November 26, 2012

Sunset, sunrise

Last month in The Atlantic, Peter Boone and Simon Johnson sounded the typical jeremiads about Japan, predicting that "Europe's crisis will be followed by a more devastating one, likely beginning in Japan."

Kenneth Cukier more realistically splits the difference, predicting that a "handful of companies, sectors and locations will be extraordinarily successful globally, in an environment of national deterioration."

A more upbeat assessment comes from Jesper Koll, an economist who calls himself "the last Japan optimist." Along with contrarian Eamonn Fingleton, he argues that Japan isn't quite the economic basketcase it's been made out to be since the real estate bubble burst. A big reason is the national character.

There's a difference between ignoring reality (as the Japanese are doing for now, there being plenty of other apocalyptic fare on their plates) and being delusional about it. The Greeks apparently believe that if they just protest enough (and if those damned Germans weren't so stingy), good times would roll again.

It's not going to happen. And one day it will sink in. But not before Greece (Spain following close behind) circles the drain a few more times.

A not uncommon response to lamentations about Japan's declining population is: "Well, things weren't so bad during the Edo period." The same goes for the post-war Showa period, the setting for many a Happy Days melodrama. And families back then were significantly poorer than the Cunninghams.

For all the blather about "shared sacrifice," the Japanese could actually pull it off. They'll tighten their belts and sing the twin unofficial national anthems: "Shikata ga nai." That's how the cookie crumbles (and the earth shakes). And Gambarou! Roll up the sleeves and put that shoulder to the wheel.

In the land of the rising sun, after all, it's bound to come out tomorrow.

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