What Adamu thinks: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Being the preeminent experts that we at the Mutant Frog Travelogue are, some Japanese university student has decided to use us as a primary resource for a major research project (or more likely, the subject of one of the countless “survey the foreigner” projects they give in university English classes). Here’s what the questioner wanted to know:

Dear Mr. Mutant frog.
Hello! I’m a [Japanese] University student. I get your e-
mail address at MUTANT FROG TORAVELOGUE. [This university]
is Japanese university. Our English class was to sending e-mail which
has some questions about things which have interest.


・ What do you think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?

・ How will Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe be different
from the ex-Prime Minister Koizumi?

・ Do you think Japan become better? And I want to listen to your

Thank you.
From [a] university in Japan.

My answers:

Q: What do you think Prime Minister Shinzo Abe?

A: While he’s qualified for the job and worked hard to win public and LDP support for his election, in terms of leadership I think he is a pale comparison to his predecessor. So far, he’s proven vague on policy and prone to open himself up for excoriation from the oppoisiton. He’s already started talking about a second term, but the way things are going I’m starting to wonder if he’ll even make it to the Upper House election next July.

Q: How will Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe be different from the ex-Prime Minister Koizumi?

A: Koizumi, the “weirdo” of Japanese politics, is almost beyond comparison with the rest of the Diet. He was squeaky-clean in an era of rampant “money politics” and was always known as a maverick. After he became prime minister, he wowed the whole world with his sweeping plans to turn Japan around. And domestically he was adept (with the help of his advisers at Dentsu) at convincing the public of the need for reform. Abe, on the other hand, is divisive and vague. He talks with a lisp and crosses his legs like a girl. His smile is dead and empty. His focus on largely unnecessary security reforms comes at the expense of momentum for reform on the economic side of things. For example, his appointments to the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy reek of a relatively weak minister of state (Hiroko Ota) and an Abe family political ally (Jiro Ushio) reek of putting political pressure on what is supposed to be an independent advisory group.

Q: Do you think Japan become better? And I want to listen to your opinion.

A: No, I think Japan will continue its slow decline. The political will is just not there to put Japan on the path to economic stability under its demographic crisis. Take a look at this report from the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Japanese only, sorry!) to get a picture of just how dire the situation is.

Thanks for listening to my opinion!

35 thoughts on “What Adamu thinks: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe”

  1. I’ll agree with points 1 and 2, but not entirely with point 3. Japan is not in decline right now, and it looks to me like the impending demographic “crunch” is going to be counter-weighed by immigration flows. Nowadays, you see immigrants from all over Asia (East, Southeast and South) working service jobs all over Tokyo, and there are still “help wanted” signs outside every other restaurant and store.

    Granted, this is Japan’s only global city, but what I’m seeing here, coupled with what I’m hearing about the growth of foreign communities in other major cities (not to mention the smaller foreign enclaves in the countryside) is leading me to believe that the immigration caps the LDP occasionally talks about are pure bluff.

    The problem will then be how to “integrate them into Japanese society.” This is a nice way of saying “changing Japanese society to accommodate them,” because we all know by now that Japan is accustomed to large-scale social changes on short notice.

    But in any event, I see Japan’s population leveling out over time. More people are coming and more people are staying while the zainichi and foreign spouse population goes down (see table 4).

  2. Very interesting perspectives.

    Do you think that Japan can undergo decline in terms of economy and population and still become a “better” society (both for the people who live in Japan and in your own personal opinion)?

  3. If the economy doesn’t decline per capita then everyone should be fine. For the total economy to continue growing as the population decreases is pretty unrealistic, and unnecessary.

    And Joe, there are almost no foreigners working service jobs anywhere I have been in Japan. I’ve seen Chinese girls working in convenience stores and restaurants and so on, but they were all students and clearly in a whole different category from actual immigrants. Actually, I have never even once seen a South Asian working a service job in Japan outside of an Indian restaurant, and the same is probably true of SE Asians as well, but I won’t swear on it. (Note that for purpose of this discussion I am not considering foreign nationals, such as Koreans, born and raised in Japan as foreigners.)

  4. I got a similar mail today with different questions – must do the same public answer too!

    Anyway, I do know of a few around the Kansai area – a cafe in JR Sannomiya has a Filipino (married to a J, judging by the name) waitress, when I first came to Japan the Tsutaya in Moriguchi had a Western clerk (although it could have been a Nova teacher moonlighting, of course) and the Kohyo supermarket in Kawanishi has a Western grannie on the tills.

    I believe I once saw a South Asian (?) cleaner in a hotel, but it might just have been on the telly.

  5. I’ve seen South Asians and SE Asians working at McDonald’s in two regional cities (about 500,000 population).

    I also don’t see Japan as being in a state of decline. I think that a level population will happen and let’s face it, in the 1990s (Japan’s “lost decade”), Japan’s economy was in the toilet in terms of growth but because of deflation and other developments, things became less expensive (especially living space) and people’s lives got better in some major ways. Japan has also had a recent explosion of creativity in many areas (films, anime, serious literature, TV games, some interesting things going on in robotics, etc.) and perhaps most importantly, these creative works are being exported. Japan is certainly a greater cultural presence on the international stage than it ever has been before and this could offset eternal 2% rates of GDP increase and some population decrease.

  6. …largely unnecessary security reforms…

    Is this comment because you think security reforms in general are unnecessary? Or just the ones that Abe advocates?

  7. Of course, we also have to keep in mind that Japan has been the #2 economic power in the world for about 40 years, and even if it has a sharp decline it will only be declining to the level of, say, France.

  8. Exactly Joe. Japan’s status as an economic powerhouse may decline, but there is unlikely to be a sharp decline in actual living standards. This is of course not impossible, but I doubt it would happen in the near-medium future except in the event of a regional or global depression. This of course could also happen, if we get particularly unlucky with environmental damage or war.

  9. Past returns are not an indicator of future performance.

    However, if the birth rate were to continue declining, or even staying low, I do not see enough immigration coming in to replace the number of workers who will be lost.

    Even if there is a substantial number of immigrants, they will be held at the bottom of society. This will cause massive social friction. There will be an inevitable backlash from the native population.

    Many immigrants simply won’t have the time and/or patience for the ‘unspoken’ rules of Japanese society. This, in turn, will cause further friction. Instead of moving forward as a society, powerful forces in Japan are bound to enforce the status quo, or even the past.

  10. Can’t predict the future, but it is difficult to say if lost workers will become the problem for the Japanese economy that people have been discussing.

    In the 1960s, it would have been impossible to predict the widespread application of robots in auto manufacturing that came about in the 1980s and 1990s. A recent book discusses the “amazon-ificatoin” of Japanese society — is there going to be a huge demand for retail jobs in 20 years? We can’t predict that any better than we can predict a future labor crisis in general.

    Some people have been anxious to describe Japan’s “destiny” as “more immigrants”. As more and more manufacturing is moved overseas and the construction pork continues to dry up, can we really say for sure that the labor demand is going to be there in the coming decades?

    In any case, a smaller labor pool would most likely drive up wages, which could take care of this “wealth gap” that has been done to death in the Japanese media lately. A smaller labor pool could also be the incentive for the development of more labor saving technology (an area in which Japan is already a world leader).

    Once again, cannot predict the future, but “fewer workers = $%&@ed Japan” seems like an “old economy” type of formula.

  11. Don’t forget that Japanese economy/society is also currently dependent on “workfare.” Aside from the often discussed “construction welfare,” there is just plenty of fat to be trimmed in terms of utterly useless and non productive jobs. Not to mention the potential worker productivity lost due to the inefficiencies of the employment system that encourage significant loss of highly skilled workers merely because they are hired on limited term contracts.

    I have not seen any real research on it, but a lot of people estimate that Japan currently has between 10 and 20% of its workforce engaged in pointless jobs, so with a rationalization of the economy and labor market large scale immigration might not be necessary for a long time, if ever.

    And then there are, of course, robots.

  12. I agree with Mutantfrog.

    I don’t think that the pork will be hard to trim. About 40% of those employed in construction are over 40. Many will soon retire and not need to be replaced when the government funds start to dry up (as I mentioned in another thread, expected dramatic decline in public works spending by 2010).

    Also, we have to keep in mind that more workers does not necessarily mean more creativity. People are guessing that Japan declines to about 100,000,000 people by mid-century. Well, a Japan of about 100,000,000 is the Japan that produced the Kurosawas and the Ozus and the Mishimas, and the Sony startup crowd. I think that all of this “jibun-sagashi” (self-searching) that is a part of the typical “freeter” or “NEET” moratorium, has the potential to produce a HUGE, but not labor intensive, burst of creativity in Japan over the next few years.

    Having said all of that, however, I think that MORE immigration is a good thing. I also think that Japan is in a position to get the kinds of immigrants that it wants by offering high salaries and perks. The case in point is the nurse clause tacked on to the free trade deal with the Philippines — thousands of nurses will come to Japan every year and the Japanese government will fund their language training and pay them to study for Japanese qualifications. This seems to be the best way to avoid creating an under-class — only take those who you want to integrate.

    The current situation, which actually encourages illegals, is a problem.

  13. Many immigrants simply won’t have the time and/or patience for the ‘unspoken’ rules of Japanese society. This, in turn, will cause further friction.

    Actually, I think this is already happening… with young Japanese people. They almost look and act more ‘foreign’ than the actual foreigners do.

  14. The general worry isn’t just that total GDP will go down (it’s basically a given that it will), or even that per-capita GDP will go down (possible in the long run but not the big big concern). Sure you can’t predict the future, but it’s easy to see a vicious cycle in which a bankrupt government (govt debt 160% of GDP etc) is forced to squeeze a shrinking pool of its most productive citizens to take care of the aging population while at the same time economic growth becomes impossible.

    A bankrupt government could easily suck the oxygen out of Japan’s economy. For example, a reason behind privatization of the postal services, the most egregious form of bloated bureaucracy in Japan, was that Japan simply cannot afford the risk of providing a full government guarantee on billions of dollars in savings and life insurance, especially when there’s a fully developed private sector that provides the same level or better services. The same goes for government home loans and, to an extent, social insurance – they just can’t afford it. That’s a major reason why a broad range of reforms including privatization/reform of the public sector, real development of regional economies, liberalization of labor, and concentration on further technological advancement will be crucial.

    On the foreigners issue, it’s not exactly Japan’s destiny to import 18 million in unwashed masses, but foreign workers are a growing reality that’s being led by the private sector through the growing numbers of illegal workers. Manufacturers have found this pool of decent, cheap labor irresistible. The government now has to just deal with it and try to encourage acceptance of better quality immigrants as well.

    There are a lot of encouraging signs, but I’m still pretty skeptical. Public works are on the decline, but the talent might just not be there to replace the local economy with something workable. And anyway, it’s new public works that are on the decline – the old programs have mostly been privatized. While they’re off the government’s books, it doesn’t change the fact that Japan’s economy is still about job retention and not creation.

    Oh, and the nurse program is basically a joke – the Filipinas will have to learn 3000 plus kanji and pass the same exam as Japanese nurses, all in a matter of six months. If there’s a clearer example of the extra hardness of the Japanese language being used as a trade barrier, I’d like to see it.

  15. Woah…there’s too many good ideas to respond to. You guys should open a coffee shop here.

    a smaller labor pool would most likely drive up wages, which could take care of this “wealth gap” that has been done to death in the Japanese media lately.

    An interesting idea, but I don’t see that as a foregone conclusion. Driving up wages by no means ensures that wages at the top would remain the same, grow at a slower rate, or be reduced, which would have to happen to close the ‘income gap.’

    But, what are rises in wages followed by? Rises in prices. I don’t really see the rise in wages as a bottom-line benefit. No doubt, it can be stripped of context and used for political gain.

    Joe: I’m wondering on your point about young people. I’ve dealt with many, at the university level. I don’t really see much difference from their parents in terms of the same tired regurgitated ideas they tend to believe in. Yes, there are bright, open-minded ones out there – but for the most part they still treat foreigners (profs and exchange students alike) very, very differently from those with a honseki. The in/out mentality and inability to communicate with those on the ‘outside’ is still generally true. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen elsewhere, but it is deep-rooted in Japan.

    M-Bone, you’re right about the Japan of 100,000,000 producing those great minds, but is there really a quantifiable causal relationship? Japan was hungry at those times. There was great social turmoil and a desire to get ahead. Will that come back? I think it’s the atmosphere. Going from Otemachi to Silicon Valley shows the difference – the atmosphere breeds ideas, openness, collaboration and partnership – most of all the notion that anyone can run with an idea and leverage it into something to make a career out of. Today’s Japan hardly seems to offer that opportunity, unless one is already connected enough to know or get the introduction to PE or VC firms.

    You might be on to something with the NEETS, etc. Will they rejoin society and contribute? I think some will, most won’t. Most people don’t contribute much more than labour and spending, in any society.

    Adamu: do you think ‘better-quality immigrants’ will incur the wrath of locals left out of those jobs?

    One thing we haven’t mention about foreign workers: A lot of them wear name tags with Japanese kanji names on them.

  16. a smaller labor pool would most likely drive up wages, which could take care of this “wealth gap” that has been done to death in the Japanese media lately

    Here is a precedent of shrinking population:

    The black death killed so many peasants in Europe that the smaller labor pool was in higher demand. Some estates and regions were more devastated by the plague than others, and so qualified workers began traveling to find new places of work, which was an extremely rare thing during the Dark Ages. This increased mobility and trade. The value of an individual worker increased, which led eventually to the death of feudalism, as peasants and craftsman transitioned from being serfs to being workers who could enter employment under conditions that were negotiable(at least compared to serfdom!)

    Now, I’m not going to start getting sociological and start comparing corporate Japanese to feudalism or anything like that, but it is certainly possible that a shortage in the labor market could lead to some level of revitalization.

  17. The general worry isn’t just that total GDP will go down (it’s basically a given that it will), or even that per-capita GDP will go down (possible in the long run but not the big big concern).

    I hate to play the pedant, but your mathematics is simply wrong.

    Not only is there no mathematical reason why GDP decline should accompany population decline (a population shrinking by as much as 0.5% per year, along with an economy growing 2% per year, will enjoy roughly +1.5% growth per annum), but from an economist’s viewpoint the notion that per capita GDP will decline or even stagnate is simply out of the question: in a front-tier economy like Japan’s, per capita living standards are determined almost entirely by increases in productivity driven by advances in scientific and technical knowledge, and even if all of Japan’s researchers shut up tomorrow, the Japanese economy would still be propelled forward by scientific progress elsewhere.

    In short, while Japan can expect to undergo a relative decline by comparison to catch-up countries like China, or nations like the USA which are enjoying both growing productivity and growing populations, there is simply no basis for assuming that in absolute terms, living standards will stagnate, let alone decline.

  18. Woah, I tune out for half a day and come to find there’s friggin’ 20 comments here! All points raised have been excellent.

    Adamu, I love your light-hearted response to this juvenile survey, which I would have probably ignored. Kudos to you — you gave him an answer, didn’t dumb it down, and your response almost completely covers up your underhanded wit and cynicism (but left just enough visible to those of us paying attention). Excellent job.

    In brief, to echo some comments: (1) Japan’s population will shrink and it may slip from the #2 spot, but it will remain a major economic, political, and even military player for the lifetime of everyone reading this comment; (2) immigrants will come in, many will make Japan their home and naturalize, and it will be smoother than the recent experience of most European nations; and (3) security reforms are necessary, and hopefully the econ reforms won’t suffer too much as a result.

    Finally, while Ken is right in that past success is not an indicator of future performance, the aging population is Japan’s only real burden. It remains a highly educated, highly functioning cohesive society with superb international street cred (ROK and the PRC being exceptions), and the shrinking population shouldn’t blind us to Japan’s numerous competitive advantages.

  19. Adamu –

    “Oh, and the nurse program is basically a joke – the Filipinas will have to learn 3000 plus kanji and pass the same exam as Japanese nurses, all in a matter of six months. If there’s a clearer example of the extra hardness of the Japanese language being used as a trade barrier, I’d like to see it.”

    > It is my understanding that they get 6 months of intensive language training and a two year internship before they have to pass the exam. In any case, I think that it is pretty clear that if you cannot read medical Japanese, you cannot work at a Japanese hospital (unless they want to nurses doping people up with cancer medicine for colds).

    Also, I’m not sure that Japan’s debt is as big a deal as people make it out to be. Most of it is held domestically which means very low interest. Compare that to the smaller debt (per capita) of a country like New Zealand where interest rates are about 8.5% and more has to be spent financing the debt.

  20. Ken – Good points. I think that we all agree that it is really early to speculate about many of these issues.

    “M-Bone, you’re right about the Japan of 100,000,000 producing those great minds, but is there really a quantifiable causal relationship?”

    No. However, it is grounds to question the “high population = success” mantra that many news sources have been throwing around. As for “hungry” people — Horie was basically a “freeta” and a dropout. Maybe he is not the best example because he was a criminal scumbag but he is an example of a Japanese who tried to grab wealth by the balls. I think that many of the “creative type” freeters and NEETs are hungry to achieve (become a manga artist, start a band). Money gets pushed into the background but these people will create some serious wealth (and “soft power” exports) if they get their shit together. Big “if”, but so are most of the issues relating to the discussing of Japan’s economy and the aging population.

    Also, an increase in wages in Japan can lead to an increase in prices but as Japan gets better at exploiting Chinese labor, there could be a drop in prices as well. Let’s not forget that “100 yen shops” would have been a dream in the “rich” 1980s bubble period. Japan’s economy does not exist in a vacuum and it is possible that greater economic connectivity with

  21. … Asia will mean all kinds of exciting things for the Japanese economy.

    I also tend to be optimistic about Japan’s relations with China and Korea. The Korean opposition is fairly pro-Japan and even in the “hannichi” protest year of 2005 when there were some mass boycotts going around, the amount of trade between Japan and China underwent a HUGE increase.

    Also, there are a few other things that people seldom discuss –
    – Less people means more living space. This has been one of the major complaints about the standard of living in Japan.
    – Fewer children means that in the next generation or so, more single children will be inheriting all of their parent’s wealth (I know that inheritance taxes can be crap but many parents are passing on everything before they bop off, this is making things like “ore ore sagi” possible) which could cause a big jump in spending. When you think of it, the next generations of Japanese may not even be saddled with the killer mortgages of the past.

    The future may be bleak in terms of Japan being a great power but in terms of the “lifestyle power” that politicians have been talking about for decades…. a population that declines to the 100,000,000 range may not be that bad.

  22. I am 36 year old Japanese livimg in Saitama.and I must say that though we are
    not accepting huge number of immigrant from abroad there is a steady growth
    of foreigners coming into the society through international marriage.

    I for one married to a mongolian woman and adopted her son.He goes to public
    school and integrated very well and took him only a year to learn the language.
    (he is forgetting mongolian and that is our concern)

    In my days I found no student with foreign background (although there could be
    one or two zainithi koreans),but in my son’s school of 80 kids in 2nd grade,
    there is one peruvian and one kid whose mother is chinese and I must say that
    is a revolutionary change for Tokorozawa!
    There is a statistics that says 15% of all marriages that occur in this country in the last decade are interenational marriages,and this happens almost everywhere in the country.Even my lawyer is hiring a Russian who is doing his legal work hundling just the case for russian male brides.

    If you want see the future of multi ethnic Japan,go to Gunma,especially Oizumi,
    Ohta,or Isezaki.I made a research on Isezaki once and the city has resident from
    more than 70 countries,which consist about 15% of entire population.Oizumi is
    occupied by Japanese Brazillians, and they owns supermarkets, realesate agencies
    and dental clinics.

    The foreign community is growing in Japan,but it is clandestine for the eye of the western expat.It will not make japanese society multi thnic in single leap,but
    it will change the japanese state of mind, uchi to soto.

  23. I don’t know if people are still commenting here, but I want to make a point that Japan’s agriculture sector is in near collapse. Rice is the only product that Japan continues to be self sufficient in and the average age of today’s Japanese farmers is over the age of 60. In other words, within two decades all of Japan’s farmers will be nearly extinguished with very little replacement as young people today are avoiding agriculture in record numbers. Without immigration, how will Japan mantain its agriculture sector? Japan NEEDS immigrants. The issue now is for Japan to realize this, and begin making systematic steps to accept them, integrate them, and guide them to the sectors of the economy that are badly in need of workers.

  24. M-Bone: “Less people means more living space.”

    Maybe. I think internal flows of population are going to have far more impact on Japan’s social and economic landscape than any immigration trends. The places that retain their vitality in a Japan with a shrinking population will be Tokyo, Aichi, Kansai, and northern Kyushu, and these cities will remain crowded and filled with cramped homes. The Industrial Revolution brought young people to the cities once; it’s interesting to see the same flow again with no revolution beyond “that’s the only place jobs are anymore.”

    Beyond that, you’re going to have a lot of farmland (and a lot of it fallow), some industrial complexes placed where lots of flat land can be had for cheap (Nagano, Tochigi), and the mountains. And while a smaller population dividing up that empty land might make for a better-sounding per capita living space, the number of people actually heading out to get themselves spacious yards will stay quite low.

  25. But…. Japan has seen a notable jump in living space per person since 1990. The trend is expected to continue. Also, cramped or not, fewer people per household will mean more living space per person. This trend is also continuing. While other major cities (Berlin, Sydney, London) get more cramped and more expensive, the stats for Tokyo actually suggest a significant change for the better over the past 15 years.

    Believe it or not, there is also an “inaka kurashi” boom in Japan at present with a small but significant group of people electing to leave the cities behind. There have been a variety of TV programs and magazine spreads about this.

    You are also ignoring some other factors like the fact that couples living in the middle of the big cities tend to have fewer (or no) children – making for more living space. You have to look at a problem like this on a per household basis. The statistics are easy to get (Asahi Almanac).

  26. I met a guy the other day who had quit his salaryman job to become an organic farmer. He certainly seemed happy about the choice, but one problem in Japan is that there are almost no “normal” jobs outside of the big city. While in the US a lot of companies are located in suburban or exurban office parks, Japan has just been getting more and more centralized, making commutes longer and more unpleasant.

    Aside from a few people with an independent streak moving to the countryside, is there any example of a real trend?

  27. The most recent statistics I have are from 2003. In that year, nearly 12,000 individuals started farming for the first time. This is up from just 4300 in 1990. There has been a significant and steady increase. These numbers may seem small, but let’s not forget a number of things — farms in Japan are becoming more consolidated and labor saving technology is being applied more frequently by business minded farmers. We can also apply some basic economics. Fewer farmers in the near future will mean less rice produced, which will cause prices to rise (let’s face it, Japanese have gotta have Japanese rice) which will provide an economic incentive for more people to start farming.

    Also, this is just people starting farming — more people are moving to the inaka for other reasons. Factories, for example, are becoming decentralized to some degree. The Kurashiki now has over 1000 factories employing over 40,000. There are many ways to define “inaka” but Kurashiki fits in my books. Rural Hiroshima prefecture (the middle of Chugoku being an undeniable inaka) has also undergone a recent boom.

    One more inaka boom industry — tourism. More tourists from China and Korea going to some areas like Beppu (Japanese always put down Oita as inaka so I am going to group Beppu as well). Also, old Japanese ladies are a financial force that cannot be underestimated. If you have gone into a depato lately, I’m sure that you have been amazed (or appalled) by the numbers of old ladies with the big bucks to spend. Anyway, domestic travel is HUGE for this group. I’ve been to some out of the way areas (Izumo in Shimane prefecture, Nagiso in Nagano prefecture) lately that seem to be booming with “baba tourists”. I don’t have any stats for this one, however, just a personal observation.

    Bottom line — the Japanese countryside does not seem to be dying. There is PLENTY of potential for rationalization and streamlining of Japanese agriculture. While it is doubtful that the inaka will see any kind of significant “golden age” in the near future, I think that large homes within an hour or two train ride from major cities (or major regional cities like Kagoshima, Oita, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, etc. Japan has over 30 cities with populations 400,000 or greater) will be enough of a draw for some.

  28. M-Bone makes some interesting points. However (and I do not have a copy of the Asahi Almanac to hand either), does anyone know what proportion of that 12,000 who went into farming manage to stick it out? It’s long-term we need to consider, not just immediate datsu-sara stuff.

    I agree about the Mainland tourism boom – in Kyushu signs are often in Korean second rather than English. (The new Kyushu National Museum also makes a big deal out of links with the Mainland in a much better way than the older three: looks like it’s very Asia-oriented (pun?).)

    I don’t think it is really possible to say one way or the other that the Japanese “countryside” is dying, however. (First you have to make sure you are talking about the same “countryside” as everyone else: I often get the feeling that for Tokyoites, Osaka is inaka.) There are many inaka regions that are suffering severe population loss and don’t have the attractions of Nagiso or Izumo (both of which probably tend to attract more ‘baba’ tourists than, say, DisneySea… Places like Kenrokuen in Kanazawa are also more grey than green at times). One of the reasons for the great Heisei Amalgamation was the depopulation of the rural countryside: smaller towns and villages could no longer take in enough taxes to cover their costs.

    For the larger cities it’s not so glum, although as pointed out in a recent (March) issue of ‘Toshi Mondai’, cities are suffering from the ongoing doughnut effect (where they become full of sugar and fat and are covered in chocolate), and along with this the downtown labour force is ageing. Infrastructure costs aren’t going down as fast as tax revenues here either apparently. The government has set up any number of committees and laws to revitalise the downtowns, but with little effect. As a stroll along someplace like downtown Matsue can suggest…. The government is trying to get urban planning to redefine itself, create ‘compact cities’ and attract people back into the centres, and has been for some time. Periodic spasms about decentralising Tokyo may also play into this in some way.

    And yeah, Japanese agriculture is a bit of a joke compared to countries which make a living from it. There are already masses of fields lying fallow, an issue that has been going on for god-knows how long now.

    I’d take below-average income in Japan (and frequently have) over above-average income in China any day. Japan will depopulate, its GDP may weaken relatively (which is all the media seems to care about really) even if it actually expands, but whenever I have heard people over the past dozen years talk about the decline of Japan, I am reminded of the comment Isaac Asimov used in “Foundation” regarding the Empire: it may be a bit worn and tatty at the edges, but the centre is still “incomparably mighty”.

  29. Oh, and to answer the initial questions, is it allowed to reply something like “I ♡ PM ♡ Abe”? Or is that too devious?

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