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The year 2014 was full of unexpected events, but none helped to jolt Japan’s economy, politics or society out of a sense of being stalled. The country found itself trapped between necessary choices propelling the country forward and conservative elements unwilling to give up the past.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election — an act that many people considered to be an unnecessary political ploy — in December and went on to win. But voter turnout marked a postwar low, disproving Abe’s claim of a mandate for his policies and revealing dissatisfaction with the state of the opposition.

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