With all eyes on a rising India, an awakened China and a roiling Islam, we tend to take good old solid Japan (still the world’s second-largest economy, please don’t forget) as a given. But that is a mistake: These are the times that try Japan’s soul.

This brilliant, proud society — both ancient and modernized — looks to be at yet another crossroads. Prime Minister Taro Aso has been ignominiously compelled to call a national election in August, even though all forecasts predict a possible landslide for the opposition: the Democratic Party of Japan.

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