--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 29
EDITORIAL: The year of decline
Kanagi, a district in the city of Goshogawara in Aomori Prefecture, is the birthplace of novelist Osamu Dazai (1909-1948). It can be reached in 90 minutes after switching from the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to local lines at the recently opened Shin-Aomori Station.
Dazai was born into a family of wealthy landowners. He grew up in a stately, semi-Western-style mansion surrounded by four-meter-high brick walls. The estate was sold off after World War II, but has been preserved as a museum-cum-monument to Dazai. It is called Shayo-kan after one of his most representative works, "Shayo" (The Setting Sun).
Japan was "reset" and had to start over from scratch after its defeat in World War II. That was 65 years ago, but people today are feeling a pervasive sense of decline. It is as if we were all standing, paralyzed, in front of the snow-covered Shayo-kan.
Dizzying rise and fall
Let's say Japan was a newborn baby in 1945. When it was 11 years old, "the immediate postwar era" was declared over. Finishing elementary education that year, the youngster grew strong and healthy, and was only 19 years old when it debuted in the international community with the successful 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And as a vigorous young adult of 25, it went on to host the Expo '70 in Osaka.
Japan's growth slowed somewhat during the oil shock years, but by the time it was in its 30s, the entire population of 100 million felt comfortable enough with their lives to consider themselves middle-class. At age 40, Japan topped the world in net overseas assets. This aroused criticism that Japan was making too much money, which led to the Plaza Accord of 1985 that drastically raised the yen's exchange value against the U.S. dollar and induced the asset-inflated bubble economy.
The Cold War ended when Japan was in its mid-40s, and the bubble burst soon after. At 50, Japan was hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake and terrorist attacks by the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. From around that time, Japan began to experience health problems, and even the potent but potentially lethal drug of "reforms" prescribed by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi didn't help.
At 65 today, Japan is still too young to be wasting away. But it has certainly lived quite an eventful life in a relatively short time.
In terms of gross domestic product, Japan is believed to have fallen to third in the world after China this year. Japan Airlines Corp., whose corporate logo once symbolized hope for people dreaming of traveling abroad, went bankrupt. University students planning to join the work force upon graduation are stuck in a barren "ultra-ice age." This year also brought into light the existence of many "paper centenarians" who are either long dead or whose whereabouts are unknown.
And for the 13th consecutive year, Japan will very likely have more than 30,000 suicides during 2010.
The Democratic Party of Japan, which came into power in a historic regime change that enthralled many voters, has since muddled and stumbled along so badly that it has become, most ironically, a telling reminder of where the nation stands today.
Across the Pacific, U.S. President Barack Obama, who won the 2008 presidential election on his campaign message of "change," is now struggling under the crippling weight of Big Business and conservatism. And China is not curbing its ambitions for military capabilities commensurate with its growing economy, nor has it succeeded in controlling domestic discontent resulting from widening social disparities.
The dwindling population
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