Davos Agenda

Japan’s greatest export today: stability

Image: Ben Cheung/Pexels

Makiko Eda
Consultant, World Economic Forum Tokyo
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Japan is well-known for its stability.
  • The country also ranked at the top in the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel and Tourism Development Index.
  • Placing more value on collective and long-term wellbeing will better serve Japan as it navigates global changes.

As nations navigate chaotic global affairs, Japan stands out for its economic and social stability. As a reliable trading partner with a steady political system, its value as a dependable player will increase as fragmentation intensifies.

Today, we’ve come to realize that we have taken for granted the shared value of placing societal good above all. Fundamental principles such as following through on commitments and placing value in a long-term relationship instead as a simple transaction hold more importance today than ever. We’re also reminded that these values bear fruit beyond immediate economic gains.

Despite having lived abroad for more than 10 years, Japan is my home. And while it is perhaps not a hotbed of innovation or social change, I find the stability of this country remarkable. Moreover, I believe that the stability is a result of Japanese society putting priority on collective wellbeing rather than on individual success.

Global view of Japan

Japan's stability is widely recognized worldwide. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of foreign visitors to visit Japan in October 2022 was estimated at 498,600, a major spike compared to the month prior when the government first relaxed COVID-19 entry restrictions. Japan also ranked at the top in the World Economic Forum’s latest Travel and Tourism Development Index. People are attracted to Japan for many reason, including the fact that it is safe, clean and modern. The 125 million people living and working in the island nation are also cordial and behave in ways that largely promote stability.

Mask-wearing is one example of Japan’s collective mentality. The custom does not necessarily come from selfishness but rather an effort to maintain the health of the country. It is about being conscientious of others and acknowledging a shared responsibility.

This communal quality extends beyond Japan, too. At the recent World Cup in Qatar, Japanese fans and players garnered praise for staying behind to help clean the stadium and locker room. The players even left origami cranes on the table to show respect to the host. Here again, the tournament was not for an individual but rather an event for all.

Japan’s collective nature also helped it weather the COVID-19 pandemic over the past three years. The country saw limited large scale lay-offs and to maintain employment, companies including ANA and Imperial Hotel took steps get their workers employment elsewhere until their businesses were back on track. ANA also let its employees sign contracts for side businesses to supplement their income. Such actions were taken as Japanese society realized that even as salaries and growth fell, maintaining stable employment was vital in a time of crisis.

Navigating challenges

Still, Japan was impacted by the global economic downturn, which induced by the pandemic and exacerbated by inflation, the war in Ukraine and subsequent societal concerns like deteriorating mental health. Yet Japan did not see wide-spread homelessness on the streets. The country’s safety net may not be perfect, but a concerted effort to keep people afloat is in place. Furthermore, as a result of economic policies in recent decades, the working population has broadened, and more elderly people are working. This helped keep job opportunities available, although average wages have stayed stagnant.

Of course, Japan does have challenges. One report, for example, found that Japanese people do not necessarily have a high level of satisfaction due to fewer life choices and other factors. This could well be a result of prioritizing collective stability and should be examined. Ensuring a proper balance of individual benefit and societal good is especially important for young people and minority groups for which existing structures may not work as effectively for.

Nevertheless, I believe placing more value on collective and long-term wellbeing will better serve Japan as it navigates the chaotic changes currently happening in the world. Here, Japan can play a role as an exporter of stability, demonstrating how societies can invest in the wellbeing of all people.

As Japan takes chair of G7 in 2023, we look forward to Japan's leadership in shaping a new form of international cooperation. Indeed, the world needs a renewed sense of common goals and collective prosperity to ensure long-term and shared stability.

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