June 23, 2011

Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future That Works

Earthquake, tsunami, and the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl: the triple disasters of March 2011 hit Japan when it was already feeling vulnerable, its confidence shaken by debt, deflation, and political inertia. Yet those terrible days also revealed Japan’s strengths, most notably the sense of community that created order and dignity amid the chaos.
In the short term, no one doubts Japan’s capacity to rebuild, but the country still faces daunting long-term challenges. Its population is aging and its workforce shrinking. In trade and diplomacy, it faces new pressures from a rising China. Many leading Japanese companies have lost global market share over the past two decades and struggled to become truly global competitors. Japan still excels at manufacturing, but it has been slow to develop its service sector. Meanwhile, the country’s education system continues to emphasize rote learning and cramming at the expense of innovation and creative thinking.
For Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future That Works, McKinsey invited 80 men and women from around the world to contemplate the challenges and opportunities facing the country as it recovers from the triple disasters. Contributors include CEOs, economists, Japan scholars, foreign-policy experts, authors, and journalists, as well as stars from sports and culture. This unique and distinguished collection of authors shares perspectives on Japan in essays that are insightful, thought provoking—and sometimes contradictory.
One theme stands out: Japan’s destiny is not fixed. The country can defy the prophecies of inevitable decline—if it acts without delay. As author Ian Buruma observes, “Japan has experienced periods of relative stagnation before, and managed to renew itself with extraordinary bursts of energy.” Contributors also agree that Japan must embrace the contradictions of its position—for example, by being both more global and more distinctly itself. Another point of agreement is that while Japan’s problems may be acute, they are shared in varying degrees by other developed societies. Japan’s response to its challenges offers important lessons for the rest of the world.

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