Any foreigner who has lived in Japan for any length of time and struggled to learn Japanese knows that the language barrier looms large here. Those of us chipping away at it as English teachers know that our students often feel the same way, but one thing I’ve noticed is the power of a positive message.

Young people here seem to hunger for an encouraging word, and although only higher-level classes are able to discuss economics or politics, I enjoy sharing a few positive perspectives with them whenever I can.

It isn’t really hard to find bases for optimism, because despite a debt-to-GDP ratio in excess of 200 percent and an aging population, Japan also has one of the highest levels of savings in the world, low unemployment, low crime, affordable health care, competitive industries, delicious and healthy food, and a decent society with a remarkable absence of greed.

Sure, they’ll have to pay higher taxes to support more retirees, but the low birthrate also means they’ll have better odds at finding good jobs at decent salaries — a labor shortage makes each one of them more valuable in the market, after all.

Government here can be boneheaded as any government can be, and they’ve proven it with the recent decision to raise consumption taxes during a slump in demand, but that should be put in proper perspective as well: Japan is also one of the most egalitarian societies in the world.

All things considered, you could do a lot worse than being born Japanese; in fact, you could hardly be any luckier.

gary henscheid

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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