged, in order to see the effects fully. Private sectors and corporates should also strive to create a conducive environment that welcomes women and does not discriminate them against men.

This year, with the global pandemic causing havoc all over the world, Japan has been no exception. Japan faces its biggest economic decline since the 1980s. The country will have to once again strategise and work its way forward. 

The Japanese economy is surely one of the most formidable economies in the world. Being such a tiny nation by size, it is in no way a minor player in the world picture. There are numerous lessons we can learn from this country, even if it means starting small, such as watching an anime, and realising how very different our country functions, and how we could better improve.

India may have been lacking in many development aspects, our process may have been slow, but if we as a society, just start looking around us, and learn from other nations’ policy approaches, not just at the government level, but also as individual citizens, certainly our future generations will not see such stark differences between us and societies elsewhere.

As for Japan itself, the focus should be on coming up with ways to increase their working population. One way this could be done is by opening up its economy to more foreigners, by creating a conducive environment for the non-Japanese workforce. This could create a competitive spirit which can result in more innovation, exchange of ideas, exposure, etc. The youth should be given better opportunities, their ideas should be heard so that the future of Japan could be left in good hands.

Just as I believe that other countries, especially ours, have a lot to learn from Japan, similarly, Japan could also do well to observe and take notes from other nations. For instance, it can learn from India, how spending and saving can go hand in hand, how any job is a good job, etc.