Some may recall that back in 2000 the government led by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori adopted an “e-Japan strategy” with an objective to create a “knowledge-emergent society” and turn Japan into the world’s most advanced country in the area of information technology by 2005. The report glowingly stated a vision of creating an ideal IT society where everyone, thanks to network connections, will be able to do work and live in the location of their choice, and of being able to receive education of the highest level regardless of wherever they may be or of any other physical constraints they may face.
Twenty years later, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, industry surveys tell us that less than a third of employees in Japan have been able to engage in new styles of work such as teleworking. COVID-19 seems to have also made apparent the slow embrace of information technology in the classroom and a digital divide among well to do and not so fortunate students and schools. A large number of Japanese businesses at the end of the day still seem to prefer handling yen notes and coins over electronic payments.
COVID-19, in short, has reminded us of the woeful underachievement of the 20-year-old “e-Japan strategy.” Hopefully, if there is any good to come out of this pandemic, it would be for the virus to become the necessary gaiatsu (foreign pressure) that would galvanize the leaders of Japan into undertaking the reforms necessary not just to make Japan a world leader in information technology, but to also ensure its prosperity and its capability to contribute to the global community by attracting and accepting within its borders the best and the brightest of people from all over the world.
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.