Ran into this article in the Washington Post and thought about it. The valley is one of those magical places that you run into in Japan. The kind of place where you expect Miyazaki characters to come out in front of you. Of course anime characters may be the only people left. That’s the sad tale of contemporary Japan.
It’s not exactly news that Japan is in demographic crisis. I’ve been hearing about that problem for as long as I can remember.
I’ve posted about the abandoned houses of Tokyo before. You can be walking around even in Tokyo and run into them, or their remains. It’s a bit jarring to be amongst huge buildings and nice neighborhoods and run into a ruin.
One would think that the government, would at this point, be doing everything in their power to try to correct the problem. Of course government action may BE the problem. Ever since WW2 and even before the war the government of Japan has had the tendency of wrapping people in cocoons and not letting them work toward their own destinies. Right after the war things were too chaotic for extreme government control and that was the time that companies like Sony, Nikon and Sharp got their starts.
As time went on though, Japan went back into it’s normal cultural stability, only with a technology base and standard of living that required more sophistication than the old cultural mores can provide and many of the old rules and family structures broken by the war and economic boom that followed.
Add to that the high tax rates required to maintain the socialist benefits. Which has suppressed opportunities and growth. I suspect that the seeds of Japan’s stagnation since the 1980’s has it’s start back in the 1970’s when Japan went whole hog into the managed society. That seemed to work for a while. I can remember all the talk about Japan at the time and how the Japanese were “beating” the US. The cracks started to show soon after that and became obvious before the 1980’s were over. But the government did not seem to be able to change the policies and kept trying to use Keynesian style stimuls to get thing going with the usual results and ever more debt.
This placed a huge stress on the Japanese people and kept people locked into their roles with no real hope of better opportunities in the near future. Which increased the stress on young couples and led to fewer children. Creating the beginnings of the demographic spiral we have become familiar with. Back in the 1990’s the consequence of that spiral seemed far away. now they are coming tomorrow.
Can Japan set itself on a growth path again? I don’t know. If you get outside Tokyo the evidence of what’s happening is easy to see. There’s far too much rust and far too few children in the playgrounds. Even in seemingly prosperous towns the tinges of rust are always present. Yet in order to change means having to give up the deep cultural roots of the Japanese that created the problems in the first place and embracing the free wheeling days of just after WW2. I just don’t see that happening until it’s far too late.