Demographic Sunset in the Land of the Rising Sun: Japan in the 21st Century

By Michael Lee

“There’s a difference between being comfortable and being viable. We are gradually losing our viability …Japan has been utterly defeated as an economy. We’re losing the economic game.”
Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing

“Our choice is rebirth or ruin.”
Yoichi Funabashi in “Japan’s Zero Hour”

Everyone has a favourite iconic Japanese consumer product – the Sony Walkman, a Panasonic DVD recorder, Blu-ray disc player, a Canon, Nikon, Minolta or Pentax camera or even a Toyota Prius. But this century will witness the long, slow sunset of Japan’s power. That’s because the country’s ageing and depopulating society will drag the economy down with it, as it has already started to do.

Although there is a moderate danger before 2050 of a nationalistic war with China, the new Asian giant, it is more likely that Japan will manage its century-long decline in relative peace, probably accompanied by a final flowering of exquisite Japanese art and literature, tinged with nostalgic tones. Then, after several decades of graceful decline, population ageing and demographic shrinkage, the country will face colonisation by an Asian power. If the conquerors subsequently inter-breed with the Japanese, it could mean an eventual vanishing of Japan within a generation or two of this conquest. Another great civilisation will have been consigned to history, at some time in the 22nd century, fatally weakened from within by a depopulation process which began, ironically, in the midst of the nation’s greatest economic boom.

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