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.

One conspicuous result of the election was the retirement of long-term conservative politician and former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara. He used the occasion as one more chance to espouse his right-wing views. Those views were welcome in many sectors of society, as conservative commentators, including many in the ruling party, continued to push a nationalist agenda. Conservative elements hammered the liberal Asahi Shimbun after it retracted some past reports on "comfort women," stepping up their campaign to deny the fact that such women were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.