As the balance of power in the world shifts to the east, all eyes are on China and Japan as the world’s second and third largest economies respectively. Japan was once seen as a distant utopia to the international community. After World War 2, Japan doubled down on its efforts to rebuild the country and became an economic powerhouse where innovation and imagination thrived.
In the years that followed, Japan showed the world their vision of the future with creations such as the Honda motorcycle, the Sony Walkman and the Shinkansen “Bullet Train”. Free from international conflict, Japan was able to focus its efforts on building its nations infrastructure which is still considered to be the best in the world.
In recent years, however, Japan has faced economic stagnation. Japan’s ageing population has caused concern as global life expectancies have continued to increase while birth rates remain low. In the decades to come, Japan is expected to have a significant fall in its population.
It may not be all bad however as some economists argue that a fall in the population may be positive as there will be fewer jobs in the future with technology set to replace many of the traditional jobs that we have today. Japan has been a long-time advocate of robotics and the fall in the population may drive innovation in this area. Japan can become a world leader in everyday robotics and automation.
Japan is going through a period of change at present as it begins to question social issues that are impacted its society the most. The Japanese government are trying to address issues such as ‘karoshi’ which literally translates to ‘overwork death’. Japan is notorious for its work culture where it is still frowned upon when employees leaving early before their colleagues or boss.
It is also important for Japanese companies to recognise that working more hours does not equate to higher productivity. Japan will need to break these taboos and focus on what works. The best ideas must win in order for Japan to thrive. Initiatives from the Japanese government such as ‘Premium Fridays’ encourages employees to leave at 3pm on the last Friday of every month. Retail outlets across Japan now offer discounts on Premium Fridays in a bid to encourage workers to leave work and shop.
The new Japan will need to turn its attention to the youth. Entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged to challenge the status quo and shake up industries of old. It is up to the Japanese government to remove the barriers to entry for young entrepreneurs and small business owners and create a system that allows these to flourish.
The younger generation needs to look to the rest of the world to see what has worked and then to implement it back home. US tech giant Google is now encouraging naps in the workplace with the introduction of ‘Sleep Pods’. While it may be more difficult to change attitudes for employees in Japan to leave work on time, maybe encouraging them to sleep on the job may help?
With the threat of North Korea ever-present and geopolitical uncertainty in the world, Japan seeks to expand its self-defence force in a bid to ensure the countries future security and to play an active role in overseas conflicts. Japan in recent years has increased its self-defence budget and this trend is set to continue under the current government, despite the views from the public being largely divided on the issue.
Recent nuclear launch tests from North Korea over Japan have helped the Japanese governments case for bolstering its self-defence forces. But is this right for Japan? The strength of a country in the future will be defined by trade, not by its army.
Japan remains a country where anything is possible. Few countries have been able to reinvent themselves with the same style and grace as Japan and it would be foolish not to believe that its best days are yet to come. As Japan leaves the old world behind and embraces the new, we can expect Japan to be a world leader in innovation once again.