While the future is always unknowable, in Japan a darker uncertainty than usual hangs over the year to come. Much of the anxiety emanates from the COVID-19 pandemic, a virus that poses profound challenges to a society that privileges person-to-person connections and uses those networks to make critical distinctions between insiders and outsiders. COVID-19 has also magnified developments and accelerated trends both internal and external that work against Japan, exposing weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

The future need not be bleak, however. Japan could use this year to prepare for inevitable changes in domestic and foreign affairs and better position itself for that world. It is unlikely to do so.

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