Whenever I encounter a particularly perplexing aspect of Japanese society, I turn for enlightenment to my pal Nobu.

Over the nearly 20 years of our friendship, he has proved to be the most reliable source of insight into his country that I could ever hope to find.

Our most recent colloquy, for example, centered on my curiosity about an issue of looming danger to the nation: the aging population and falling birth rate that together comprise Japan's demographic time bomb.