BBC Journalist thinks Japan is stuck in the past. Some foreigners here agree, some don't

This article has been making the rounds lately among foreigners on social media.

Main points:

  • Japan may look high-tech and wonderfully weird from the outside but not from the inside when you scratch the surface.
  • Japan needs to stop resisting change.
  • The economy is stagnant and the population is aging and shrinking.
  • Land and property values has plummeted since the bubble era of the mid-80’s.
  • Pork barrel politics keep the LDP in power but have also attributed to an eye-watering amount of public debt. There’s also the matter of health care and pensions for the elderly.
  • People don’t want to see an influx of foreign residents to replace retiring workforce, although the county isn’t really as ethnically pure as Japanese like to think.
  • You can trace back the lineage of those in power now to those who have always been in power–samurai and imperialists–and they want to roll back some of the changes that were made during the US Occupation.


  • It’s a whole lot cleaner, safer and more orderly than other major cities in Asia, and may I add, the toilet seats are heated.

Noah Smith (I don’t know who Noah Smith is) has a somewhat opposing viewpoint, apparently based on statistics, graphs and charts.

Thank you, I still haven’t had time to read this yet. Will do.

Noah Smith is a Twitter-famous guy who I used to think was interesting but quickly got fed up with. I only read his response because it was retweeted by someone I respect, and it didn’t really entice me to go back to following him. He’s one of those guys who thinks he is right about everything. He does have more actual Japan experience than a lot of people who opine on it, to be fair.

I told Matt Alt I wanted to read his response to that column instead of Noah Smith’s. He didn’t write one (yet?) but he tweeted:

Just struck me as someone who didn’t engage very deeply with Japanese society. Busy with work & family, unable to speak the language, he missed many counter-examples to the issues he raised. And angrier about traffic school & manholes than structural sexism? Telling.

Oh but the most annoying thing about Noah Smith’s piece is that he called shitamachi “grungy” as if that’s a bad thing :rofl:

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Okay, I STILL haven’t gotten around to reading it, but now today I must. That old timey vibe to Shitamachi is pure deliciousness, grungy! Humph!