Some participants saw Japanese society as being perfect, with people polite and respecting others, and social characteristics contributing greatly to economic development, while good relations were based on a traditional culture that reflects the peace of mind of the people and the prosperity of society. The travel to Osaka and Kyoto also left a big impression in that it provided views from various angles -for example, from a simple basic life to modern high-tech life.
However, the biggest social and cultural issues observed were the declining birthrate, the changing role of women in society, and the aging of the population. It is clear that women in Japan are pressing for more influence in Japanese society, and more rapid integration into economic and political processes. The issue of childcare was considered to require full examination as well. But the currently established roles are deeply rooted, and will need to be examined from the new perspectives that are emerging from around the world. This issue is seen as requiring the most fundamental changes to tradition-steeped Japanese society, and may need several generations to resolve.
The aging population issue is not unique to Japan, but due to the relatively long Japanese lifespan and the inverted population distribution expected in the coming years, Japan is expected to be affected the most severely. The popular observation was that this issue is being examined mainly from an economic perspective, i.e., how whether the younger generation will be able to shoulder the full social security burden for the elderly given the declining population curve (speaking of social security, there was also some concern expressed about the homeless). Although this is a primary concern, the issue was regarded as more than economic, including aspects such as quality of life, entertainment, etc., and will require a new and uniquely Japanese approach to balancing traditions and respects with practical considerations. One factor which was raised as being difficult to read was what a new generation with little regard for seniority would bring to Japanese society and culture. Some suggested that the burden on younger Japanese should be offset with various policy measures.
In regard to the program in general, participants were very complimentary, noting that it was well designed to provide a deeper appreciation of Japan. The program sponsors gave most the impression that the Japanese are generally warm and unpretentious people whom the participants would like to meet again. There was also a suggestion that this forum should be made into a source of informed world leaders, and the gathering of a diverse group of participants appears to have been much appreciated. Many words of thanks were given for the educational opportunities offered.
Japan was perceived to be an exciting country with long-established traditions, a sophisticated cultural history and a powerful economic engine which together form a strong base that will secure its future. Japan faces the inevitable need to change in a way that draws on historical lessons so as to preserve its heritage and position as one of the most powerful countries in the world. The total picture of Japan was felt to have been made clearer.
Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST)
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