Here is Shukan Josei magazine’s nightmare scenario of a typical Japanese salaryman’s TPP future, if in fact Japan joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement currently being negotiated among 12 countries. After a genetically-engineered, chemical-drenched breakfast, he hops into his American-made car, drives to his job at an American-controlled company, speaks English on the job and is vulnerable to abrupt dismissal any time the company’s unbridled profit motive might demand it. Even if he keeps his job he is unable to afford decent medical care for his family — care which may grow all the more necessary as Japan’s strict food safety standards wither under attack from that same rampant profit motive.

To join or not to join? It’s arguably the most divisive issue in Japan today, trumping even the nuclear power controversy. Antinuclear passions flared following a cataclysmic disaster and cooled as a surface normality returned. TPP passions don’t cool. Proponents anticipate economic salvation, opponents warn of economic ruin. Media coverage focuses on the city-versus-country, industry-versus-agriculture dimension, with industry (automakers excepted) being enthusiastically pro and agriculture (export-oriented farmers excepted) vehemently con. There’s more to it, however, than this group’s interests versus that group’s interests. The question at bottom is, what kind of society does Japan want to be — egalitarian, or ever more fiercely competitive?

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