On a visit to Tokyo this week, on more than one occasion when I asked how Japan should tackle the economic crisis, my interlocutor turned with ninja-like alacrity to the topic of pre-Meiji Japan. The period before American warships forced the country open in the mid-19th century was regularly invoked as a prelapsarian idyll, a time when Japan did not have to deal with the grubby business of earning its crust in the world.
Eisuke Sakakibara, the former vice-finance minister indelibly branded Mr Yen, describes a country that was peaceful, orderly, unspoilt and friendly. “That was what pre-Meiji Japan was like. We should go back to that,” he says.
His invocation of a more innocent, pre-industrial age could easily be dismissed as idle chatter were it not for the fact that it keeps coming up.
There is now much talk of putting more emphasis on agriculture and de-emphasising the manufacturing industries on which postwar wealth was built. “Japan, having major strength in manufacturing, will probably suffer most,” says Mr Sakakibara, who argues that, even after this economic crisis subsides, the world will never return to previous levels of material consumption.
Japan’s farm industry is commonly regarded as heavily protected, but the Japanese worry that they only produce 40 per cent of their calorific requirements. Mr Sakakibara supports the DPJ’s proposals massively to increase subsidies to agriculture and to industrialise the family-run farming industry. He has been trying to persuade Toyota that cars are a dying industry and that it should turn its engineers on to farming efficiency instead. The era of just-in-time carrots could soon be upon us.
Friday, March 6, 2009
More on Japan
In yesterday's Financial Times, David Pilling wrote that many Japanese are pining for Japan's pre-industrial days, "Japan harks back to an age of innocence":