A situation similar to Britain’s

The April 12 editorial “A decisive but divisive leader” makes me contemplate a lot of things. For better or worse, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher played an active role in ending the Cold War and was one of the tough advocates of neoliberalism. A lot of people, though, believe this led to excessive market fundamentalism, which seems to have been a recipe for social maladies in developed countries. It is controversial to judge her achievements accurately at the moment.

I believe Japan is in a situation similar to that of England when it was regarded as the “sick old man of Europe.” A lot of politicians and business leaders still seem to rest on the laurels of Japan Inc.’s successful experience after World War II.

On the other hand, not a few citizens and industries still rely heavily on the government to live. It has been said that Japanese society likes the word “reform,” but tries to ignore the ramifications or negative aspects of what reform entails.

Some people hope to see the return of a prime minister like Junichiro Koizumi, who emulated Thatcher-style politics, but he was only successful in introducing market fundamentalism. Average Japanese citizens did not get enough of the benefits to feel that their lives had improved, compared with British people.

I hope Japan gets out of its long period of economic and political stagnation. A decisive and candid leader is needed in Japan as well. But Japanese citizens should realize that there is no such thing as reform that doesn’t bring about a certain amount of pain.

The politicians in history who become known as great statesmen are supposed to take painful measures straightforwardly, even if they are called a “milk snatcher.”

shuichi john watanabe
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Starviking

    The author of this letter should note that “England” is not the name of the country they are trying to reference – it’s the United Kingdom.

  • Paul Cotter

    Great letter. I have often thought the same thing. One thing that seems to be stopping Japan of getting out of it’s current malaise is pride. It was the same with Britain in the decades after the war where the older people believed that they were somehow a people of special character and spirit, after all they had had a great empire and held off the might of the Germans at Dunkirk and endured the blitz. While the country continued to sink the older British believed there was still something special in the British character and they would soon retain their former glory. It seems like a similar situation in Japan, the country is sinking but still the average ojisan continues to believe that the Japanese spirit is somehow special and they just have to work themselves out of the mess, but they can’t see that by doing so they are actually digging the hole deeper. Meanwhile they will make snide comments about the young and blame them for having lost this special spirit. In both cases it is as if the ship is sinking and everyone is standing on the deck and not noticing that the ship is sinking because they are looking at something else happening in the distance.

    Whether or not it is due to the policies of Margaret Thatcher I can’t say but Britain has managed to change and it is a fundamental change in ideology and values which have allowed a change in the social structures, not the other way around. Britain is by no means an example of a model society but the values held by the majority are unrecognisable from what they were a half century ago. Very few British now believe they are part of a chosen people destined to rule the world and thank god that is the case. I believe that the time has come for Japan to reassess many of the values that have made it the great country that it is today because what worked in the 1950′s and 1960′s is no longer applicable. I have an idea of some of the things that could stand some change but perhaps that is not for me to say, the Japanese people have to demand the changes that are needed, it has to be a bottom up process because the elite’s interests are far too entrenched in the status quo.

    I don’t think it is simply about economic growth, in fact the continued quest for this magic economic growth is probably one of the problems (How can a country with an aging and declining population seriously expect long term economic growth?). It is about the happiness, welfare and quality of life of the average Japanese person. The majority of people that I meet from day to day are remarkably kind, considerate and thoughtful, I really believe that they deserve better.