Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Japan has undertaken bold structural reforms and significant policy shifts since the early 1990s, generating a more robust two-party system and a strengthened U.S.-Japanese alliance. Yet serious problems remain, among them slow economic growth, policymaking institutions that are hobbled by consensus-based procedures, and a failure to respond effectively to frictions with China and South Korea. The root of the trouble may be what one author in this excellent collection calls “demographic collapse,” with the over-65 proportion of the population surging from ten percent to 25 percent in two decades; the government has still not adopted the reforms to social and immigration policies that will be necessary to confront that issue. Other hindrances have included a halting, insufficient economic stimulus; resistance to trade liberalization; and lagging reform of corporate management. Most of the contributors to this volume are distinguished Japanese academics. Their overlapping diagnoses and prescriptions are persuasive. But they make it hard to know which people, groups, or institutions are most to blame for Japan’s problems—and whether those problems can ever be solved.
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