What Japan Thinks About Globalization
What Japan Thinks About Globalization

 Japan ranks as the world’s 3rd largest economy and is a leader in the fields of IT-related industries, automobiles, and animation.

For many years, Japan used the seniority system and hired workers for “life;” this system functioned well until the late 1990s when Japan’s stock market fell dramatically, land prices plummeted, credit shrunk, and Japan entered into a recession.1 Japan’s economy has since rebounded and is growing again.

The labor system has changed dramatically. Young workers are increasingly working part-time or through temporary contracts. Workers are being promoted via merit, instead of by years of service. Japan’s workforce is aging and, coupled with a low birthrate, young workers will increasingly feel the burden of taking care of the aging population.

Another challenge facing Japan is the integration of women into the upper echelons of the workforce. The current system makes it difficult for women to balance families and careers; so talented women emigrate to find better opportunities. Because of changing demographics, this is changing as well.2

The articles below examine different aspects of the ways in which Japan is dealing with globalization. Included are clips from Japanese newspapers and speeches given by Japanese leaders.


The mood in Japan has been deteriorating at an alarming pace since the turn of the year, in line with the precipitous drop in the nation’s stock market. Customary New Year’s editorials and special features of major newspapers have added to the sense of crisis, raising fears about Japan’s evaporating prominence in the world.

Of course, such doom and gloom is nothing unfamiliar in this country. But what is new this time around is the deepening sense of real danger that this may be the start of a long downward trend. There is no shortage of evidence to this effect: the nation’s shrinking and aging population; its drop in the international ranking of per capita gross domestic product; its shrinking aid to the developing world; the dropping number of Japanese corporations among the world’s major multinationals; worsening public debt, and so on.

The worrying came to a head as a result of, among other things, the plunge of Tokyo share prices in the closing days of 2007 and into 2008. Of concern to many is that the Tokyo market’s decline is steeper than any of the other markets in the world that have been affected by the U.S. subprime meltdown.

Some argue that Japan’s market has unique vulnerabilities, and as analysts see it, the plunge reflects to a large extent foreign investors’ desertion of a Japan that now appears to have poor prospects for growth and prosperity in the future…

Now, a tug of war is under way between forces demanding more attention to the poor and the weaker segment of the economy, while others advocate relentless pursuit of reform…

Japan simply cannot afford division of this sort. It must grow and maintain prosperity. Otherwise, it will not be able to solve the problem of the widening income gap. The kinds of policies we should be seeking ought to be geared to reform that will ensure growth and prosperity in the face of globalization, but that will not put undue strain on the weaker sector.

Source: Ishizuka, Masahiko. “In these dark days, Japan requires real policy innovation.” The Nikkei Weekly. January 28, 2008.

International Trade
This article addresses Japan’s free trade agreements (FTAs).

No time to lose in opening Japan’s agricultural markets…

It is glaringly obvious that Japan needs to act more swiftly under a clearly defined strategy to avoid ending up a big loser in the global trend toward entering FTAs.

To accelerate FTA negotiations, Japan needs to offer clear benefits to its potential partners. And Japan’s unwillingness to open its closed agricultural markets – due mainly to the political power of the farm lobby – is almost always the principal obstacle to that effort.

The EU, for instance, is interested in increasing exports to Japan of pork, beef, dairy products and processed foods. To persuade the EU to scrap its tariffs on Japanese industrial exports, Japan needs to offer the EU better access to its markets.

Like Japan, South Korea carefully protected its farm sector for a long time. But Seoul made a bold decision to open its markets to almost all agricultural products except rice in order to conclude an FTA with the U.S.

It is time for Japanese political leaders to stop shying away from the challenge of opening up the country’s agricultural markets.

Source: “No time to lose in opening Japan’s agricultural markets.” Nikkei Weekly. October 22nd, 2007

Most of Japan’s blogs are written in Japanese or are written in English by expats living in Japan. So this Washington Post article was chosen since it discussed the phenomena of Japanese blogging.

Although English speakers outnumber Japanese speakers by more than 5-1, slightly more blog postings are written in Japanese than in English, according to Technorati, the Internet search engine that monitors the blogosphere.

By some estimates, as much as 40 percent of Japanese blogging is done on mobile phones, often by commuters staring cross-eyed at tiny screens for hours as they ride the world’s most extensive network of subways and commuter trains.

Blogging in Japan, though, is a far tamer beast than in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world. Japan’s conformist culture has embraced a technology that Americans often use for abrasive self-promotion and refashioned it as a soothingly nonconfrontational medium for getting along.

Bloggers here shy away from politics and barbed language. They rarely trumpet their expertise. While Americans blog to stand out, the Japanese do it to fit in, blogging about small stuff: cats and flowers, bicycles and breakfast, gadgets and TV stars.

Compared with Americans, they write at less length, they write anonymously, and they write a whole lot more often.

Before blogging became popular here in 2002 and ’03, the Japanese had used personal computers to keep electronic diaries…The diary habit runs so deep in Japan that it transformed the craft of blogging from an American-style lecture to a Japanese-style personal narrative, according to Ito, the Technorati board member. In the process, he said, blogging exploded as a mega-fad for Japan’s huge middle class, a kind of karaoke for shy people…

Source: Harden, Blaine. “Japan’s Bloggers: Humble Giants of the Web.” Washington Post. December 6, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/05/AR2007120502751_pf.html

Japan recently experienced a tainted food scandal and this article covers the response from the government.

An advisory panel on consumer protection is set to recommend a series of steps aimed at bolstering food safety, such as creating a unified law governing food labeling and requiring manufacturers to show a single expiration date.

The Cabinet Office’s Social Policy Council unveiled its recommendations Feb. 14, with the aim of compiling a final report in March. This comes in the wake of food-labeling scandals that in November prompted Prime Minister Fukuda to call for a comprehensive review of administrative and legislative structures governing the food industry.

Fallout from the pesticide-tainted frozen dumplings imported from China is also spurring the government to take swift action to bolster food safety measures.

Currently, multiple laws govern food labeling. The Japanese Agricultural Standards Law, for instance, focuses on providing consumers with information about a product’s place-of-origin and ingredients, while the food sanitation law aims to prevent health hazards from allergens and other factors.

But because all food products do not offer the same information, consumer advocates have cited a lack of uniformity and clarity in food labels…

The report also calls for the confiscation of improper profits earned by companies failing to comply with food-labeling rules as well as the integration of organizations tasked with conducting inspections and issuing penalties.

The council will also propose changes to how food expiration dates are displayed. Currently, dry food and less perishable items are assigned best-before dates, while products that can spoil quickly are labeled with expiration dates…And in a bid to prevent a major outbreak of food poisoning or other food safety problems, the report recommends the establishment of a database to store consumer information reported to public health offices, the police and consumer advocate centers. Specialists would also be assigned to analyze the data and prevent a recurrence of any problem.”

Source: “Government panel to call for unified food-labeling law.” The Nikkei Weekly. February 18th, 2008

This article addresses the changing perception of beauty in Japan.

Shampoo ads here typically feature glamorous blondes praising imports from Procter Gamble of the U.S. and Europe’s Unilever.

But ads for Tsubaki, the latest hit from cosmetics maker Shiseido Co., show famous Japanese women and an unusually direct slogan: “Japanese women are beautiful.”

The message has struck a chord at a time when Japanese women are increasingly looking to role models in their own ranks, rather than stars from abroad, for definitions of their self worth. Advertisers are beginning to catch on to the trend…

For decades, beauty standards in Japan were dictated by the West, home to famous fashion houses like Christian Dior and Gucci, which remain extremely popular in Asia.
But now, young people are taking a different cue from Westerners and rediscovering sushi, “manga” comic books, “anime,” kimono and other elements of Japanese culture, said Kawashima, who has written a book about the success of Shiseido’s branding strategy.

Source: Kageyama, Yuri. “Shampoo ads ditches blonds for “beautiful Japanese women.’” The Japan Times. August 29th, 2007. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20070829a2.html

This article addresses Japan’s position on carbon trading.

More than 40 percent of Japan’s major firms favor creating a system for trading carbon emissions credits, the Environment Ministry said Thursday in a report.

According to the survey, 6.5 percent of respondents support the idea and 34.8 percent would support it depending on the mechanism.

Since support exceeds 40 percent, demand for an emissions trading system appears strong despite opposition from the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), ministry officials said…

Responses were mixed when companies were asked whether they would support a carbon tax, with 7.1 percent saying they would support it and 31.8 percent saying they would rather support it than oppose it. But 13.2 percent said they would oppose it outright and 26.5 percent said they would be inclined to oppose it.”

Source: “40% of firms back carbon credit trade.” The Japan Times. January 12, 2008. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20080112a2.html

This article addresses the need for Japan to encourage immigration.

To respond positively to globalization and maintain Japan’s vitality in the twenty-first century, we cannot avoid the task of creating an environment that will allow foreigners to live normally and comfortably in this country. In short, this means coming up with an immigration policy that will make foreigners want to live and work in Japan. Achieving greater ethnic diversity within Japan has the potential of broadening the scope of the country’s intellectual creativity and enhancing its social vitality and international competitiveness…

It would not be desirable, however, simply to throw open the gates and let foreigners move in freely. First of all we should set up a more explicit immigration and permanent residence system so as to encourage foreigners who can be expected to contribute to the development of Japanese society to move in and possibly take up permanent residence here. We should also consider preferential treatment for foreigners who study or conduct research in Japan—such as allowing them automatically to acquire permanent residence status when they complete their academic work at a Japanese high school, university, or graduate school.

Source: “The Frontier Within: Individual Empowerment and Better Governance in the New Millennium,” Prime Minister’s Commission on Japan’s Goals in the 21st Century. January 2000. http://www.kisc.meiji.ac.jp/~yamawaki/gmj/debates.htm

Women and Globalization
This article addresses gender bias in the Japanese workplace.

”It is true that female workers are being taken more seriously in Japan. However, they still have a long way to go before they can fulfill their dreams of being career women,” said Yoko Yamaguchi, at the international division of Japan’s largest trade union Rengo…

Because of these harsh realities, Japanese businesses are forced to employ more women and even send their female staff up the corporate ladder in order to avert a stagnated economy…

”Corporate commitment to closing the gender gap is based on combating Japan’s aging population, not on nurturing women’s talents. Changing this attitude is important for women workers,” said Nobuo Yamaguchi, chairperson of the Japan Chamber of Commerce.

By tradition Japanese companies hire men almost exclusively to fill career positions, reserving shorter-term work, mostly clerical tasks and tea serving, for women, who are widely known in such jobs here as office ladies, or simply O.L.’s…

Still, whatever a woman’s qualifications, breaking into the career track requires overcoming entrenched biases, not least the feeling among managers that childbearing is an insupportable disruption. But that, too, seems to be changing.

Hitomi Nishihara, a labour analyst at Recruit Company, Japan’s leading employment firm, said more companies are starting new working shifts to help women stay in their jobs after marriage and child birth…”

Source: Kakuchi, Suvendrini. “Japan: Dwindling Workforce Forces a Rehink on Role of Women Workers.” Interpress News Service. May 16th, 2005. http://ipsnews.net/interna.asp?idnews=28692

This first-hand account discusses Japan’s widespread adoption of energy-saving activities.

I was in Japan a week ago, giving lectures at some of the universities in Tokyo and the Bank of Japan. I couldn’t help but be struck by how differently energy is used in Tokyo compared with southern California.

Since 1999, total petroleum consumption has declined by 1% per year in Japan, while in the U.S. it has increased by 0.8% per year. Part of the reason is that their economy has been growing at a slower rate (1.6% per year in Japan versus 2.7% per year in the U.S.). But part also is explained by different energy-use habits…

Practically no one I spoke with would even consider driving to work– everyone takes the subways and trains, and gets to the station by bus, bicycle, or on foot. It’s not because gas is particularly more expensive. I often saw regular gasoline selling for 136 yen per liter (about $4.20 per gallon) in the outskirts of Tokyo, not much more than the $3.50/gallon that we paid here in San Diego at the height this spring.

People complained that parking is expensive. A typical price I saw was 2000 yen (or $16.30) to park your car for the day. Moreover, you could not count on the lot having space when you arrived, and employers don’t provide parking for their workers.

But the most important explanation seemed to be that you’ll get to work faster on the train than you would in your car. I never had to wait more than a few minutes to catch a train (and I took several every day), whereas sitting in a traffic jam was almost a sure thing if you tried to drive on any of the major roads. Years ago, Tokyo made a decision that the transportation infrastructure in which to invest was rail rather than parking and roads.

As China ponders which model to follow, I know what my advice for them would be.”

Source: Energy Use in Japan February 17th, 2008. http://gpyalmiraawan.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/energy-use-in-japan/

Human Rights
The article addresses a complaint against an official Japanese survey on human rights and points out the inherent biases for non-Japanese residents and problems of racism within Japan.

On Aug. 25, the Japanese government released findings from a Cabinet poll conducted every four years. Called the “Public Survey on the Defense of Human Rights”, it sparked media attention with some apparently good news.

When respondents were asked, “Should foreigners have the same human rights protections as Japanese?” 59.3 percent said “yes.” This is a rebound from the steady decline from 1995 (68.3 percent), 1999 (65.5) and 2003 (54)…

First, why is the government even asking whether non-Japanese deserve equal rights? Are human rights optional, a matter of opinion polls? And if a majority says foreigners deserve fewer rights, does that justify the current policy of resisting introducing laws against racial discrimination? …

Now let’s turn to the lousy science. 3,000 people (1,776 respondents) aged 20 and up were interviewed “to poll the awareness of citizens (“kokumin”) regarding human rights protections, applying them toward shaping future policy” (survey, page 1).

Well then, the sampling is already biased. If you only survey “kokumin,” you aren’t surveying foreigners. As taxpaying residents, shouldn’t 2 million non-Japanese also have input into policy affecting them as profoundly as anti-discrimination measures?…
But the survey’s biggest blind spot is its approach toward issues of nationality and race.

Note how the aforementioned Q3 includes, in one category, “discrimination by race, creed, gender, and social status.” That’s painting the issue with an awfully big brush. Not to diminish the severity of these problems, but you can hardly lump them together and get meaningful results.

Consequently, 13.9 percent of respondents indicated they had experienced this kind of discrimination (probably mostly by gender).

But what are the chances of Japanese claiming they are victims of racism? If you exclude all foreigners from the survey, you guarantee an unrealistically low number, especially given the spread of “Japanese Only” signs and policies nationwide, and the long-standing practice of refusing apartments to foreign renters…

Is there any doubt about the existence of discrimination against foreigners in Japan? Even our courts have acknowledged it in several lawsuits — the Ana Bortz and the Otaru onsen cases being but two famous examples…

Source: Arudou, Debito. “Human rights survey stinks.” The Japan Times. October 23rd, 2007. http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20071023zg.html

1 Kinoshita, Toshihiko. “Observation on the Japanese and East Asian economies. “ Speech. London School of Economics. November 20, 2003. http://www.uk.emb-japan.go.jp/en/news/archive/kinoshita_lecture.doc
2 Kitazume, Takashi. “Sustained growth needs more access, ambition.” The Japan Times. June 9th, 2007.

* Picture was taken by Bill McIntrye and is posted on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/billmcintyre/450980271/

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