Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Will two external pressure change the lagging 'post-war Japan'?
NISHIKAWA Megumi / Journalist

February 9, 2023
In the past three years, Japan has been exposed to two severe external pressures. One was the new coronavirus scourge. The other was the war in Ukraine, which broke out a year ago with the invasion of Russian troops. Japan, inept at changing itself, in the past took advantage of external pressures to carry out deregulation and structural reforms, but the latest external pressures have the impact of changing the shape of post-war Japan in a profound way.

What challenges do these two external pressures pose to Japan?

Firstly, the new coronavirus has exposed in broad daylight the delays in the digitalization of Japanese society, including in public administration. Problems surfaced such as the significant delays in the provision of special benefits to support households and other kinds of assistance, the systems and practices requiring seals and written submissions even in an internet environment... The government realized that this was indeed a big trouble and was forced to move ahead with digitalization.

Symbolic of this is the strong promotion led by the government to expand the holders of the so-called My Number Card, which can be used as the Social Security and Tax Number Card. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, as of 29 January applications had reached approximately 85 million, or 67.7% of the population. This is a rapid increase from 16.0% in April 2020, when the coronavirus disaster became apparent. It is common to see those in charge standing in front of train stations and appealing to passers-by to apply for a My Number Card.

My Number card is important because it is the foundation for increasing convenience for citizens, improving administrative efficiency, and realizing a fair and just society. However, because of its low acquisition rate, Japan's well-developed internet environment ended up being a treasure wasted.

The delay in digitalization was partly due to a lack of effort on the part of the government, but public opinion and the media are also partly to blame. They argued that "discussions were insufficient" and "we should not proceed too hastily", citing privacy and other issues, and the march to digitalization was stalled at the entrance. The US and China, as well as South Korea and Scandinavian countries, took a pragmatic approach, first implementing digital technology in society and then addressing individual issues. This put them far ahead of Japan.

This is not simply pointing to individual services using digital technology. It means that Japan has completely lagged behind in the transformation of the capitalist structure into one supported by digital technology. Japan has been left behind in the so-called "immaterialist turn of capitalism", as Professor Toru Morotomi (finance and environmental economics) at Kyoto University's Graduate School puts it.

Today, the focus of economic value has shifted significantly from goods to 'immaterial things' such as information, services, and comfort, and according to Mr. Morotomi, capitalism is evolving towards 'dematerialization'. This is not limited to the service sector but is also rapidly progressing in manufacturing, agriculture, and other sectors. The reason behind this is that we are saturated with goods, and the more services are developed, the more profitable they become.

For example, the automobile, which represents the manufacturing industry, is beginning to integrate with the service industry. It has already been mentioned that the car will move away from being an object in the form of a car body and become more of a medium for services, such as automatic driving through artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as the provision of entertainment such as music and video. Their relative weight as material objects will decrease and their value as 'immaterial elements' will increase.

Japan is doing relatively well in the automotive sector, but when we look at the industry as a whole, the belief in manufacturing remains strong. The excessive myth of manufacturing is that if you make good products, they will always sell and that improving manufacturing is the way for Japan to survive. In fact, this myth is hindering digitalization. The dichotomy of either manufacturing or digital is also a habit that has stuck. Whether or not the economic structure can be converted to digitalization in light of the coronavirus disaster depends on how keenly one perceives that the consumer market is shifting from goods-oriented consumption to situation-oriented consumption.

Another external pressure is the war in Ukraine. Post-war Japan has long held an idealistic view of security. The preamble to the Constitution of Japan, which states that "trusting in the justice and faith of peace-loving peoples, we have resolved to preserve our security and existence", is emblematic of this. In recent years, however, the Japanese view of security has been shaken.

The Senkaku Islands, located in the southwest of Japan, are protected as Japanese territory because Japanese patrol vessels prevent the coercive actions of Chinese Maritime Police Bureau vessels by physically blocking them from approaching the island. We know that in the face of North Korea's missile launches and nuclear tests, idealistic views of security do not work. However, in the case of China, the conflict was over small islands on the border, and there was a mood to avoid overreacting, dismissing the North Korean behavior as an exceptional event, being the “action of a peculiar dictatorship".

However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine starkly showed that "authoritarian states do not hesitate to use military force for their own interests", and made Japan realize that it was not simply someone else’s problem when you think about a contingency on Taiwan.

In December last year, the Government approved three security-related documents to strengthen defense capabilities. However, there were no protest demonstrations comparable to those at the time of the enactment of the 2015 national security legislation, indicating that a significant change in the Japanese people's view of security is taking place. In a nutshell, it is a deepening of awareness of the need for a realistic view of security.

There is, of course, opposition to the strengthening of defense capabilities including the ability to counter-attack on enemy territory. Some contend that it will turn Japan into a nation that will fight wars and nullify the purely reactive defense policy (senshu boei) of the past. However, I believe that the psychological deterrent effect against war in Japan should not be taken lightly. The psychological deterrent effect is the deplorable memory of the war that has been passed down from generation to generation.

When I was a young journalist posted to the Foreign News Department of the Mainichi Shimbun, I regularly had study meetings on modern and contemporary European history with a French friend. The material was a book in French by a French historian chosen by my friend. I have forgotten the name of the historian and the title of the book, but the only thing that remains in my memory is the historian's statement: 'I have a hypothesis that in modern history, countries that started wars, were thoroughly destroyed and defeated, and became democratic, never started wars again'.

Naturally, this referred to Germany and Japan, but under the assumption that they are democracies, this historian noted that "the tragic memory of war, passed on from generation to generation at the national level, is a great deterrent to war".

When I refuted his argument at the study meeting by saying "But didn't Germany start two wars, World War I and World War II?", my friend replied, "In World War I, the war did not reach the German interior. The war ended with the frontline stalemated on the Franco-German border". That was indeed the case.

The recent hesitation of German Chancellor Scholz over the provision of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in defiance of strong requests from other European countries, is probably not unrelated to the war experience of the German people. Mr. Scholz is of the post-war generation, but he, like the Japanese, has a sharply etched memory of the tragic war. It must have been a difficult decision whether to support our European friends who were invaded or to live true to Germany’s war experience. The criticism directed at Germany for only thinking about its own country is similar to that directed at Japan, which was criticized during the Gulf War (1991) for trying to "just give money and get on with it".

Japan's holding a realistic view of security is in no way inconsistent with being a peaceful country. I believe that Japan should place importance on two things: maintaining a realistic view of security and passing on the memory of the war.

To add to passing the memory of the war, modern and contemporary Japanese history should be taught properly in school education up to the post-war period. Further, memorial ceremonies should be held at each milestone, such as the anniversary of the end of the war, the anniversary of the atomic bombing, the Battle of Okinawa, and the Tokyo Air Raid. This is because remembrance is not only about looking back, but also about refreshing our memories for the future.

The two external pressures are severely questioning the state of post-war Japan in two areas: the economic and industrial structure and our view on national security.

Megumi Nishikawa is a contributing editor of Mainichi Shimbun. This essay originally appeared on the online site of the Mainichi Newspapers on the 5th. of February 2023.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

遅れた「戦後日本」は変わるか 二つの外圧
西川 恵 / ジャーナリスト

2023年 2月 9日






















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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Will two external pressure change the lagging 'post-war Japan'?