Has Japan peaked? Has its political, economic and cultural influence passed its zenith? For Brad Glosserman, a former member of the editorial board of this newspaper, the answer, alas, is yes.

Peak Japan, by Brad Glosserman.
263 pages

This state of affairs was not inevitable. Although Japan’s postwar economic model was spectacularly successful, by the early 2000s, it had clearly run its course. The heady growth of yesteryear was replaced by a long list of debilitating socioeconomic ills that continue to hobble the country’s potential today: Persistent deflation, a ballooning debt, political instability — 17 prime ministers in the past 30 years — to say nothing of a graying and shrinking population. The list goes on.

Worse, Glosserman argues, the country’s political elite have failed to take advantage of four recent “shocks” to mobilize support for reform. The financial crisis of 2008, the drubbing of the Liberal Democratic Party in the 2009 general elections, the dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands and the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, each of these provided an opportunity that was squandered.

Buttressed by copious amounts of data, “Peak Japan” provides a painstaking overview of the country’s social, economic and political trajectory since the 1990s. Yet, it’s hard to shake off the impression that its premise, which states — to put it crudely — that Japan is doomed unless it regains past influence, is flawed.

Surveys show that today, more young Japanese are satisfied with their lives than at any time in the past half-century. That remarkable result, rather than global prestige, should be the catalyst for a conversation about the future of the country.

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