130 Comments
Jan 24, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

I don't understand how you can be a correspondent somewhere without learning the language, it's like trying to be a sports commentator with a blindfold on. Yes I'm sure you can manage it with other people's help but surely you'd prefer someone who can see the field?

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

I think this is kind of a misapprehension about what the role requires. The job requirement and skillset of a foreign correspondent is to know the journalistic trade and churn out reliable copy, not be a linguist. The guy who's talented at researching and writing stories within the brief but can't speak the local language will beat someone who speaks the language but is an average writer 10 times out of 10. Reading his bio, Wingfield-Hayes moved from being the BBC correspondent in Beijing, Moscow and Jerusalem. Clearly his bosses think he is good *at being a foreign correspondent* whether or not he can speak Hebrew, Russian or Chinese (although his wiki also says he studied Chinese in Taiwan, so). Given that context, and moving to Toyko in his mid-40s, it's understandable why he may not have picked up Japanese.

At any rate, the critique of Noah's article doesn't seem to be that he's missing the sort of qualitative cultural knowledge one would get from speaking Japanese with locals, but that he is unaware of quantitative statistics on immigration, house building etc. and structural changes in the Japanese economy over the past decade. It's difficult for me to tell whether the value added here would be in learning the Japanese language, rather than say reading more about Abenomics in English.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

They say this, but I don't fully buy it. I lived in the Middle East for ages and knew lots of foreign correspondents that never bothered to learn Arabic, and they were always limited in what they could do. They learned about stories mostly from people who interacted with the expat community and often lacked real context for what they were seeing. They all had the same line about the process but I think they just couldn't be bothered.

Now if you're looking to sell newspapers, maybe that's all you need - I'm sure he's an expert in the style the BBC editors will put on the front page. Well-educated, English-speaking locals are way more likely to give you a narrative that sells well at home than a random villager. The BBC article certainly seems to have done well. But to actually understand and explain a country? I think you need to understand the culture, and that includes the language.

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I understand that it is not a necessity for his job but do think it is odd that he lived a decade there and never attempted to learn the language. I would think that if I lived abroad for an extended period of time that I would at least try to learn the language on a basic level.

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Jan 25, 2023·edited Jan 25, 2023

Spoken Japanese is notoriously difficult to learn, and written Japanese even more so (AIUI even some native Japanese will (or maybe used to in the pre-smartphone age) carry around pocket dictionaries to help with infrequently-used kanji). Ten years is a long time but you're also holding down a day job the while.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

Plus, he's married to a local and has three half-Japanese kids. And yet Rupert still think the sun never sets on the British empire. Oh, blimey!

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Vir Sangvhi, the Indian columnist, had an amusing article on what the Indian PM says to reporters in English as opposed to what he says in Hindi. This was pre-Modi, but Sangvhi points out that there has always been a real contrast in what politicians say for export as opposed to the domestic market. One of the big rules of politics is to know one's audience.

There are different kinds of foreign correspondents. There are the official ones, basically stenographers, who take the official line and filter it for their home audience, and there are the more serious ones who are domain experts and much more insightful.

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The Japanese politicians used to do the same, i.e. say something different to the locals from what they said to the foreigners. However, as more and more "foreigners" speak Japanese, that's no longer possible, and will be caught out

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Yep, I immediately discounted his expertise at that point. Why does he even need to be in Japan if he isn’t getting any knowledge from being there?

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That was very odd to me. Especially if you lived there for a decade but you never made an effort to even have a basic grasp of the language

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Honestly, I think it's like being a sports commentator without knowing the sport... The annoying thing is that Noah Schneider, the Japan correspodant for the Economist also doesn't speak Japanese, and he spews the same age old tropes about Japan all the time... When all you can read is other westerners articles on Japan, you end up writing the same crap....

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Imagine being an "expert" on the US or Britain and not speaking English? But there are lots of pundits around with supposed expertise in this country or that who don't speak the language.

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Apparently the Beeb couldn't find any fluently English-Japanese bilingual people who can write well.

/s

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At least not ones who went to the right schools.

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He's just British, that's all.

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English*

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

"I admit that part of my determination to rebut charges of Japanese stasis is just personal pique — irritation at the cliched cultural essentialism that still defines Japan in the minds of too many Westerners."

As a person who spent the entirety of my career living in other countries on three continents, I deeply relate to this pique. Which isn't just reserved for the non-Western countries, btw: I have lived in Sweden for five years now. What other European country (besides maybe the UK and France) lives rent-free in the minds of American commentators, as an ever-useful foil for anything you wish to celebrate or criticize at home! The COVID period has been a whipsaw of Sweden essentialism, ironically swinging from stereotypes of Nanny State Socialism to Free Capitalist Individualism. As with Japan, fans and critics alike are basing their impressions on (then equally stereotypical) views of the country from a generation ago. And even when those commentators have more direct experience from traveling to or living here, it's bizarre how much that second-hand first impression overshadows the reality before your lying eyes! Sweden must continue to exist as a contingent entity for the purposes of Anglophere argumentation.

Is this a limitation in the medium of essay-writing and dispatches, which forces the author to give pithy takeaways and to collapse complex societies into simple parables? Even saying things like "Japan is good/bad at X" is fraught with ontological and epistemological peril, since to form that narrative we're generally universalizing an anecdote or some striking data to be representative to the experience of a population of 125 million people with significant variance among sub-samples and places. But then what's the alternative? Writing some drab, over-qualified paragraphs where the takeaway is "Well, it depends..."?

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Humans are naturally essentialist thinkers. Consider how readily we slip into essentialist thinking when we casually drop into conversation things like "my cat is bad at being a cat, she doesn't like milk/can't catch anything/is friends with mice/whatever". Or we say something like "I love pizza." Really? All pizza? Even the Asian ones with corn and seafood and mayonnaise on it?

I assume it is that Thinking Fast/Thinking Slow thing and honestly, even people who read popular essays on Substack or the NYTimes are still "thinking fast" most of the time, since they're reading for entertainment.

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That's a really insightful explanation. "Thinking Slow" doesn't have utility in most of daily life, so why waste cognitive resources doing it? It doesn't immediately matter to a dispatch essay writer or their audience that they don't get the nuances of Japan or Sweden right. They don't live there. There's no feedback loop for getting it or not. They have no dog in that fight, aside from adjudicating their own more local concerns. And if the essentialist conclusion validates the priors of the audience, all the better! They feel satisfied and smart. The world seems more coherent. Author and reader are joined again in the community of like-thinkers. Social utility: unlocked! On the other hand, doing the harder work of Thinking Slow not only requires more effort, it offers a less satisfying result for the producer and the consumer which challenges their worldview and condemns them to the insecure position of not-knowing, perhaps indefinitely.

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As someone who lived in Japan from 2017-2022, I think the truth lies somewhere between Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and Noah Smith. Noah seems more than picqued, down right irritated with the BBC article and he throws a veritable barrage of statistics to show that Wingfield-Hayes was wrong. Both articles contribute to the truth.

I think that the economic statistics by themselves as provided by Noah do not reflect the nuance of Japan, for example female participation is usually in part time and lower salaried jobs, not those of the professions. The landscaping which he mentions as something Japan is successful at, is a matter of conjecture. With the exception of one major river, all the rivers in Japan have had concrete modifications at some point, likewise, there are a handful of natural beaches that do not have concrete in place somewhere, whether the infamous tetrapods, or some harbour for a half a dozen fishing boats in the middle of nowhere. The reality is that much of this concrete is pork barrel politics by the LDP and worryingly they are running out of things to concrete. Nature however, is something to be feared in Japan and therefore shaped, even controlled (and an understandable fear given the earthquakes, typhoons, etc he country experiences), however I don't think Japan has any great claim to landscaping. If you were to say something about the landscaping it would be an incredible attention to detail, with pruning within a millimetre of a plants life, what you are left with though is nothing natural. Plants and trees are shaped, just as Japanese culture shapes the people.

Likewise the building code is regularly updated to take into account earthquake proofing of building, however this is arguably as much about supporting the building industry and drives the incessant demand for building. What Noah misses is that because houses do not retain value, because it is difficult to own land on which to build, investment in insulation, advanced building techniques is very low. Passivehaus is almost unknown. Why invest in insulation and new building techniques when you will probably knock the house down in 40-50 years, much easier to shove in more air con! Don't get me wrong, I think the West obsession with housing values is a disaster, but I don't think it is as simple as Noah put.

Likewise the saving rates in Japan are admirable, in part though because of the provision in retirement. However, companies often do not return value to investors, they hoard cash, vast mountains of it much to the annoyance of the Japanese Government. Most investments are in the Japanese Post Office paying almost zero percent interest but allowing the Japanese Government to run massive deficits year after year. So Noah is statistically right about investment, but arguably wrong about the outcomes.

As for immigration, I would agree it has developed, you can see it in the staff just on a high street, however Noah misses the point, that the 5 years immigration visa introduced particularly with South Asians in mind, is just that, come for 5 years and go home. There is a wider cultural issue with acceptance of immigration, something Wingfield-Hayes pointed out, in asking whether he could live in a village. At the moment it takes 10 years before you can apply for residency, far longer than say the UK. There is no green card lottery like in the US. Japan continues to struggle with immigration, even if statistically it is better. Both writers are correct. Japan knows it needs people, but fears dilution of Japan (which is ironic given how many traditions Japan has assimilated as its own - for evidence of that look at the food culture).

As for the baby issue, while Noah is again right (he's often right) about Japan not being as bad as Korea or China, I'm not sure what benefit that is. So all of East Asia faces a demographic bomb, but Japan's demographic bomb is marginally better than Korea, etc. There are some much more interesting statistics which raise worrying underlying cultural trends in Japan, such as the lack of interest in marriage, lack of sexual experiences in people under 40, preference for female companionship or playing video games. I'm not comparing with other countries, however, it is fascinating to see some of the social trends which seem resistant to what ever government throws at them. Wasn't it Peter Drucker who famously said: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast"? You could say culture eats statistics for breakfast as well - certainly in Japan culture is the over riding dominant factor and it is one which is endlessly fascinating and extremely difficult if you are a gaijin.

I thought both Rupert Wingfield-Hayes article and Noah's really interesting. I think both contribute to the debate, I enjoyed reading them. Both are also lessons in the perils of generalisations, and I'd end with - I think - a quote from Satre: "I dislike all generalisations, including this one".

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I agree that both authors partly hit the mark, but Japan is not just Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya. Spend some time away from the main cities and you could be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped back into the Showa era.

The data on female participation in the workforce are too coarse and don't show (in plants where I've worked) that many (most?) women are so-called (09:30 to 16:30!) part timers. In almost 40 years working for and at Japanese companies in Japan, I have only once seen a young woman join a company from university as a software engineer and finally break the glass ceiling to reach CTO–after 30 years.

A point from personal experience raised by Rupert mentioning that he is leaving Japan with his three 'hafu' children. Our two hafu bilingual boys were raised entirely in Japan but now work in London. ALL our friends hafu kids have left and are working in Canada, US, Europe, UK, and elsewhere. Why? Our (no-longer) boys say it is because they never felt accepted in Japan where jobs were offered on the basis of being bilingual and thus useful as unofficial office interpreters or translators. I know only one bicultural woman who left for London after graduating and has just returned to Japan because she got a good job working for a foreign company with offices in Tokyo and offering her the responsibility of managing its offices in SE Asia. Until Japan's businesses stop welcoming bilingual bicultural people just for language ability rather than actual job skills, some of the best and brightest either won't come to Japan or will be leaving for greener pastures.

Acknowledging dual citizenship would also help some biculturals perhaps return to Japan if they could legally hold two passports past reaching 25. Now, if a bicultural Japanese citizen works visa-less in his/her other home country for longer than 10 years, it is very difficult to keep a valid Japanese passport (the local Japanese Embassy won't renew if the expiring Japanese passport does not have a visa), meaning returning to work in Japan requires entering as a foreigner and a work visa! And god help you if a Japanese citizen marries a foreigner overseas and has children–the paperwork is mountainous and must all be translated into Japanese.

These and many other cost-of-working in Japan friction points need solving by imaginative immigration and other modern policies but a whole generation of Showa and Todai-educated gerontocrats will have to die first.

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PZE: "Most investments are in the Japanese Post Office paying almost zero percent interest but allowing the Japanese Government to run massive deficits year after year. So Noah is statistically right about investment, but arguably wrong about the outcomes."

Consider when talking about wealth comparisons for Japan's middle-class that Japan's median age is 48, the oldest in the world (certainly for any large country) and 10 years older than the US (38). So any median wealth advantage for Japan has to be normalized against higher age.

And it's not clear that Japan does do very well on that age-normalized score, with negative real interest rates on much of savings. Are people really better off if their housing:income to ratio is a bit lower, but they're putting much of the income they save from that into pensions that depreciate and deliver negative real returns?

Also consider, the appreciation of housing assets in other countries doesn't really totally lock up wealth as such; those assets and the mortgages on them are often lent out on some proportionate of their value (which isn't as easy if they depreciate). So it's not clear to me that it's the right framework to think of Japan's model of saving as making more capital available to the state and private sector (or at least, not totally so for all the difference).

Meanwhile, the expansion of Tokyo is an amazing thing; but R W-H is quite right to point out that Japan outside Tokyo (and the major cities) does seem to have stagnated at a lower level. Having a bigger major city, and expanding its footprint, doesn't seem to have done much for stagnating national wealth. (In fact, if we buy that a good degree of the productivity advantage of the largest cities is due to brain drain, then this might not be unexpected - some data from Sweden bear this out a bit, see Keuschnigg 2019).

Finally, ecologically, while denser housing is better for the environment generally, build-destroy-rebuild in concrete and brick and steel and glass is not good for emissions. It seems to me to not so clear whether it's easier to decarbonize the grid and eliminate emissions from cars, or to replace modern building materials with carbon-neutral or negative options. Building more densely and with less car dependence, and build-destroy-rebuild are not inevitably combined, but whether the first offsets the latter... (Japan is quite high up in the league table of emissions per capita - https://data.worldbank.org/indicato/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?most_recent_value_desc=true)

Overall, while there is a case to be made that Japan is underrated by journalism like R W-H's, there's also a case to be made that Japan is actively worrisome for thinkers who might tend to the idea that making construction abundant and enlarging the biggest and most productive cities solves the major ecological and economic problems; following that sort of path has given Japan some other, different problems.

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I noticed the same thing about Noah's comparison of Japanese and American median wealth. Age makes a huge difference. In the US, median wealth for 35-44 year olds is $91,000. For 45-54 year olds it's $169,000 (https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/average-net-worth-by-age)

So controlling for age, Americans are way ahead of the Japanese in median net worth.

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spot on

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Having lived in Japan since 1986, I completely agree.

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

TBF, the US thinks of itself largely in terms of the mid-20th century, notably in the idea that the US is a generous donor of foreign aid, something that was only true in the years of the Marshall Plan. And the UK is stuck in about 1940.

Australia isn't immune: our current PM is nostalgic for the "Australia that made things", which has been gone for a long time.

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author

I don't think the U.S. thinks of ourselves that way...I think we think we're still in 1868

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We are trying to oscillate within a four year band centered around 1875

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

"microprocessors, smartphones, semiconductor foundries, battery-powered cars" is an interesting list - in phones they famously charted their own path but had some technologies (phone payments springs to mind) far earlier than in the west; the Prius was the first major hybrid; and I think semiconductors is a complex story to say the least.

But more widely, Japan has changed a lot over the last ~20 years. Tokyo is unrecognisable (and unnavigatable). Rural depopulation has gone from something worried about, to a crisis, to some signs of experimental alternatives. And to me the country as a whole feels much more international and internationally connected than ever.

One question: my memory is that my old economics tutor argued that Japan's growth rate on a per-working person basis was actually fine. Is that right?

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author

Yep. Did you see my post about aging, the other day? I talked about this a bit:

https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/how-much-does-aging-really-hurt-a

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Your "unnavitagable" bit is spot on. Sheesh. Shibuya and Shinjuku are disasters. My spacial processing is good enough that I can deal with Shinjuku by carefully remembering how it used to be and using that to get to where I want to go, but my SO just memorizes specific routes to where she needs to go and only uses those. (The new geometry is actually better: there's now a cross-station walkway that's central and outsde the JR system.) I go through Shibuya once a month, and it's different every month. This has been goin on for the last several years, and they're still mucking with it. Oh, yes, the JR Ochanomizu station is a never ending mess also.

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"on a per-working person basis"

From what I remember, per hour per actual worker still isn't very favourable, compared to the different denominator of per working age person which is more favourable.

The former tends to be less kind to Japan, because Japan benefits in latter from not counting people who are in the workforce but are older than "working age", and slightly longer hours (although this has reduced). When you have ojiisans doing pretty low productivity work (output/hours), it helps your productivity number not to count them in the denominator.

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Many respected economist like Krugman and Dean do make that argument. And while there is some truth to it they overstate a lot

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

This piece is a great example of why I love your Substack. I would never think to read up on the finer points of Japanese housing and economic trends. Appreciate you bringing us an eclectic mix of subjects to read and learn about.

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Jan 25, 2023·edited Jan 25, 2023

Nice counterpoints to Rupert's entry, Noah. Every coin has two sides. But I am baffled by the various comments critiquing and criticizing Rupert's lack of Nihongo skills. To those comments, I ask: where does Rupert says he didn't learn or can't speak Japanese?

Noah's entry points to ONE short tweet where Rupert writes - in Japanese - that his Japanese is not very good (私は日本語がかなり下手です); that is a very Japanese-like way of showing humility over one's skill set vs thumping one's chest and boasting how great their language ability is. Also, Rupert's LI profile states his Japanese level is at the "Professional working proficiency".

Did I miss somewhere Rupert stating that he didn't bother to study Japanese?

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Quite true, some comments about choosing to study Chinese rather than Japanese seem to have generated an inference that's not actually true, c.f. https://uk.linkedin.com/in/rupert-wingfield-hayes-15553a47

"Languages: Chinese - Full professional proficiency, Japanese - Professional working proficiency"

"Individuals classified at level 3 are able to use the language as part of normal professional duties and can reliably elicit information and informed opinion from native speakers; examples include answering objections, clarifying points, stating and defending policy, conducting meetings, and reading with almost complete comprehension a variety of prose material on familiar and unfamiliar topics such as news reports, routine correspondence, and technical material in trained fields of competence."

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Both articles treat housing costs as if the building is all there's to it. But housing costs also include land. In popular locations, the land costs as much or more than the building. Buildings depreciate fast in Japan, but land usually remains valuable (except when some economic or natural catastrophe strikes). Paying for the land is a significant investment in Japan too -- hard for the young to afford and a nest egg for the old.

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Yes, thank you. In popular locations the overwhelming bulk of the value of a property is the land. And, again in popular locations, such land has been rising in value since the 2008 GFC (although still not 1989 levels). And, I would add, that the housing deprectation discussed by both authors is only true for wood-framed detached housing. Reinforced concrete buildings like towers or larger-scale residence blocks do not depreciate like that at all.

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Jan 24, 2023Liked by Noah Smith

Thank you for this post — which I want to re-read carefully. As someone with a ton of (admittedly Tokyo-centric) Japan experience — but all since 2010 — I found the framing and tone of RWH’s article disorienting to say the least. Fackler at the Times was often worse — he used to give the impression that he hadn’t enjoyed Japan since 1989…. Not that Japan doesn’t have a lot of issues!

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On re-reading, one note I’d share is that more than one successful Japanese friend at top firms (trading houses, hi-tech) confessed to me that the most incandescently stressful moments of their careers have been when they had to manage someone older than themselves. Which is to say, there is a cultural element of the gerontocracy to be considered. It’s not just about clinging to power at the upper echelons…

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I also like Rupert W-H, but on reflection, that might be his voice and familiarity.

He seems trustworthy.

There in lies the issue.

The BBC is stuffed full of polite, confident, people who like travelling and opining.

As I have come to realise, it doesnt mean that they know any truths...

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I have a crazy idea about Japan, which seems completely counterintuitive. But here goes anyway. Feel free to explain to me politely why it can’t be right.

Basically, I think Japan is trying to avoid being noticed too much by the rest of the world. I read somewhere that when Japan first conquered Okinawa, they didn’t want anyone to know they’d done it. Once a year the representative of the Chinese Emperor would visit the island, and the Japanese occupiers would hide for the duration of his visit.

In western democracies we’re used to the idea that, if your country is doing well, your politicians have to tell everyone else how awesomely well you’re doing. And if you’re not doing well yet, you still have to be positive, and flaunt whatever success you have: fake it till you make it. When he was President, Donald Trump took this boastful attitude and ramped it up to 11. In the UK we think of Harold Macmillan’s “you’ve never had it so good”, or Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia”. In the USA there was Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America”. But I’ve often thought the opposite approach might be better. Maybe a country would benefit from seeking to portray its economy as worse than it actually is, its military weaker than it actually is, and so on.

Why would Japan want to do this? I suspect there are deleterious forms of foreign investment. Wealthy foreigners buying houses they don’t intend to live in probably make things worse for the locals. I suspect there are other forms of “feeding frenzy” type foreign investment which are harmful to a country. Didn’t Japan suffer from some of these in the 1980s? Maybe they’ve learned that lesson.

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Koizumi had Cool Japan (and the NHK talk show with that same name where a panel of foreigners discuss Japan cultural issues is still on the air). I don’t think anyone in Japan especially leaders think they are an inferior country. And I don’t think foreigners buy much real estate there, although there are government programs to encourage foreigners to buy houses, start businesses/farms or even marry locals in the depopulating countryside.

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I don’t think the Japanese think their country sucks. Sorry if I wasn’t clear about that. I think that they’ve learned that the wrong kind of foreign attention - especially financial attention - can be bad for the country. Otaku culture, or people thinking Anime or Babymetal is cool, that isn’t really what I’m talking about. These types of attention don’t distort the market fundamentals by much.

Japan’s 1980s asset price and stock price bubble was largely caused by foreign investors thinking Japan was the world’s miracle economy and they just had to have a part of it at any price. International corporations decided they had to open offices in Tokyo, and between 1985 and 1991, they pushed up commercial land prices by 300%. The Japanese stock market experienced a similar bubble, with foreign traders pushing up stock prices by 225% in the same period. Eventually everything crashed down to earth, and Japan had its “lost decade”.

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Although I am no expert (so do correct me if I am wrong), I am pretty sure that foreign investments are an overall plus for an economy. Bubbles can be caused by many things, so if you wanted to rule out every part of the economy that can lead to one, you would be left without an economy...

If this is indeed the stance that Japan is taking (consciously or not), I believe it would be more productive to incorporate foreign investments in a controlled way rather than try to avoid them by staying "hidden" from the rest of the world. It is as if we stopped investing in technology ager the dot-com crash.

After a quick google search, I found this:

* https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.KLT.DINV.WD.GD.ZS?locations=JP

* https://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/economy/japan/invest/index.html

Of course, it does not prove anything, but it seems that Japan isn't actually so afraid of foreign investments.

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Hi andcov

This all seems reasonable. I think we probably agree.

I don’t mean to suggest that Japan is attempting a full return to Sakoku era isolation, or some version of the Wakanda invisibility cloak. I probably hyped my idea a bit to get everyone’s attention. And it’s that kind of attention-seeking hype I think Japan is avoiding. Not much more than that, really.

No doubt a sober investor will look at market fundamentals in Japan or wherever, and make a calm decision to invest or not. But in the 80s Japan really did suffer from crazy “bubble” animal spirits from foreign investors. There was a famous moment when the real estate value of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace was technically higher than the whole of California.

Particularly in the US, there was an obsessive belief that Japan had discovered some magic economic elixir, with several bestselling books attempting to explain what it was. Was it MITI, was it “The Toyota Way”, or something else…?

The comedown when this hype bubble finally burst was pretty bad for Japan. I’m sure they’re up for boring, sensible investment. But they don’t want that again.

(There's an old saying, that the worst thing that can happen to banking is for it to be really exciting - as it was in the run-up to 2007. Boring is best.)

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The bubble popped decades ago, and Tokyo housing has been increasing, becoming larger and more modern and remains affordable. The only housing problem I hear of anymore is the large and growing number of vacant single family homes in rural areas as the population urbanizes.

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Thanks for the rebuttal to the BBC article. I also agree it was a bit biased, off on facts and was this typical western old thought of Japan. I’m still

amazed at how many non fluent foreigners write articles and options about Japan. Especially Instagram and YouTube videos so on. Even if they know the Language not being born in Japan is a big difference. Growing up as a kid you just learn the way of things through observation, family and society. Japanese philosophies are different then the west so without understanding it’s roots one will perhaps overwrite their western ideologies onto it via their thinking process.

As far as this comment “Western ideas and opinions have the potential to change Japan for the better” Japan has always sent out representatives to other cultures to learn and adapt “what is useful” and use as their own. I also find this comment slightly arrogant. “The west “ has its own issue and problems especially right now, just look at the states or UK. Violence, drugs, massive growing mental illness, housing that is out of reach for many. If Japanese housing is not increasing in value 24/7 that means it’s cheaper to buy. I think the west should clean up it’s own house before lecturing other countries. The USA is a great place but it just needs some house cleaning especially in its government. It’s not flying off the rails but just needs to get back on track. Japan will figure it out for themselves.

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I much more agree with Noah than with Rupert. Rupert is stuck in the past and seems to have missed how things have changed here. The anecdote on the land owner refusing to decrease the price is just an anecdote and it does not reflect land price evolution at all.

I am not sure what "terrifying bureaucracy" means but no examples are actually given. The 4 employees taking care of a car at a petrol station ignores reality: almost 40% of petrol stations are now self-service, in particular in large cities and the percentage increases every year.

The story with the small village in the Boso peninsula completely ignores the movement of people moving out of Tokyo which has taken pace over the years.

Most large companies are completely different from what they were 20 or even 10 years ago. Tokyo is a completely different city than it was 10 years ago. The pace of change is incredible. Too bad for the BBC that this was all missed by this correspondent.

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The story about the safety briefing for driving is also eerily similar to my experiences of speed awareness courses in the UK. Yes you have to participate a bit, but the general vibe was pretty much the same.

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In California I had to sit through a safety class to clear a speeding ticket, but at least the retired cop giving the class had some interesting stories like the guy that died in a rearender because he had left his bowling ball on the car’s rear window shelf. In Japan I had to take the safety class after failing the very strict motorcycle license test and the old “instructor “ just droned on and on while the room full of “students “ slept in their chairs for almost two hours.

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Both articles have their pros and cons, but specifically related to the "terrifying bureaucracy": I happen to listen to podcast hosted by westerners living in Japan and they do complain abut the bureaucracy quite a lot, everything from buying a bike (which you need to register https://ajet.net/jet-resources/daily-jet-life/bicycle-registration/), to opening a bank account or entering the country takes a lot of time.

I haven't lived in Japan, so I cannot speak from personal experience, and it just might be that only westerners have it hard over there, but to me it seems that bureaucracy is quite a hassle.

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These are just anecdotes, not valid comparison between different systems. Registering a bike in Japan is the simplest of procedure. I am just buying a new one and will pay 2000 yen to the bike shop for them to handle the registration for me. Opening a bank account has traditionally been much easier in Japan than anywhere else due to low KYC rules. This has now changed but they have basically aligned on many other countries. Subjective assessments do not add up to a "Japanese characteristic".

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Andre Malraux envisaged eternity when he saw shrines there scrapped and build by every generation prior and to come, hence true equity.

He compared them with ever solid Western buildings - Different things, nonsense to judge which is superior.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

I've lived in Japan since 1999, and the changes the country has gone through since then are quite staggering, especially in the last 5-10 years in terms of immigration. It's noticeable almost everywhere, except perhaps extremely rural areas.

Japan is indeed going through great changes, and when the old people who run both the gov't and business filter/die out, I think we'll see more change come at an even quicker rate. We are already starting to see strong signs of the unsustainable processes breaking down in front of our eyes, and companies, cities, governments, universities, etc. scrambling to adjust.

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I'll probably have more to say on this later, but since you mentioned gerentocracy, my new word for the week last week was (drum roll):

KING OF ROUGAI.

Which refers to Aso Tarou, because of something stupid he said (essentially blaming women for the small number of kids they're having, which is insanely stupid because the economy is such that large numbers of people can't afford dating*, let alone getting married, and would be insane to have anywhere near the number of kids they actually want (the last I checked, raising kids was more expensive in Japan than in any other industrialized country).)

*: This is because of (a) the Koizumi policy of letting big companies hire part timers instead of regular employees (who would have had niceties like retirement policies and some amount of job security), and (b) the minium wage is something like US$6.00 per hour.

Oh, yes "rou" is "old age" and "gai" is "the harm therefrom". (And "king of" is in katakana.)

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This OECD report says child care costs are high for single mothers but comparable to UK and USA for couples not in poverty. https://www.oecd.org/els/family/OECD-Is-Childcare-Affordable.pdf. It seems a lower birth rate is more due to the lower number of young people than with childcare costs, and as Noah pointed out the rate is the highest in East Asia.

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