posted on Jan, 5 2009 @ 01:44 PM
I have lived in Tokyo for the past 18 years. Japan has basically been mired in recession (whit a slight technical uptick over the past few years) and
land prices have been falling since the late 1980s in most places. The Nikkei stock index stood at a mind-boggling 38,000 in 1992; yesterday it closed
at 9,043. Layoffs (particularly in heavy industry) are skyrocketing, with the situation in the Kansai area (where most of the autos are made) being
particularly grim. Auto sales have plunged as much as 70% for some companies. Because this economy is so dependent on exports (particularly to the
USA), the picture has changed dramatically in the last few months. A spate of new grads are unable to find work, and the numbers of people in
long-term temp jobs have grown over the past decade to the point that there is an entire generation without the skills needed to keep the economy
viable in the long term. Add the nation's rapidly-aging population, low birthrate, refusal to let more than a trickle of foreigners in, high
government debt, the rise of China as a competitor in many manufacturing sectors that Japan used to dominate, and an utter lack of resources, and the
picture is highly unpleasant to say the least.
However, Japan does have a few things going for it. People are used to living frugally. Since the economic bubble popped in the early 90s. most of the
frothy excess in the real estate market and stock market has been cleaned up. Japanese banks by and large avoided the toxic subprime/derivates boom,
which makes their balance sheets among the strongest and cleanest in the world right now. Most Japanese have a high personal savings rate and strong
family support, so they are able to weather hard times better than those in most other developed nations (at least for awhile). A frugal and Spartan
attitude that eschews reliance on excessive credit and purchases of stuff like marble countertops and massive McMansions also helps. I think Japan is
better prepared, socially and psychologically, for a transition to "dark times" than most other countries in this way.
Anecdotal evidence: Over the past few months, I've noticed a sharp decline in the number of foreigners I see on the streets. The strong yen and
troubles elsewhere are keeping the tourists away, and as the Western financial sector has imploded, most of the swaggering expat investment bankers
and so on have had to go home. I saw an interesting report on the young generation of Japanese (in their 20s...so-called "Gen Y"). Apparently they
are much less materialistic than the older generations, refusing to buy fancy designer goods and not interested in travel overseas, cars, house
ownership, or big-ticket items. Part of this is that their earning power is very low and their future prospects are not bright, but rather than live
in denial about it they are willing to adopt belt-tightening as virtue.
What else...in Tokyo, walking the streets, there are few conspicuous signs of misery per se. There are homeless people, but the city has shunted them
off to special areas and they are kept out of sight for the most part People are still going out to restaurants and bars, women are still dressed up
to the nines in Gucci and Channel, things are still squeaky-clean for the most part. I am told that in smaller cities and the countryside the impact
is much worse, with swelling ranks of homeless and unemployed loitering around public places and a sharp uptake in violence and crime. Japan's
much-vaunted manufacturing sector is "hollowing out" like the US's did in the 80s, as low-value industries move to China and other cheaper places.
Consequently, rural and small-city Japan (deeply dependent on manufacturing and industry) is developing its own "rust belt," with all the social and
psychological decay that entails.
That's the view from here...
[edit on 5-1-2009 by silent thunder]