"Japan's best days are behind it," or so the common wisdom goes, and by reading Tokyo-based academic Jeff Kingston's latest work, it is easy to see why.

Burdened by its debt, deflation and demographics, the sun appears to be setting on a country that just 20 years ago was on the cusp of global economic supremacy. With the "lost decade" of the 1990s apparently continuing, Japan looks to be fading away while regional rivals such as China shine.

According to Kingston, professor of history and director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, the current Heisei Era, which began in 1989, is a name for a reign "that has become synonymous with prolonged malaise."