Jeff Johnston

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Depressed man buries his head

In his upcoming Time article entitled "A Clouded Outlook," (August 2, 2010) Michael Schuman writes a sobering view of Japan's malaise and dismal economic outlook for the future. The 4-page article helps to see the big picture of the economic reality, which has been stagnant since the bubble burst in the early 1990s.

If you want a better understanding of Japan and the dynamics of turning this big ship around, read Shuman's article.

Here are a few excerpts to give you a sense of the problem:

"Today, Japan is an island of inertia in an Asia in constant flux. Japan's political leadership is paralyzed, its corporate elite befuddled, its people agonized about the future. While Asia lurches forward, Japan inches backward. And yet no one in Japan is doing very much about it."
Busy people crossing the street"Growth has been practically nonexistent, the welfare of the Japanese people has suffered and the old industrial titans of Japan Inc. are retreating on the world stage. Japan will likely lose its cherished status as the world's No.2 economy this year, to a more energetic China. Though that was inevitable, the fact that China is so quickly closing the gap in economic power doesn't bode well for Japan's standing in the world."
"Every few months, Tokyo's political revolving door spits out a new Prime Minister (Japan's had six PMs in the past four years) who inevitably vows that the time has come, finally, truly, to reform. But the proposals announced with expectant fanfare usually get swallowed up in Japan's dysfunctional political system."
Japan's cell phones are the most advanced in the world" 'There is an awareness that things can't stay the same,' says Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus. 'The problem is, people really don't know what is next. Japan's huge problems are just festering and Japan remains rudderless.' "

What makes Japan's story so much more frustrating is that not so long ago, the nation was at the forefront of change. Long before Apple's iPad, it was Japan's Sony that invented the must-have gadgets that changed global lifestyles (remember the Walkman?). Japan didn't need answers; Japan was the answer. Yet those same policies and practices that sparked Japan's miracle have come to strangle it.

High school students in TokyoThere is much more detail in the article, including what current PM Naoto Kan is trying to do, the downside of consensus-based decision-making, the economic effect on the younger people, potential implications on taxes and immigration policy, and much more.

What needs to be done to change this dilemma? Schuman with the help of fellow reporter Terrence Terashima offer recommendations. I'll let you read them, if you're interested, but Schuman closes with this pessimistic summation:

"Such a sweeping vision for the nation's future and its role in the world is regrettably absent. Katsuji Konno, president of Igeta Tea Manufacturing, a Sendai-based chain of specialty tea shops, complains that the country's leaders are too focused on short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions. 'You have to think of more drastic measures,' he says. 'You need to think 10, 30, 40 years ahead.' Until Japan stops living in the past, it may not have a future."

Allow me to make a personal comment here after tracking the news and talking with my Japanese friends. . .

Japan's businesses are strugglingWhat is painfully obvious in Japan is that things are going to get worse—not better—at least for the foreseeable future. Japanese will need to adjust their lifestyle accordingly. No more can the people of Japan put their faith in their government to do what is best in their long-term future.

Young Tokyo woman sits and reflectsAs a missionary here, who has seen countless Japanese shy away from following Christ, I can only hope—and pray—that this growing economic challenge swings wide open the door in people's lives for the Gospel. Up until now, they've simply been too comfortable.

While I'd like to see Japan flourish, its own affluence has become a huge stumbling block for the Gospel. And God loves the Japanese too much. I trust He will use this difficulty to compel many to follow Him.

     Church with a blue sky and only a few clouds

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. Maybe the spiritual outlook is not so clouded after all.

What do you think?

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