The economic and social situation of Japan is very far from what it was in the 1980s when Japan was supposed to overcome the USA as the first world economic power. At that time Japanese people enjoyed a virtuous growth with such a fair distribution that inequalities were the lowest among industrialised countries. Every Japanese felt to belong to the middle-class and looked happy. To be sure this was a model of a male bead winner society. An education system very competitive, warranting employment. A country with a dense infrastructure for transportation of all kinds. A country where households were enjoying comfortable, well equipped, with all electronic appliances, housing. Households owning savings for the future, even if pension schemes seemed enough for everyone to expect a nice time at his retirement age.
The landscape has totally changed. This panel will offer a debate about some aspects of these changes. Some of the new traits will be presented – trying to get an idea whether they are Japan specific- then they will be analysed in their impact as a factor of change for the whole society, asking whether lessons might be drawn for other societies, and finally it will be asked whether there is a trend towards which future.
Japan has a declining share in the world economy and growth is weak. Autonomy is no longer as strong: several large companies are dependent on various links with foreigners. The level of inequalities is rising with a surge of poverty partly due to the growing share of non-permanent workers within the wage earners. The past social protection system is under pressure. The declining number of population and its ageing address several issues. First there is a lack of people to meet the number of jobs available. One way to solve this insufficiency is, first to promote the employment of women, second for the long run, to try to get a better birth rate. To achieve both is very tricky due to the usual discrimination at work and to the current system towards maternity, baby and child care system. Second the government decisions to postpone the retirement age and its application, the way concerned people are behaving, are some of the new traits of the society in Japan. It is partly linked with the rural depopulation where many depopulated villages are principally inhabited by very old people who lack from adapted transportation systems.