Times Asia 20/6/2006
The Japan That Says No
A new bestseller expresses Japan’s popular dissatisfaction with globalization
The book everyone was talking about last week at the first World Economic Forum (WEF) ever held in Tokyo was not Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat, or some other tome on globalization. It was a slim Japanese volume called The Dignity of a State. Written by mathematician Masahiko Fujiwara, the book is ostensibly a nostalgic call to return to ancient Japanese virtues. But it’s also a shrill rant that blames free markets for a wide assortment of Japan’s—and the world’s—woes. "Globalism," Fujiwara writes, "is merely a strategy of the U.S. that seeks world domination after the Cold War." The author also calls the market economy "a system that clearly divides the society into a minority of winners and a majority of losers." WEF members, most of them proponents of free markets and open economies, might want to dismiss Fujiwara as part of the radical fringe of strident antiglobalization protesters. But the book has touched a nerve in Japan, where many feel economic reforms are destroying the country’s egalitarianism, creating a nation of haves and have-nots. The Dignity of a State has sold 2 million copies since last November, making it Japan’s second best-selling title of 2006. (It trails only the latest Harry Potter installment). A grassroots backlash against reform in the world’s second largest economy is worrying to some WEF delegates. "This book’s popularity is not a positive development," says Charles D. Lake II, vice chairman of Aflac Insurance in Japan. But it is an important one. Despite Japan’s much-heralded success in modernizing its economy, the fact remains that a large segment of Japanese society loathes the way things are heading. While there is no English-language version of the book, you can bet that many attendees of this conference have already ordered their companies to prepare an internal translation.