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Japan Part 3 of 3: International

The stunning conclusion of my very brief rundown of Japan ends with a global perspective. I’ve kept it short, but, if you’re looking for the lurid details of an intimate encounter, feel free to skip this entry.

Japan. What do we think about it in the U.S.? Technologically advanced, or at least that is all I really knew about it previous to pre-departure research.

Based on its technological pursuits, which was founded on an intensive pursuit of a niche in the world during the 1950s, post-American occupation, Japan experienced unprecedented economic growth through the early 1990s. Then it all went to crap, if only briefly.

The country was faced with a major slowdown as it finally reached some levels of equality with established Western powers and, therefore, struggled with the sudden nearly unbridled competition from those older states.

Still, Nihon remains a major economic power, both in Asia and globally. Last year, Japan started a two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. This was big news, and has been followed by dogged pursuit by the Japanese government to find a permanent spot. No one knows why. Well, at least it doesn’t matter why, because ancient rival China, currently a permanent seat-holder wouldn’t let it happen.

Indeed, Japan has issues with most of its Asian neighbors. Japan still hasn’t formally ended World War II with Russia, then the Soviet Union, as no treaty between the two states was ever signed. Moreover, China, Taiwan and Korea, all dispute other islands that Japan claims to be their own.

These issues are exacerbated by a growing ultra-nationalist movement in Japan that often choosing revisionist history as a means for dealing with the country’s brutal imperialistic past, which reached its height in the early 20th century.

Some say Japan is rearming and will rediscover its imperialistic path if no one watches the country close enough. This is a particularly topical and interesting point. See, in the Japanese constitution, which was written, originally in English, by the staff of Douglas MacArthur who led the American occupation of Japan after World War II, there is an article that clearly states Japan cannot have a standing army. Some interpretation has allowed the country old defense forces, which is why, if you notice, every branch of the Japanese military has ‘defense’ in its name.

What is interesting is that, while some can say Japan’s military is indeed very small, some, like the People’s Republic of China, can say that the Japanese army is anything but small, clearly, some argue, an unconstitutional practice. See, Japan boasts $44 billion annually in military expenditures, which is fourth most in the world behind the $518 billion of the U.S., China’s $81.5 billion, and France’s $45 billion. But, because of its economic status, that military total is just 1 percent of Japanese GDP. So, it depends on how you want to look at it.

Perhaps the only reason Japan hasn’t been pushed off the map by much of Asia, excluding the country’s close ties with the United States, may be its wealth. By any scale, Japan is a wealthy nation, precipitated by its aforementioned technological economy. Measured by purchasing power parity, Japan’s is the third largest economy in the world, behind only the U.S. and its neighboring China.

Still, excluding only central Africa’s Malawi and the Middle East’s Lebanon, Japan’s public debt, 158 percent of its gross domestic product, is the largest national debt in the world. Even our American government has accrued a debt only 64 percent of our GDP, just thirty-fifth highest in the world.

Its debt is understandably attributed to the island nation’s general lack of raw materials, despite its rapid consumption of them. Lagging behind only the United States, the European Union and China, Japan is consuming the most oil in the world, some 5.5 million barrels a day. Granted, Americans are pumping nearly four times that at 20 million barrels a day, one fourth of global consumption, but the U.S. also produces nearly 40 percent of the oil it consumes. Japan produces less than 2 percent of its national demand.

The only raw materials the tiny island nation can produce are vegetables, some grain and fish. Yet, as one of the largest consumers of fish in the world – think sushi – Japan still imports vast amounts of tuna and other beloved gilled creatures. Despite the imports, Japan goes beyond its enormous coast line (12,000 miles more than the U.S.) and is still known for overfishing, depleting resources throughout the Asia Pacific. Oh, and those Greens out there? Some Japanese still love their whale. I can buy it at almost any delicatessen that sells meats and fish.

Shorthand: Most of Asia dislikes Japan politically and tolerates them economically, while the U.S. will continue to give Nipon a big thumbs-up until the country ceases to be an incalculably important strategic ally. Japan has both a huge and a very small military, while being outrageously in-debt and economically impressive all at the same time.


I relied heavily on the CIA World Factbook, one of the spy agency’s most admirable annual endeavors, and supported it with my own anecdotal and conversational discoveries, one of the more nonacademic and equally untrustworthy methods for cultural understanding, but my primary tool, nonetheless.

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