In opinion essays in the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung two views of Japan have emerged in recent years which it is interesting to contrast.
Florian Coulmas, a well-known German Japanologist, says that Japan looks good on the surface, but that under the surface people have lost faith in the system and are becoming more and more individualistic – devil take the hindmost.
He points out that Japanese politicians and the people at large do not grasp the issue of immigration at all. Everyone knows the population is declining but no-one wants to consider the obvious solution. The Japanese think they can remain isolated and not take new people on board. This is, of course, an old, old theme in Japanese history and culture: “we take the best of innovation from the rest of the world, but all those people stay at home”.
Urs Schöttli, who was long the NZZ’s Asia correspondent, finds that people in the West have been announcing the decline of Japan, whereas every time you go there you see that everything works and the Japanese have a tremendous discipline which is really showing the West how things should be done. He thinks Japan can still remain an economic powerhouse that guarantees an excellent standard of living and quality of life for its citizens.
Meanwhile the Japanese, who years ago were regarded with apprehension in the West, have now been overtaken as bugbears by the Chinese. It is at last permissible to feel sorry for them.