Hitherto unknown and self-styled "loach" Yoshihiko Noda must learn to swim in an ocean of problems as Japan's new prime minister of the year. He has more than a plateful of domestic issues, but he should also realize, as his predecessors forgot, that Japan needs to re-engage the world if it is to find a way out of its depressing economic and political predicaments.

Most commentators have seen Japan's international failures centered on political chestnuts such as U.S. bases on Okinawa, ministerial visits to Yasukuni Shrine and comments about Japanese militarism. Though important, they miss the bigger question of Japan's economic role in the globalizing world.

Noda should understand: As finance minister, he huffed and puffed and threw ¥4.5 trillion to forestall the currency's rise, but several weeks later, the yen is hovering close to postwar highs. Unilateral intervention is temporary, expensive and self-defeating. Multilateral cooperation will not come without Japan taking time and trouble to understand and improve relations with the world, realizing that Japan, with 1.8 percent of the world's population, puts out 8.5 percent of its GDP.