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Japan: the path of glacial change

by David Roche

I recently visited Japan again. Like a Charlie Chaplin movie, the action in Japan should jerk forward between time-frames. But it doesn't. Instead, it's a game of spot-the-difference, so little have the images shifted. Sure, there are more discount stores around. But the cab ride from the airport still costs $260, a club sandwich in the coffee shop of the Four Seasons is $25 and an orange juice $15. None of these prices would hold in a deregulated economy.

Last month's general election will change little either. The Liberal Democrats have reconsolidated their power. But vital reform of the tax system, the ministry of finance, Bank of Japan and the supply-side of the economy are likely to take at least another two or three elections. Many intelligent Japanese see this as the only way of maintaining stability. I see it as the key to mediocre economic performance.

It's true that Japan has changed the image it holds of itself. Instead of being the Land of the Rising Sun, it now sees itself as the Sunset Economy of Asia. Everyone talks of decline, of an ageing and disappearing workforce adjusting to lower growth, of becoming an Asian economic underperformer.

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