BOUND TO PLEASE / Looking back, not in anger, but for better future

The Japan News

By Yung-Hsiang Kao / Japan News Staff WriterJapanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades

By William Pesek

Bloomberg Press, 226pp

William Pesek, who has been in Japan for over a decade, is a Tokyo-based Bloomberg columnist writing on the Asia-Pacific region. He’s known for his pithy style and ability to write about business matters in ways the average reader can understand, and “Japanization” is his attempt to put Japan’s recent past into context to give some insight into the future.

His conciseness is evident in this book, a brief, easy-to-read 200-pager. There are no charts or streams of data to prove his points. Rather, he writes intelligently over seven chapters using his firsthand knowledge, secondary materials and interviews with relevant figures.

One of the best chapters is “The Female Problem: How Institutionalized Sexism Kills Growth.” Pesek notes that Japan ranks “a dismal 105th in gender equality — behind Cambodia, Burkina Faso, Malaysia, and far behind China — out of 136 countries analyzed by the World Economic Forum.” He then cites Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stated desire to spur growth in Japan by getting more women into the workforce, but sees little that has been done to “match [Abe’s] rhetoric.”

Pesek proposes that the “first step Abe should take is to actually enforce the 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law” and then to offer tax breaks for companies that promote gender diversity such as by allowing women to work flexible hours.

Pesek is not negative on Japan. He sees similar issues throughout Asia, “known more for patriarchal succession than gender quality.” Japan can be a point of reference to learn from for those Asian nations wishing to catch up to Japan. He also sees some paradoxes in Asia for women:

“Take Korea, a promising economy that does even worse than Japan in gender-equality measures. Even so, Korea already has what America, never mind Japan, doesn’t: a female leader.”

He adds that Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand have also had or have female leaders.

In the chapter “Galapagos Nation: How Isolation Stunts Japan’s Evolution,” Pesek not only covers the issues of language but also the problem of Japanese industries, such as smartphone makers, being satisfied to a fault for catering to the sizable domestic market. He sees the same issue for the domestic entertainment industry, where J-pop acts don’t become global phenomenons the way South Korea’s Psy did in 2012 with “Gangnam Style,” for example.

This leads him to the penultimate chapter, “Hello Kitty Isn’t a Foreign Policy.” He looks at why Japan seems to have trouble making the most of its soft power and at Japan’s relations with its neighbors and the United States. When looking at Asia today, Pesek has some advice for China, South Korea and the United States as well:

“The United States must leave the arrogance of the past at the door as it reenters Asia. This return must go beyond appearances and be a genuine partnership.”

Finally, Pesek ends the book with “Will Abenomics Save the World?” One would do well to pick up “Japanization” to find out the answer.

Where to read

With its hard cover and slimness, the book is rugged and easy to carry, making for a good partner during commutes on the train.

Maruzen price: ¥6,312 plus tax (as of March 12, 2015)Speech

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