In 1989, at the beginning of the Heisei era, the Japanese economy was booming. The Nikkei was at a record high and business confidence was through the roof. The post-war “economic miracle”, which had seen Japan’s economy become the second largest in the world, was in full swing.
Three years later, at the beginning of 1992, the bubble economy burst and the Japanese economy went into recession. What followed was called the “lost decade”—a period of stagnation that saw prolonged deflation, and GDP and real wages fall. This lasted a lot longer than just 10 years, and the effects are still being felt today.
Japan’s tremendous economic strength from the 1960s until the 1980s was a great source of pride for the Japanese, and even now plays a big part in defining how the Japanese see themselves in the world. This is one reason why the stagnation that followed the miracle has continued so long—the desire to go back to those days, rather than to press on towards a different future.
I have worked as a missionary in Japan for the past 12 years. Over that time, I’ve watched Japanese society grapple with a loss of the sense of direction that seemed so effortless in the post-war boom. From 2007 to 2012, the Prime Minister changed almost annually. There were continual corruption scandals as politicians were convicted for having much the same sorts of relationships with industry that were so effective 30 or 40 years ago.
Since then, we have seen Abenomics and unprecedented monetary easing hammer away at the tough nut of deflation. It has been bold at times, but there is still a sense that Japan is moving away from its problems, rather than towards a solution. Unfortunately, because of the sheer magnitude of all that was accumulated in the past, this wilderness of stagnation can still feel somewhat comfortable, and certainly safer than journeying to the unknown.
Against this backdrop, disillusionment and despair are increasing, and with them, social problems that are causing cracks to appear in Japan’s prosperous façade—suicide, death from overwork, and shut-ins, to name a few. Through these cracks, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the spiritual poverty this country is labouring under.
The catalyst for the Japanese economic miracle was the grinding material poverty that existed in the shadow of Japan’s defeat in World War 2. As the Heisei era ends and the new Reiwa era begins, I pray that the spiritual poverty that is becoming increasingly apparent will lead to a Japanese spiritual miracle, where, as one nation, the Japanese turn to Jesus.
By Simon, an OMF missionary
Will you pray for Japan?
- For a spiritual miracle.
- That those suffering will find hope, not in material prosperity, but in God.
- That the leaders of Japan will have wisdom as they forge a way forward.