Japan in 2015: A Look at the Year Ahead

On Thursday, January 23, 2015, Japan-America Society of Washington DC with the cooperation of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace brought together leaders of the US-Japan relations community from Washington, DC and New York City for Japan in 2015: A Look at the Year Ahead.

This year marks the third year Japan-America Society of Washington DC presented this event, which is an all-day program in which experts of Japan predict how Japanese policies, economy or international relations will develop over the coming year.  It is like a Shinnenkai for Japan experts from the government, academia, think tanks, media and other institution to come together at the beginning of the year and reflect on the new year.

Because of the generous support from the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, we were able to invite Mrs. Sakie Fukushima, from G&S Global Advisor, Tokyo, to give a keynote address about woman in Japan’s economy.  Mrs. Fukushima extensive background of working for Japanese companies and serving on numerous boards in Japan gave our members a perspective that few could match.  Mrs. Fukushima’s speech focused on a 2-year old IMF report called “Can Womenomics Save Japan,” she said the answer is yes.  However, the ability for the economy to rebound is not gender-specific.  She also went on to site that Japan’s white collar productivity rate is 21st out of the 24 OECD countries.  Japan needs to increase the diversity of its human capital, and not just women.  It needs more “international human capital.”

Japan-America Society was fortunate to invite the editor-in-chief of the Oriental Economist, Richard Katz.  Mr. Katz laid out the successfulness of Abenomics so far, especially now that Japan is back in recession.  He said that 2015 will be a make or break year for Abenomics.  Everyone agrees that with the LDP’s recent electoral victory, Abe is in a stronger political position than ever, and the question is whether he is willing to use his political capital to push forward the economic reforms that are essential.

Shihoko Goto of the Woodrow Wilson Center said that 2015 will be a watershed year for Japan in another aspect - its international image. This is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the actions and statements that Japan and Prime Minister Abe make will have an impact on international perceptions of Japan, not just in Asia but also in the United States. Echoing this theme, Emma Chanlett-Avery of the Congressional Research Service gave three scenarios for this 70th anniversary year, in which Japan's relations with its neighbors could improve or deteriorate, or in which they somehow manage to make it through the year.

Guests in the audience pointed out that some questions could be directed at the US in this 70th anniversary year. For example, this also marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how will the US deal with that. Another question: 70 years after the end of World War II, why does the United States still "occupy" so much of Okinawa?

All of the panelists agreed that Prime Minister Abe's political position is strong and secure, and he is likely to remain as Prime Minister for the foreseeable future.


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