I have been visiting Japan every year since 1971. For many decades I wrote a report to friends but have been negligent for the past few years. Most recently, I stayed in Tokyo with little travel outside.
Each year I visit with about 20 friends over a meal. The friends are not a cross section of Tokyo. They include several corporate consultants, a number of people in the Japanese State Department including a former ambassador, political operatives, art and international relations professors, a museum director and a leader of the international organic farming movement. A member of the royal family contingent and a formerly homeless garbage truck driver.
Tokyo is booming. There are now as many ads on the subways as there were in the boom year of 1990. The streets and stores are full. Even in late March tourists are abundant. I hear and see Chinese, Filipinos, Indonesians and Europeans. There are traffic jams where traffic used to move smoothly. There are plenty of cranes for tall buildings but fewer than ten years ago. The current boom area is Shibuya. New buildings every block.
While prices seem stable, the data indicate a slight rise. No longer falling. Tokyo is growing as rural dwellers move into town with government encouragement. As the national population shrinks, workers are scarce. Finding employees is almost impossible.
What is not visible is that Japan has been declining economically relative to the United States. Japanese can no longer buy a home or a condo in the U.S. I think the relative decline has to do with energy. The U.S. has gone from high priced imported oil to low cost domestic oil and gas.
Japan in the meantime has shut down 50 fully operating nuclear plants; reopening only 10. It is substituting oil. The country has passed the limit on solar, wind and hydro. Production costs have hurt Japan's productivity. Nuclear was 30% of Japanese energy before 2011. That went to zero and is rising very slowly.
The best evidence of this is that American hotel prices listed in Yen online in Japan are half the $ prices you find in the U.S.
The Abe government has tried to make Japan an important player on the world stage and has failed. The press has come after Abe with corruption charges that sound trivial to an American's ear. In the U.S. a Sec'ty of State sells ownership of a uranium company to Russia in return for hundreds of millions in gifts. No criminal charges. In Japan the wife of the prime minister is a future honorary president of a middle school that got land at a discount. (In Israel the prime minister got a gift of a model submarine).
My friends assure me that Abe is weak and may not remain prime minister for long. Several women seem ready to take the job.
Japan continues to build its navy and air force. Relations with the rest of Asia have never improved and remain poor to weak.
Japanese TV uses two interesting tools. One is for phone-in numbers to buy a product. These numbers are always pairs: 90-440-2266. Another is the use of really beautiful Western models on the level of Marilyn Monroe. American TV never uses really stunning blonde women in ads, just good looking.
I've never found a satisfactory way to measure people's happiness. The best are my own feelings that the Japanese are very content with their country and their daily lives.
Strange view of American foreign policy I found among the foreign service elites. Obama never did anything but talk for eight years. Trump has changed the entire dynamic in Asia in one year. North Korea is willing to negotiate nuclear weapons and rockets. China is willing to negotiate exports, imports, copyrights and everyone wants to make changes in trade and monetary policy.
- Most women of the world want a promotion, higher pay and to rise in the hierarchy. American women don't want men to try and pick-them-up. Sounds ridiculous.
- In most countries minorities are minorities and are looked down on. And they stay that way. In America blacks, only one of many minorities, complain and attack all the time calling whites and police "racist".
- In most countries religion is a settled matter. In the U.S. it is a perpetual source of anti-religious antagonism.
- In most of the world being a male gay is either unnoticed, criminal or ordinary. Married gay men is an issue in a few places and married men adopting children is almost unheard of in the world.
- Transgenders are non-existent or in a few cases, like the Philippines, worshiped.
- Global warming Apocalypse is generally irrelevant in most of the world, or a way for governmental elites to ask for more development money.
Japan is one of the few innovating countries on the planet. The U.S. and Israel are the other two. Japan invented the Walkman, the hybrid car and cell phone texting. Innovation in Japan these days is coming from a rare combination of large corporate support and small company innovators being put together. Deliberately.