|Japan: the economy and society in the ocean of problems|
In the opinion of Elena Leontieva, by early 2011, Japan's economy almost recovered from the global financial crisis. In FY 2010/2011, real GDP growth rate was expected to reach 3%, but in March 2011 this bright forecast was ruined by a devastating magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that pummeled the northeastern coast of Honshu.
The earthquake and tsunami wrought havoc on economic activities in a relatively small and not the most densely populated area. But this region ensured food supply to the great megapolis of Tokyo. The ruined Fukushima-1 power plant was a major power supplier to the Kanto region. Plants and factories in the northeastern Honshu supply materials and parts to huge networks of assembly lines across the world. Disrupted global technological networks gave a powerful blow to the Japanese manufacturers who faced a large-scale loss of markets.
A total estimate of direct losses in the area was calculated by the Japanese government and reached ¥33.8 trillion, or over $430 billion. This amounts to 7.05 percent of Japan's annual GDP. In terms of money loss, the greatest damage was done to railroads and highways, communications, dwellings, farms and factories.
The top priority tasks were to restore infrastructure of transportation and communications, to resume supplies of goods and fuel and to start construction of new homes for the evacuees. This work is going on fast. It is well organized by various private businesses. This is a starting point of a construction boom. To completely clean and decontaminate the territory, to re-cultivate the farmland and to possibly change the economic pattern in the devastated area might take up to three years. A complete reconstruction of northeastern Japan may take no less than ten years.
Delays are extremely risky. Japanese corporations have been relocating their facilities abroad for many years. Disruption of supplies and power shortages tend to accelerate the current outflow of capital and loss of jobs - the "hollowing out" of the Japanese economy.
Restoration of control over nuclear power plants and coping with power shortages are the most formidable tasks. Japan had a faulty system of safety regulations in its nuclear power industry. Managers of plants covered up malfunctions of equipment and gave falsified statements to regulators, so that the regulating agencies had no true information about possible threats. Even after the quake and tsunami, the TEPCO continued to conceal the real scale of disaster, the extent of disruption and radioactive emission. Only after a delay, they began to cool the red-hot damaged reactors with seawater, and explosions and fires could not be avoided. The four reactors at the Fukushuima-1 power plant are closed and will be decommissioned in 2012.
Nuclear power generation amounts to 30 percent of the country's entire power output. Japan cannot do without nuclear power. Power shortages can hardly be covered if idled thermal plants restart operations. Transition to reliance on coal, oil and gas (all carbohydrates are imported) will involve enormous costs. So far, renewable energy sources and energy conservation cannot fill the gap in the country's energy balance.
According to the official reconstruction program, 68 percent of the huge financial plan for restoration of the quake-hit area must be used in the first decade after the disaster. The expenditures will be covered with fiscal money, namely, with taxpayers' money and with issuance of special-purpose "reconstruction bonds."
Public funding of reconstruction works at such a scale will place a heavy burden on Japan's fiscal system. Consolidated government debt is already equal to 8.8 percent of Japan's annual GDP, and the accumulated debt-to-GDP ratio has reached 217 percent. The public sector is heavily in debt, but this is outweighed by private-sector savings. Liabilities of the Japanese financial institutions, which own 95 percent of the public debt, consist mostly of time deposits of companies and households. These resources will fund reconstruction works through the market of public debt.
The government had to abandon the long-awaited program of tax cuts, which are so needed for the restart of economic growth, and cut back fiscal expenditures on many social needs. Financing of reconstruction works goes from supplementary budgets funded with special bond issues. Redemption of these bonds will begin with resumption of economic growth.
Political instability provides no benefit to public financing of reconstruction works. The main opposition Liberal Democratic Party has blocked or detained some major bills in the Diet, such as the bills on the scale of issuance of government bonds, on the transfer of funds from social programs, on the support enabling the TEPCO to cover obligations to residents in the quake-hit area. Each budget item has its opponents and lobbyists. Opponents have appeared in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. They combined efforts to make Prime Minister Naoto Kan resign together with his Cabinet. Yoshihiko Noda has become the new head of the Government - the sixth Prime Minister in the last five years.
In a destabilized political system, people do not trust the government. Nevertheless, Japan's economy is strong enough to cope with the most difficult tasks.
The article by Dmitry Streltsov deals with the impact of the Fukushima disaster on the prospects of development for the national electric power industry. Future development of the electricity sector in Japan was compromised most dramatically in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, that brought about the accident at the NPP "Fukushima-1," the largest in Japanese history. Looming large on the national agenda is revision of strategic plans for energy development, in which the nuclear sector has always played a key role. Changes in the priorities are all the more likely after the accident as there are signs of an incipient reversal in the country's public opinion in favor of giving up nuclear power.
Japan found itself forced to reckon not only with a lack of its own fossil energy sources, but also with its extremely vulnerable geo-economic position. As an island state, Japan has no links to grids in neighboring countries, nor is it in a position to purchase additional amounts of electricity, as do European countries in such circumstances. Under these conditions, the choice of available options is limited to the following: increase the import of hydrocarbons, limit energy needs by stepping up energy saving measures, or look for new reserves in the renewable energy field.
While increased imports of fossil fuels, primarily oil and natural gas, as well as coal, are likely to become the main trend in Japan's energy strategy in the future, it has significant drawbacks.
Firstly, Japan will not be able to increase its imports of hydrocarbons, whose supplies in the vast majority of cases are fixed in contracts valid for years to come. Moreover, Japan will face stiffer competition for the right to develop new fields abroad from the world's fast-growing economies, especially China and India.
Secondly, because the cost of electricity produced at thermal power plants is higher than that of NPP-produced power, energy-consuming industries will undoubtedly have to take on a greater financial burden. Seen from this angle, Japanese economy, now in its third decade of structural adjustment, will find itself in an unfavorable situation, which is likely to further weaken its competitive potential.
Thirdly, a transfer to hydrocarbon resources of energy will definitely raise greenhouse gas emissions. This will deal a blow to Japan's policy to increase its contribution to the struggle against global warming.
The disaster has convincingly confirmed the correctness of earlier policy of developing renewable sources. Future steps will apparently lead to accelerated development in this area and a further buildup of Japan's technological potential as a "green superpower." The problem, however, is that hydropower has natural limits to its development, while production of energy from other sources, especially solar and wind energy, which are overly dependent on weather and time of day, is too unstable. In addition, the present level of technology renders alternative sources considerably more expensive than the traditional ones. At this point, therefore, renewable energy sources can only be considered an additional source of energy, which can be efficient mainly in a local-scale economy.
As for energy savings, the policies that have been going on in Japan for many decades have produced huge reserves in this area; a major contribution toward this goal also came about as a result of changes in people's lifestyle toward energy-saving behavior. However, it is still difficult to count on a significant input of the energy conservation policy to overcoming energy deficit.
Analysis of the situation in which Japan found itself after the "triple disaster" suggests that a complete rejection of nuclear power will be much more difficult and painful for Japan than it appears at first glance.
One factor supporting the preservation of a certain number of nuclear power plants in the country energy system is the threat of losing the present technological capacity in the nuclear sphere. In addition, in view of Japan's active involvement in the international competition for the global market of nuclear power, there is some concern that the country may lose its status of a world nuclear-technology power. The military security aspect plays a part in this situation, too. After all, the scientific and technical resources accumulated in nuclear power engineering are a most important strategic reserve of Japan that can be used not only for civilian but also for military ends.
Thus, the dilemma is not whether to develop nuclear energy or not, but, rather, with what to replace its loss for the electricity sector. For its part, the Japanese leadership regards an immediate and complete rejection of nuclear energy at least as unrealistic. After the change of cabinet in August 2011, its new leader, Y. Noda, confirmed that plans to build new reactors would be suspended, but the existing reactors would be decommissioned gradually, as their resources would be progressively depleted. The first to close will be the oldest reactors whose design fails to meet modern safety requirements.
According to Irina Lebedeva, the processes of globalization of Japanese industry have already gone far enough. More than 14 thousand branches of Japanese industrial companies operate outside Japan, which accounts for about 17 percent of the total production of domestic and foreign enterprises.
Clearly, Japanese companies are faced with various challenges as they are setting up production in foreign countries because they have to operate in a different environment than at home. A question that arises in this connection is to what extent they are able to implement their famous system of organization and management at their foreign subsidiaries; after all, it is this system that underlies the outstanding achievements of Japanese industry in the postwar period.
Because the Japanese system of organization and management is an integral system whose elements are closely interconnected and carefully adjusted to each other, there is a risk it may be damaged or even destroyed under certain circumstances, particularly when it is transferred to a different business environment. Such, in fact, are some of the problems facing Japanese companies when, given the undoubted competitive advantages of this system, they attempt to apply it at their foreign affiliates.
Some of these problems obviously relate to the fact that in creating their system of organization and management, its architects relied on the socio-psychological characteristics of the Japanese people that have formed under the influence of national culture, such as groupism (group-oriented behavior), the priority of collective values, striving for consensus and wa (harmony), the preference for long-term connections and relationships, as well as paternalism, national solidarity, egalitarian consciousness, etc. This is what provided the groundwork for a system that was not merely marked by high economic expediency, but also corresponded to the employees' notions of what a company should be and how it should be managed.
Some faults that occur in the Japanese system when it is applied in a different cultural environment are due to its national specificity. In our view, however, this factor should not be overestimated. After all, if one considers the basic elements of the organization of the production and work process in Japanese companies, one would see that their chief merits are rationality and expediency, and, therefore, their value transcends the Japanese national context.
A special Japanese Multinational Enterprise Study Group consisting of Japanese and foreign scholars and specialists was set up in the late 1980s to study the operation of the Japanese system of organization and management at foreign affiliates of Japanese companies, a matter not only of academic, but also of great practical importance. The group conducted a series of field studies in different countries and regions worldwide, and developed unified methods of estimating the extent to which the Japanese system was applicable at foreign affiliates. The results of this major work were described in several collective publications and individual monographs, which together present a fairly complete picture of this phenomenon as a whole and of its regional and country-specific characteristics.
Analysis of these studies showed that features related to local environments influenced the appearance of hybrid systems with different configurations in various countries and regions. Some elements of the Japanese system proved more acceptable to some countries, while other features were more welcome in others. The analysis indicated, however, that certain elements of the system - such as the activities of small groups - could not take root in any of the countries. At the same time, it appeared that certain elements can attain the same degree of applicability in different countries and in completely different situations.
In the years since the opening of their first overseas affiliates, Japanese managers gained valuable managerial experience of working in a foreign environment, which will certainly help over time to raise the efficiency of foreign companies. It is likewise obvious that this experience can come in handy back home - in light of the ongoing changes. In particular, the past few years saw an increasing number of young Japanese who are leaving their jobs in companies during the first three years of employment. There are signs of kigyobanare, or alienation of workers from companies' affairs due to greater diversification of people's needs and lifestyles. There are also indications of the growing proportion of the highly skilled personnel who often change jobs as they look for more interesting work or higher wages. Obviously, the experience gained by Japanese managers at foreign subsidiaries must suggest ways that, in the given circumstances, may help preserve the core of the Japanese management system - the formation of multi-disciplinary training on the basis of long-term employment.
As Tatyana Matrusova and Ksenia Kurochkina put it, the employment situation is one of the most serious problems afflicting modern Japan during the crisis. The few recent years saw a growing replacement of permanent staff with temporary employees in many Japanese companies. Compared with 2000, the number of temporary personnel at enterprises employing over 30 people grew by 39 percent in 2011, while those permanently employed dropped by 4 percent. Statistics indicate that, at the beginning of 2011, one-third of Japan's labor force fell into the category of temporarily employed.
The highly specific dual labor market in Japan owes its characteristics to the fact that it has become a nearly institutional form in the postwar period. The institutional division of the labor market occurred as a result of a peculiar system of lifetime employment. The system is largely fueled by the peripheral market of temporary workers, who are deprived of many social safeties, including job security. Temporary employment is primarily the lot of women and college students. It was also largely responsible for nearly zero unemployment in Japan during almost the entire postwar period, and, at less than 1%, or around the level of statistical error, accounted for absence of any social upheavals to speak of.
Japan's increasing involvement since the mid-1980s in the process of globalization saw its entire production structure undergo more and more profound changes, as it was moving toward the so-called post-industrial society with its dropping demand for traditional industrial labor. It was also the time when dramatic polarization became evident in the structure of the country's employment and when unemployment became a problem, which claimed as its first victims people of the "problem" ages - young and older workers.
Large Japanese companies that had always oriented themselves to young people as their future permanent staff, began, during the current global financial crisis, to hire more actively temporary workers and employ fewer young people in permanent positions. The worsening situation with young labor became particularly noticeable in the 1990s. The number of "untypically employed" youth started growing since the mid-1990s. In 2007, according to the Ministry of Labor, there were 1,810,000 young people registered as the so-called "persons of free labor," or furita (from the English "freeter"), who, unable to find anything better, would regularly agree to work part-time. Youth unemployment has also been expanding, reaching almost 10 percent by 2009.
One of the most alarming trends in employment and youth employment, according to experts, is the increasing number of non-working young people who are not looking for work. Dubbed NEET ("Not in Education, Employment and Training"), these young people aged 15 to 34 years do not work, study, or attend training courses, are not married, do no domestic work, and are not looking for work. Between 1993 and 2007 alone, the number of NEET rose more than six times and reached 610,000 people.
One of the major causes underlying the appearance of the NEET social group and the "unusually employed" young people, in general, is the very structure of the Japanese labor market. In a crisis, companies reduce costs and hire fewer new employees, which reduces the chances of young people to find work. What makes the situation worse for young people is that the vast majority of them have little or no qualifications as they enter the labor market for the first time. The Japanese paradox here consists in that only after they get a job can young people hope to get some professional training. The main place where one can get a training today is large firms. The structural changes in the labor market that occurred as a result of technological progress and globalization, or changes in work ethic, compel the Japanese authorities today to take a different view on the policy of vocational training.
Many other problems manifest themselves more and more alongside increasing social and economic tensions. One of them is the problem of poverty. Thus, the period from the mid-1980s to mid-2010s saw increased stratification of Japanese society. With reference to relative poverty among the working population, Japan moved to one of the top places in the world. A key factor here is the stratification of the labor market and its increasing trend toward duality.
Narrowing the expanding gap between the two parts of labor market and eliminating the consequences of this dualism are, according to experts, the most important means to counter the trend towards increased inequality and greater poverty in Japanese society.
The second article by Dmitry Streltsov is dedicated to the problem of low-carbon society in Japan. The concept of low-carbon society stands for a new type of society, one with high environmental consciousness and aiming to phase out the use of fossil fuels. The concept is based on the realization that fossil fuels are exhaustible and their use is an important factor in global warming - one of the most serious threats facing humankind. Low-carbon society implies rejection of the consumerist approach to nature, active energy-saving measures, and a shift to alternative energy sources, which may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thus diminish the greenhouse effect.
The problem of low-carbon society has gained particular urgency in Japan because of the implementation of the obligations it has accepted under the Kyoto Protocol.
The concept of low-carbon society implies a long-term national strategy to address three problems: 1) reducing the share of hydrocarbons in the country's energy balance, 2) energy savings and priority development of "low-carbon technologies," and 3) building a new society with high environmental consciousness.
Thus, the concept of low-carbon society was developed as an underlying theory justifying the theoretical possibility and necessity of a strategy aimed at combating global warming. The advancement of this strategy was intended to create an attractive image of the future social and economic system and thus give society new development guidelines while, at the same time, justify the need for substantial financial and organizational outlays to be undertaken to achieve the designated goals.
Beginning from the early 2000s, Japan's Ministry of Environment started a major research project to identify the most significant characteristics of low-carbon society and to confirm them with relevant quantitative indicators. In 2004, a research group was set up to develop a methodology for assessing the medium- and long-term environmental policy of building low-carbon society in Japan.
Even the first interim report presented by the group, which appeared in February 2007, concluded that it was theoretically possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 percent by the year 2050 in comparison with the 1990 levels; this can be achieved mainly by reducing energy demand by 40-45 percent. Mathematical modeling showed that energy demand in Japan can be reduced as a result of objective processes of population decline, and subjective factors; chief among the latter should be the government's active policy aimed at energy conservation and increased use of renewable energy sources.
In the industrial sector of economy, structural reforms and measures to improve energy efficiency may lead, as expected, to a 20-40 percent reduction in demand.
In the passenger transport sector, the effect of the measures being taken, including a more efficient use of territory, improvements in energy efficiency, and the non-use of hydrocarbon energy sources, can reduce demand by nearly 80 percent; a large, 60-70 percent, cut in demand can be achieved in cargo transportation, primarily due to more rational logistics and improved energy efficiency of the fleet, including reduced fuel consumption; an important result, up to 50 percent reduction in demand, may be obtained in the housing sector thanks to measures to stimulate renovation of existing buildings in accordance with modern requirements, the intensive use of modern insulating materials and technologies, and the proliferation of energy-efficient appliances and equipment.
The low-carbon society, as it is identified in the reports of the above-mentioned research group, is still a rather vague concept, however, based as it is on a set of assumptions and schematization in which the starting point is some ideal model of social development to be built by 2050.
One step towards the realization of the low-carbon society concept can be an ambitious initiative to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020 compared to 1990; the initiative was launched by the Japanese government after the Democratic Party had come to power. A broad discussion was commenced in the country regarding an unfair burden that Japan would be taking unilaterally if other countries refuse to make similar commitments. Given the low chance that these commitments would be implemented with the help of domestic sources alone, Japan expects to purchase emission quotas from other countries.
According to Natalya Grigorieva, the ever-growing number of elderly people is a characteristic feature of the current demographic situation in the world. This prompted the international community to make considerable efforts to set up special programs to address the needs of this social group. One case in point is the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, a decade since the adoption of which will be observed in 2012. Each country determines its own priorities in its implementation, but its Framework Plan is, in effect, universal. It identified three priority areas of fundamental importance: older persons and development; promoting better health and well-being in old age and ensuring that these people live in a healthy sustainable environment; and promoting their participation in society.
Japan is one of the countries that had begun to realize these measures long before the international community launched an action plan on aging. For more than one decade Japan has occupied the first position on life expectancy, which has increased since the 1950s by 30 years. Not only do the Japanese live long, but they also remain active after reaching the retirement age: 72 percent of the Japanese aged over 65 are still working (this category of older people makes only 17 percent among the French and the English). Thus, Japan holds the first place in the world according to this indicator.
Even today there are nearly 25 million "silver-haired workaholics" in Japan, whose number is expected to grow 1.5 times in another 20 years. One must be healthy to carry on, however, and, as regards health status, Japan is one of the most successful countries in the world, a country where the health of older people has been one of the main strategies of the national healthcare system for almost thirty years.
The law of health services for older people was put into effect in Japan in 1983. Since then, though repeatedly supplemented, it has remained unchanged in its essence - a comprehensive and integrated implementation of health measures ranging from prevention of diseases to a system of medical and social rehabilitation. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Japan's priority were measures promoting social welfare and care services and improving care for patients at home.
The system providing health care and care for the elderly is a general national insurance fund, "Roken," which is essentially a form of social solidarity of citizens. It offers medical services on the basis of specialized health programs whose main goal is to maintain the health of people of mature age and supervise prevention, early diagnosis, and prompt treatment of diseases related to unhealthy lifestyle, etc. In addition, these programs are geared to prevent older people from getting into conditions in which they may require long-term medical care, as well as to advance and promote their independence. Along with this, there is a list of medical services that are integral components of a number of systems of preventive care.
Changes in Japan's health care system for seniors were of a progressive nature and relied on planning: from 1982 on, they were consistently included in the country's special plans for care system reform.
The main objective posed in Japan's Act on the structural health care reform of 2006 was how to reduce the portion of health costs that was covered with budgetary allocations. Japan typically spends about 8 percent of its GDP on health care. This is the second lowest rate (after the UK) in the ranking of OECD member countries.
New issues on the agenda for future development of the Japanese health system include: a reform of the process of developing policies to protect public health (especially as regards the participation of patients) and a reform of the distribution of health care costs.
Japanese medicine today is among the most technologically advanced in the world. With great attention being paid to investment in fixed assets, Japan is not inferior to the United States in terms of availability of modern technology for the citizens. Japan set up a national electronic health record (EHR) much earlier than other countries. Much has been done to introduce health information systems in hospitals, even though some Japanese hospitals did not adopt electronic medical records (EMR). The government continues to move in this direction, however, by undertaking initiatives such as "New IT - a Strategy for Reform" as part of the Japanese strategy for 2015. It is emphasized that IT will be used primarily for early diagnosis and disease prevention. A TV-care program for home use has been going on for several years now, and the Japanese are planning to extend it everywhere in their healthcare sphere. Although healthcare costs keep rising, it is not as rapid in Japan as in other countries, and so far the Japanese have been able to keep it under control. If its structural health-care reforms are successful, the 21st century may well see Japan become the world center of high-quality health care and a haven for the elderly.
Organization of health care for older people is a promising direction in the development of healthcare in Russia, in terms of providing both health and social services. It follows the experience of Japan, which has been successfully implementing such programs for 30 years now, and can serve a worthy example for the Russian health care.
Vasily Molodyakov's article addresses the problems of contemporary Japanese youth. Today's students, schoolchildren, young "white" and "blue collar" workers will in time become ministers, heads of corporations, ambassadors, professors, and writers, and will determine the country's destiny. Among other things, people aged 15 to 30 years will have to shoulder the care of their steadily aging society. In this issue, the author focuses only on three aspects of life of Japanese youth, the three most important indicators of its value orientations: (1) education and careers, (2) sex, marriage and family, and (3) leisure and entertainment.
Education has always been one of the key social values in Japan. Existing laws provide for nine years of compulsory secondary education (children who are unable to attend regular school for health reasons are taught at home or in special schools), the lack of which is a social anomaly. Higher education has a direct impact on financial security in all spheres of activity. Different educational qualifications contribute to further social stratification, therefore, competition in the most famous universities is very high - this despite the downward trend in the total number of applicants due to demographic reasons and a chronic "shortage" of students at the less prestigious universities in recent years. Thus, the social value of education is more important for the Japanese than its professional value.
The positive sequence of school-university-career is upset by people belonging to the categories furita (from the English "freeter") and NIIT (from the English acronym NEET: "not in education, employment or training"). Furita refers to free-lancers who earn their upkeep but do not have a permanent job. The NIIT people never work or study and are not going to do it. Not all furita and NIITs belong to the "golden youth" or are convinced parasites; some of them have not yet found a job to their taste or have not yet decided what they want to do, while others earn enough money for doing things they like, but these jobs have not become their major source of income (for example, rock music, or drawing manga). Their characteristic is absence of career ambitions in the conventional sense, which often means the lack of any ambitions whatsoever.
A nation's biological, physical and mental health is essential to its economic and social prosperity. Though Japan consistently ranks among the first nations in the world in terms of life expectancy and one of the last as regards infant mortality, its birth rate shows a consistent downward trend. There are fewer marriages, the age of the first marriage and divorce rates are on the rise, and polls indicate the Japanese are losing interest in sex. Psychologists and sexologists see this as another sign of prolonged infantilism, which is not affected by sexually-oriented advertising or a current flood of TV series "about love."
The Japanese notions about sex, marriage, and family may seem contradictory. Traditionally, Japanese society has been and largely remains morally-oriented and inclined to condemn those who depart from the canons of sexual or family-marriage behavior. In reality, however, it has always been marked by moral relativism and the emphasis on the need to strengthen family and maintain its traditional structure went side by side with the recognition of the right (albeit only for men) not only to sexual relations before marriage, but also to relative freedom after marriage, while divorce was for a long time regarded as amoral and antisocial.
Japanese youth loves and knows how to relax and have fun, although the current forms of preferred entertainment differ markedly from those popular with older generations. Youth subculture in Japan is not unique or highly diverse and original. Yet it gained world renown, having received much publicity at the state level and on a global scale. Youth subculture is defined as "a set of values, traditions, customs characterizing young people for whom leisure and recreation have replaced work as the most important needs." The above refers to only about 30 percent of the younger generation in the developed countries; yet it is the "subculture youth" that often sets the tone and fashions for the majority of their peers, thereby affecting the state of society in general. Departure for the virtual world, which is characteristic for a large part of Japanese youth, causes concern of psychologists and sociologists, who fear their return to reality may prove disastrous.
Such are the most pressing problems faced by "the confused generation," which is sometimes not aware of their importance and even danger. The prolonged infantilism of the Japanese is attributed to the fact that the national "childhood period" has become longer with the extension of the life cycle to eighty years.
In her article, Irina Tikhotskaya reviews the problems of the so-called "quiet revolutions" in Japan.
Japan is not just a country of ancient traditions, but one where deep-rooted traditions actually pervade people's everyday lives and are venerated by them; a country where evolutionary development has been preferred throughout history. Inquisitive and pragmatic, the Japanese are known worldwide as great imitators with a flair for all things new and promising, a people who can bring everything to perfection. Always and in all their undertakings, they would first study and analyze the matter at hand as thoroughly as they know how, and only then transform an alien idea into a product that the entire world will perceive as a novelty and absolutely Japanese at that. The word kakumei, or "revolution" is used in Japan solely in reference to events abroad, never to denote any change in their own country, radical as it might be. In a vivid example, the revolutionary events of the Meiji era are known as Meiji kakushin ("reform" or "update").
Things started changing in the 20th century: first, in the 1960s and 70s, when the phrase kagaku gijutsu kakumei (or STR) came into use and Japan, a defeated, war-torn country, began to contribute more and more to STR accomplishments until it eventually emerged as one of the world's economic leaders. These developments brought about radical changes in Japanese society, significantly increasing people's living standards as well as the shape of communities and lifestyles of their inhabitants. As a result, fractures began to manifest themselves in the current men-centric society as a growing number of women refused to be limited to care about family and home, and sought to express and assert themselves. Another characteristic was the disintegration of the pattern of women's behavior that had formed in the postwar period of rapid economic growth - when women were leaving work after marriage and childbirth, becoming sengyo shufu ("professional housewifes"). This development stemmed from the changed social structure of Japanese society as a result of the radical economic restructuring, which, with the majority of those employed becoming hired workers, no longer compelled wives to remain involved in family businesses. The entire Japanese system of employment became largely re-oriented toward men, while women, in contrast to former times, engaged exclusively in home-making and children-raising.
Employment opportunities for women began to increase dramatically alongside the gradual expansion of services, wider application of information technologies in the economy, and the appearance of more part-time jobs. The emergence of women on the scene, their changing roles, and active behavior affected the process of changes in Japanese society so much that, at the turn of the 1990s the well-known Japanese sociologist Iwao Sumiko called the process a "quiet revolution."
Likewise, perfectly matching the designation of a "quiet revolution" were changes that became apparent after Japanese society had experienced the prolonged depression of the 1990s. The Japanese youth, very passive in social and political terms at the end of the 20th century, would now prefer to "live to work" rather than "work to live," as was typical of their fathers (especially true as regards males); far more than previously they value leisure, material wealth, and independence, as well as situations where one need not be concerned about anyone else. Dubbed "the lost generation," the Japanese youth today is more prone to individualism and gratification of their aspirations and interests, and are less likely to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of the collective. Young men pay much more attention to their looks, dyeing hair, using makeup, and choosing clothes that are either more stylish, or, conversely, more catchy and deliberately more casual - all for the purpose of enhancing their visibility; furthermore, they watch their weight more than the girls do. Many socially unacceptable, deviant modes of behavior that evoke concern in society are signs of protest against the life of their fathers and of frustration that their adulthood occurred after the collapse of the bubble economy, and, hence, they were left face to face with its negative consequences (primarily unemployment and the absence of former stability, which deprives them of hope) and not having been able to enjoy the excitement that prevailed during the "bubble" years. The passivity of young men is also, apparently, a response to the increasingly self-confident behavior of women. Thus, Japanese society has developed designations "carnivores" for young women and "herbivores" for young men.
The end of the first decade of the new century witnessed something that might be called a "quiet revolution" in politics - the electoral defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, a party that remained dominant throughout most of the postwar years. The victory of the young Democratic Party of Japan in the 2009 election was largely due to the fact that many people (by their own admission in interviews with this author) voted for it out of curiosity: the prolonged depression of the 1990s and the conservation of outstanding economic and social problems cast doubt upon the LDP's ability to change the situation.
Concluding her analysis, I. Tikhotskaya notes that the changing role of women in Japanese society, the deviant modes of behavior of young people, and the new developments in Japan's political life all point to Japan's inherent flexibility and adaptability to changing internal and external conditions. Moreover, in contrast to what was once "instilled in the Japanese from the top" (like the notion that it is "indecent to go around naked or in inappropriate clothes"), equal social rights for men and women, solution of young people's problems, assistance to families with children, and even changes in political life, now follow changes in society. Hence, the term "quiet revolution" seems a most appropriate metaphor for the essence of the changes in present-day Japanese society, whose paradigm is increasingly determined by women, its most active group.
With the ethnic Japanese making up to 99 percent of its population, Japan, according to Seda Markaryan, is perhaps one of the few mono-ethnic countries in existence; it is the only such country in the developed world. Despite extensive borrowings from foreign cultures and adapting them to their civilization, historically, the Japanese have had little contact with their agents. Few foreigners ever came and stayed there, and for centuries, Japan remained a "closed country" in the literal and figurative sense. It was only in the wake of the Meiji Restoration that specialists from Western countries and foreign workers started coming there to help the Japanese master Western technological innovations.
Japan's emergence as a leading regional and, subsequently, world power, the development of transnational corporations, the growing number of mergers of Japanese and foreign firms coupled with the plight of workers in developing countries caused a major influx of foreigners, with which Japan already had to reckon. Moreover, its desire to take a leading position in Asian economies compelled Japan to position itself as an active member of the club of developed countries. Yet another strong inducement to receive foreign workers were changes in the country's demographic situation.
In effect, it was the demographic shifts that proved the primary motivation behind gradual changes in the immigration policy of the Japanese leadership. What characterizes the country's current demographic situation is its transition to lower fertility levels and higher life expectancy, dramatic changes in age structure of the population, and, above all, the diminishing numbers of the young and the growing number of the elderly, i.e., a general tendency towards an absolute decrease in the population (which was first noted in 2005).
This demographic situation is fraught with serious problems for society in general and for its economic development, in particular. Especially important is the trend toward the decline in the working-age population. Not only will this directly impact GDP, but it will also generate an increase in the amount of social benefits and, accordingly, increase the burden on the group which is to provide social protection for the growing number of retirees.
Until recently, the question of labor was not high on the agenda. Even during the period of high growth rates, the demand was met in sufficient quantities thanks to the influx of people from the countryside and a large number of working hours (including overtime). By now, however, this source has been essentially exhausted. A certain remaining reserve of labor is presented by women, who are gradually becoming more involved in working activities, and by the elderly, many of whom wish to work and have no health-based restrictions on doing so even after retirement age. Moreover, the introduction of innovations will help alleviate labor shortages as it did earlier. Still, Japan is unlikely to manage without immigrants. In fact, the new Japanese strategy of economic growth (2006) called immigration a basis for sustained development in the face of population decline.
The government policy toward foreign nationals is defined by the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (it was adopted in 1951, but in 1982 it was renamed when Japan joined the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees). Since the early 1980s to the present time, the law was changed repeatedly - in response to the sharp increase of immigrants: restrictions on obtaining work were relaxed; foreigners were permitted to stay longer and their status was redefined; obtaining permission to enter the country became easier; conditions for legal residents were improved and, conversely, harsher terms were introduced for those with expired visas.
With fewer than two percent registered foreign residents in Japan in 2008, their total number is rather small, especially compared to the situation in other developed countries. Even so - and before their number would rise, as is expected, by several times - foreigners pose a number of serious problems to the country's leadership. Whereas business and those who realistically assess the demographic shifts in the country, are well-disposed toward the growing numbers of foreign labor (primarily, the skilled workers), the attitude of the vast majority of the population toward immigrants is negative; people do not accept foreign subculture and associate foreigners with growing crime.
The government, local authorities, and a number of NGOs have taken steps to smooth the emerging conflicts and create normal conditions for work and residence of foreign workers, but so far the number of the Japanese who believe that immigrants are not needed to "maintain the economic viability," continues to grow. Hence, the country is in a dire need of developing strategic guidelines on the immigration issues.
According to Elgena Molodyakova, the 1990s witnessed a consolidation in the life of Japanese society of the concept of machizukuri (literally, ‘city construction' or ‘urban development'), which covers both physical space and local communities. Machi stands both for a small territorial unit, the physical space, and a social system, such as a district or neighborhood. Zukuri implies meaningful actions by groups of people on a particular territory, and they are not an ad hoc action, but an ongoing process; in other words, we are talking about activities of a local community.
Local communities in present-day Japan are breeding grounds for various movements with which people seek to improve the quality of their environment and manage this process. One example is machizukuri, which first came into being as a protest against the state system of urban planning; today, machizukuri encompasses nearly all local communal processes and is an important element of local politics and urban governance. In practical terms, this is an indication of a changing correlation between central and local authorities in the management of a given locale. The machizukuri process is a trend in people's participation in managing the process of changing the urban environment.
There are many machizukuri processes going on across the country; this is a reflection of the people's desire to participate in the life of their local communities and ensure favorable conditions for themselves. Over the decades, the concept of machizukuri kept acquiring new content generated by many changes in the life of Japanese society. By 2010, it had acquired a broad range of meanings mirroring the diversity of real life. Indeed, the concept is directly related to the three most important and topical problems, important not only for Japan but for all the countries. The first problem concerns creation of more live-able urban habitats which could maintain their live-ability; the second one concerns issues of local governance, the changing correlation between central government and local authorities, and between State and citizens; and the third one is related to the changing role of civil society in local governance.
One can distinguish three phases of machizukuri: The first is associated with its emergence as a form of protest against the traditional manner of planning from the top that came into being in the 1960-1970s. It was a time of broad civil movements, mainly environmental, and machizukuri largely accepted this legacy of struggle.
The second phase, the 1980s, saw the establishment of the machizukuri movement as an alternative to the old urban development system. Different kinds of constructive partnership in planning between the administration and citizens began to appear at the local level. In fact the very concept of machizukuri implies creativity of local residents who wish to refurbish their habitat.
Beginning in the 1990s and in the context of the administrative reform, machizukuri becomes more prominent in local governance. Public opinion reflects the wish of residents to create favorable conditions for developing local initiatives. Yet despite legislative progress, the participation of local residents continued to be nominal: the authorities would merely share information with them.
Citizen participation in any project calls for certain local government bodies to take certain actions. First, they have to provide sufficient information about projects of urban planning and about general activities of the local administration. Second, local government employees should know the views of their residents, while the latter, in turn, should be able to make their views known - through surveys, public hearings, etc. Such actions stimulate citizens' activity. The central question for machizukuri is to obtain the right to vote in the management of a particular habitat.
The machizukuri movement is spreading to various spheres of life and may help in solving important social and economic problems. For example, in solving the problems of homelessness and poverty, youth problems and children's rights, in issues of linkage between economies of local communities with rural producers, even though many of these producers retain control of processing and marketing, in creating platforms for communication with urban localities, in promoting volunteer activities, etc.
Changing the role of civil society in local governance is central to political reforms in Japan. Serious attention is being paid in this process to creating new management practices and establishing priorities at the level of local
urban communities by means of the machizukuri movement.
To date, however, there is still much uncertainty regarding machizukuri. For example, the extent to which this process contributes to the growth and development of civil society; do civil society actors have a real voice in management or do they only get powers that are of no interest to the State, whether their rights are formalized or they get to use them in the process of management. The central question for machizukuri is to obtain the right to vote in the management of living space, therefore interaction with the existing administrative system for urban planning and urban development will inevitably arise.
The study of machizukuri helps to understand the extent to which the activists get the voting right in local government, how new priorities get approved, and whether the policy of decentralization of the 1990s influenced expansion of space for new political approaches by local authorities and citizens' groups, or whether it is still dominated by control from above. The machizukuri phenomenon helps to understand political changes in Japan. It is not accidental that the Democrats' government pays close attention to this phenomenon.
Elena Katasonova considers the problem of cyber-culture in the Japanese society. Cyber-culture, a new civilizational phenomenon that came into our lives in about twenty or so recent years, emerged as a global phenomenon thanks to the Internet. Hence, the history of its development is closely related to the evolutionary stages of the new global network; this is quite true in Japan. Paradoxically, the emergence and flourishing of a new Japanese digital culture occurred in the 1990s, which won the grim designation of the "lost decade," an outcome of prolonged economic depression that swept the country.
It was a time when personal computers and the Internet began spreading throughout the country, which immediately and dramatically changed the lives of the Japanese. They say that the Internet was a "sign of victory of the forces of decentralization, individualism, and a separate community over centralization, the market, and the State". True as this seems to be, it was the Internet, on the other hand, that turned the world into one globally integrated unit by tightly girding it with a huge world-wide web, and allowing each member of this new community to freely express him or herself and find like-minded associates.
New technologies reduced the distance between people: e-mail made it possible to communicate with the entire world, exchanging scientific and cultural information, discussing common problems, even joint artistic projects, creating one's own sites and thus opening still newer, unlimited possibilities for presenting one's own artistic achievements, etc.
The ongoing boom of Japanese popular culture among the young people overseas is clearly reflected in the number of corresponding sites in the Google search engine in English. For example, on June 27, 2007, the number of websites related to manga was 132,170 thousand, to karaoke, 86,930 thousand, and to anime, 25,480 thousand, etc.
A new and profoundly important step in the development of the Internet in Japan is associated with transition to mobile communications. The number of mobile Internet users exceeds 90 million. Mobile phones are an indispensable part of today's urban life in Japan, while the young people simply cannot imagine themselves without this modern invention, whose services include the everyday working, social, and private contacts, and all kinds of entertainment in time of leisure.
Mobile phones have clearly divided Japanese society into the younger generation of mobile Internet users and the older age group. Young Japanese have been creating a new lifestyle and, in fact, a whole new subculture based on mobile communication, a subculture that uses the great potential of new technology to articulate their individuality.
There is more to a mobile phone in Japan, however; it is an object of design quest for most of its owners. The main criterion which guides mobile phone owners is to make this object of their amateur creativity fit in with the concept of kawaii, or ‘cute' in English, the main aesthetic category in present-day Japanese youth culture. In observing ways the recent technological advances are being absorbed by Japanese youth culture, foreign researchers proposed a new concept, "techno-cute," a combination of two essentially contrasting aesthetics - cold machine intelligence and warm human perception. Mobile phones have affected virtually all aspects of Japanese culture and actually created new genres, such as a mobile novel, a mobile movie, etc. In a short time, progress was made from primitive single-tone ring tones and simple monochrome screen images, logos, and screensavers to polyphonic ring-tones and full audio mp3 files, Java-color pictures, color photos and videos and, finally, to television videos of broadcast programs, etc. To sum up, dramatic changes in the world around us have induced culture to fit in new conditions. Whether we like it or not, the course of events is not to be reversed. Cyberculture, including its mobile segment, has emerged as
a fully established new reality of our times, one of the main vectors of modern civilization.
Yevgeny Gontmakher devoted his paper to the problem of population aging in Russia. Population aging is a global problem. This is true, above all, of the most developed countries, including Japan, where it is one of the strongest challenges to the economy and social sphere, and even political life. No wonder Japan constantly looks for answers to this challenge. The problem of population aging is becoming more acute in Russia, too, and the Japanese experience of dealing with it can be extremely useful. A broad exchange of views between the authorities and experts on both sides can be most welcome in this field. To give a start to such exchange the author offers his analysis of the aging population in Russia.
According to international standards, a country's population is considered old if the proportion of people aged 65 years or more in the total population is in exceeds seven percent. In early 2010, nearly one in eight Russians, i.e. 12.9 percent of the population, was 65 years old or older, says the Federal State Statistics Service. In the future, the number of aging Russians will become even greater.
The following are the main challenges to global economic, social and political institutions related to aging, which are relevant to Russia:
- The deterioration of the correlation between the number of workers and unemployed people, which leads to higher taxes;
- Increases in outlays on old-age pensions, health and social services, which requires adequate sources of additional funding (see previous item);
- Changes in favor of the elderly in the structure of the electorate, which makes this segment of society a powerful political force.
In Russia, the retirement age established in the middle of the 20th century, is 55 years for women and 60 men. Moreover, large groups of employees are entitled to early retirement (those who were employed in hazardous working conditions, in the Far North and similar areas). In addition, last year 3.9 million Russians received disability pensions and 1.7 million were recipients of the survivor's pension. At the same time, decline of the number of working-age people has been a long-term trend in Russia since 2010.
An obvious way out of this situation would be to raise the retirement age, as is the case in the majority of developed countries. Serious obstacles block this course of action, however.
First is the current institution of disability benefits, which makes it very easy to obtain the appropriate status accompanied by a pension and a range of social benefits.
Second is the situation on the labor market, where many workers over 50 years of age are no longer competitive and occupy low-paid jobs.
What would be ways to lead out of the situation?
First of all, one should note that all such measures can only produce a significant effect in the medium term.
The first question for discussion here is what role international migration may have to improve the ratio of employees and non-working members of society. In the 1990s-2000s, increasing migration greatly alleviated the natural decline in the Russian population. In 2009, the population increased by 10.5 thousand, or 0.01 percent, the first such rise since 1994.We believe that the trend to make Russia a more attractive place for migrants should be encouraged by sound public policy.
The second important factor that requires consideration relates to the structure of the Russian economy and productivity levels. If there are not enough people working, is it possible to make up for the shortage with increased productivity of the available workforce?
If productivity in Russia were at least twice higher than it is, it would be possible to move a significant portion of those employed in industry, agriculture, transport, and construction, to high-paying jobs in the service economy. In order to achieve such an economic breakthrough requires implementation of systematic measures, which feature in the agenda of modernization of the country's life as a whole.
An important factor with regard to the aging population is health care outlays and pensions.
Russia spends much less on health than other countries of the Big Eight. An economic modernization based on rapid growth of productivity should lead, among other things, to a considerable increase in medical spending. To achieve progress in this sphere, the Russian health care system has to be reformed in line with a model capable of meeting today's challenges.
The country's current pension system, which is based on two powerful subsystems (the basic one and the one based on insurance), still relies on the principle of solidarity between generations, which has proved unable to weaken the powerful effects of the inevitable long-term demographic factor of aging.
In effect, this puts on the agenda a new stage of reforming the pension system. The new system should be transformed from an instrument of reducing poverty to a system based on insurance and savings.
The aging population creates serious challenges to the political system. Not only are there more and more elderly people among the electorate, but their influence at election times is actually greater because older people are most active in terms of voter turnout.
Moreover, it is not so much the issue of numbers alone, but of political preferences of the elderly population. With reference to Russia, most common in this electoral segment is sympathy for parties with either national-conservative platforms or those representing the powers-that-be.
These factors seriously complicate efforts to build a broad social coalition for reforms, and it is true not only in Russia, but also in any of the other G8 countries. The political class will need to reconsider many apparently obvious circumstances in order to respond adequately to this challenge.
For example, older people should be more actively involved not only as voters, but also as deputies of the legislative bodies of all levels. It is essential to initiate a computer literacy campaign for the elderly: to provide them with cheap computers, to train them to work, and to offer them subsidized access to the Internet. But most important is to develop and implement policies to improve the situation with pensions and health and social services, so that the elderly will be able to see for themselves that the country wants them to support much-needed modernization of Russia.
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