As can be seen from the latest items from Japan section of Asia Market Research News, there is increasing evidence that Japan is emerging from an extended period of economic downturn, in broad terms extending beyond a decade. However, if that is indeed the case, it will still be a slow recovery with estimates for economic growth in the next year lower than almost all other Asian economies.
Japan has been the default Asian "leader" for several decades, despite the slowdown. It remains the world's second largest economy, and their investment and trade in other Asian economies ensures Japan;s economic and cultural influence on many countries from East to South East Asia. In fashion it remains the generally underestimated trend setter for the young and hip. Asian leaders from smaller Asian countries look up to Japan and see it as a harbour against "Western cultural imperialism". Japan's influence in South East Asia cannot be under-estimated. Apart from broad investment in places like Thailand and Indonesia, South East Asia as a whole is Japan's major trading partner, unlike other Asian countries where the largest trading partners are usually the USA or Europe.
The 130,000,000 Japanese have one of the highest standards of living in the world, though the almost unknown sceptre of high unemployment in recent years had exposed frailties in social structures, beforehand buttressed by the salary-man and life-long employment culture.
High standards of health care, discipline and diet as well as social norms favouring the aged has led to a large wealthy "greys" market segment in Japan. The relative ageing population compared to other countries is however causing concerns on the burden on government social security finances if growth does not return soon.
Like Korea, Japan is very ethnically homogeneous, most being pure Japanese with only less than 1% being of other ethnic groups, mainly Korean. Religion does not play as big a part in the lives of Japanese as say Islam does to Malays in South East Asia, or even Buddhism to Thais and many Indo-Chinese. The great majority of Japanese observe both Shinto and Buddhist religions and many of the middle class respect these as traditions rather than as a way of life. English is very rarely spoken, especially in the higher levels of organizations. Literacy is almost universal, and there is less income differentials between provincial Japan and the capital cities like Tokyo and Osaka
Given the relatively small inhabitable land area and the high population levels, overcrowding is a constant reality in Japan, accounting for Japanese tourist's love of wide open spaces when they travel. The Japanese have adapted however by the efficient use of space, and an increasing tolerance of clutter, evidenced especially in Tokyo streets (and Web sites!) that makes the average Westerner suffer extreme claustrophobia. A large part of the Japanese culture is concerned with making things smaller, from the ancient art of Bonsai, to the delicate art of Sushi.
Japan became great by manufacturing, basically putting things together efficiently and to high quality standards (TQM). With limited natural resources, Japan depends on importing raw materials and fuel, adding the value added, and exporting Just in Time (JIT).
Japan's culture is perhaps one of the most inaccessible to the foreigner. The Japanese respect for experience, wisdom, age and status is well known. Substantive business relationships are built over many years.
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