Despite its ‘high-tech’ image, Japan is in many ways relatively ‘low-tech’. While companies and governments in many countries shifted to ‘telework’ or ‘work from home’ to cope with the spread of COVID-19, many Japanese companies and government offices have been unable to adapt.
Japan’s economy has experienced three consecutive shocks over the past year-and-a-half. The first shock struck Japan in early 2019 when the US–China trade war and slowing economic growth adversely affected Japan’s manufacturing sector. This economic effect was exacerbated by a second demand shock caused by the consumption tax hike from 8 to 10 per cent on 1 October 2019. Just as Japan’s economy was recovering, a third shock caused by COVID-19 dealt the most severe blow, plunging Japan into a full-blown recession.
On 22 March, despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in Japan, Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park was crowded with people eating, drinking and playing under the cherry blossoms, a tradition known as hanami (flower viewing). The Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association carried a half-hearted message on its webpage asking visitors to show jishuku (self-restraint) by avoiding large gatherings and sharing food. But the message did not get through.
Japan’s decision to build 22 new coal-fired power plants makes it an outlier among G7 nations who are moving away from coal. Japan’s coal power plants will exacerbate climate change, which is already predicted to severely impact Japan.
January and February decides the fate of Japanese students preparing for university entrance exams. This year’s high schoolers have been through a particularly stressful period because of policy changes concerning English in the entrance exam. In 2013, the Prime Minister’s Office published a policy document titled 'Japan is Back’. The strategy included the introduction of private English exams (like IELTS and TOEFL) aimed at revitalising Japanese society by nurturing ‘global human resources’.
Japan and South Korea are engaged in a trade dispute generated by national security concerns. The fallout from this dispute has the potential to hurt the global economy through the propagation of negative shocks to global supply chains. Towards the end of last year, there was some back-off but the dispute raises systemic questions rules about international trade restrictions for national security reasons.
On 20 November 2019, Shinzo Abe became Japan’s longest serving prime minister. Abe has attempted to broaden the scope of Japan’s diplomacy by taking an active approach to foreign policy and national security.
The recent announcement of the US–Japan Trade Agreement (USJTA) must have come as a surprise to many in Japan given its unusual expeditiousness. The agreement was concluded just six months after negotiations began — a dramatic contrast to the EU–Japan Economic Partnership Agreement which took more than five years to achieve.
After two postponements resulting in a delay of four years, the Japanese government at last raised the consumption tax rate from 8 to 10 per cent as of 1 October 2019. The revenue from the consumption tax will be used exclusively to finance growing social security spending such as pensions, medical and old-age care and support for childbearing and childrearing.
While US President Donald Trump’s administration remains unpopular after more than two years in office, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s handling of US–Japan relations is highly admired—at least in Japan. Takaya Imai, possibly the most powerful cabinet secretary supporting Abe, reportedly claimed that Abe and Trump refer to each other by their first names and that Abe’s informal talks with his American counterpart have been near-perfect. What is the origin of the Abe–Trump bromance? And how successful is this relationship in winning favourable policies for Japan?