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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

Once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was not, Japan seemed like it had it all sussed. The force was with Japan. The future was in its hands.

Then before you could say "dead cert for world domination", Japan let the future slip through its fingers, while it slipped on the banana skin of history. Japan spent most of the Nineties wishing that it was the Eighties. It enters the new millennium still one of the most powerful economies in the world, but still exiting only to re-enter recession, still facing some crucial societal challenges.

    Consider the following:
  1. Japan's population will decline by 17 percent over the next half century, dwindling from 127 million to 105 million, a greater decline than in any other nation.

  2. Japan will find it very difficult to fill the need for more workers through immigration because of the fact that Japanese society is incredibly resistant to foreigners living in their midst. (Japan has the lowest percentage of emigrants and expatriate workers of any advanced industrial nation.)

  3. One third of Japanese people are projected to be over 65 years of age by 2025

  4. According to the Japanese Ministry for Finance, the country went back into recession in the second half of 1999.

    Japan is an extraordinary country and its woes would be seen as the lap of luxury for most countries. It still has some of the most impressive companies in the world in the form of Toyota and Sony. Sony's PlayStation 2 is likely to be a huge hit with the world's teenagers, and any parent with young children cannot ignore the power of Pokemon.

    Still, Japan has been late to embrace the Internet Age. The country seems uneasy with embracing change, hankering for a simpler time when the objective was clear, when everyone knew their place and where it was all for the company.

    I once read about how Japanese companies are the masters of incremental improvements in productivity. They take something that has established a need and make it better, more reliable and cheaper. The writer talked about how American companies are the masters of major change. How they are adventurous, creative and ruthless in pursuit of the next big thing.

    'Next' is the current mantra of the Internet elite. Now is hardly enough. Even the future is under pressure to prove itself worthy of the attention of the attention-deficit generation. I can see it all slowing down in the next couple of years but for now the advantage is with the swift.

    Sometimes I wonder if Japan is a mirror for all our futures? An aging population, with children scarce because adults are too busy with their lifestyles. A world full of gadgets, comics, films and virtual reality games. Not too long ago, Japan had it all. The most advanced economy in the world, its products paved the way for all our futures. Today, Japan seems caught in the bind of yesterday's glories, a nation that saw the future and was blinded by it.

    � Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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