The four global forces in “Breaking All the Trends” remind me of my experiences living in Japan. I lived in Tokyo in 6th grade and for three months during 2015, as well as in a rural village in Northern Japan from 2014-2015. Thus, I was exposed to the densely populated and technologically advanced region of central Japan, as well as the resource-poor prefecture of Aomori.
In many ways, Japan seems like it has been a microcosm for the past ten years of what is to happen globally in the impending decade. First, the Age of Urbanization was particularly evident in my rural fishing town of 4,500 people, which was down from 6,000 residents 15 years prior. The Board of Education for which I worked explained that retaining residents was a major challenge since the local, rural economy did not offer many jobs. In fact, my coworkers explained that Japan had been experiencing urbanization for a few decades, forcing many rural schools to shut down. In my particular town, there were not enough students to form a high school, which forced high school students to travel an hour and a half round trip every day to the nearest school.
Second, Accelerating Technological Change is widely known to have taken off in post-WWII Japan, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s. Many of my American friends and colleagues ask me if Tokyo is as technologically apt as it appears to be in mainstream media. While this is certainly true in such sectors as the automotive and home appliance industries, Japan has lagged behind in other areas of technological advancement. For example, credit cards are still not widely used even in Tokyo.
Japan has, however, excelled at harnessing technological change to address one of the country’s greatest challenges: an Aging Population. Although aging is a global issue for most developed nations, Japan is widely acknowledged as having the highest proportion of elderly people.[i] Upon entering a cellular device retailer in Tokyo, it is not uncommon for a robot to approach the customer and introduce itself. I remember seeing smaller robots on display at Sony in Ginza, Tokyo nearly 15 years ago. Today, these robots are not only being used at tech stores to help sign in guests, but in nursing homes as well to help take care of the intensely aging Japanese population.
Finally, Global Connectivity is causing Japan to reassess its place in the global marketplace—especially as competition with China intensifies. One of my main tasks at a lobby firm in Tokyo was to research the Chinese political landscape and assess how that might affect our firm’s clients in Japan. In short, the articles this week lend new perspective on how Japan is, in many ways, a weathervane of what we are beginning to see happen elsewhere.