From devastation in 1945 through vigorous growth and increasing riches to stagnation, is that the story of Japan over the last 70 years? Doubts about Japan's future seem inevitable. A recent collection of 15 essays by Japanese and foreign experts, "Examining Japan's Lost Decades," edited by Yoichi Funabashi and Barak Kushner, led me to review the changes I have witnessed over some 70 years.
In 1946, when I first reached Japan in the small British Commonwealth contingent of the Allied Occupation force, Japanese cities lay in ruins and Japanese people were suffering deprivation and hunger. By the 1960s, Japan had achieved an astonishing turnaround.
As commercial counselor in the British embassy between 1966 and 1970, I spent much time and effort in explaining Japanese achievements to British businessmen. We had much to learn, and if we did not improve our own performance much to fear, from Japanese competition. Japan Inc. was not a miracle but it worked. Japan was producing an educated elite and a plethora of engineers. The quality of Japanese products was outstanding and we needed to study Japanese methods. The lifetime employment system acted as a substitute for Western-style social security systems. Management and workers generally cooperated and gross examples of inequality were rare.