Welcome to Japan, Where the Bad News Is the Good News

The economy is now in recession after barely growing for decades. The population continues to shrink, with births last year plunging to a nadir. The country’s politics appear frozen as one party holds a virtual lock on power no matter how scandal-tainted and unpopular it becomes.

But not to worry. This is Japan, where all bad news is relative.

Take a look around. There are few signs of the societal discord you might expect in a place with trend lines like Japan’s, such as accumulating garbage, potholes or picket lines. The country remains remarkably stable and cohesive, with little sense of impending doom.

That equanimity reflects a no-need-to-rock-the-boat mind-set: “Shouganai” — “it can’t be helped” — is something of a national refrain.

It’s easy to see why people might be nonchalant. Unemployment is low, the trains run on time and the cherry blossoms bloom every spring. Tourists are flooding the shrines and shopping districts, and the stock market has hit a record high. Even after some inflation, a bowl of ramen can be had for less than $7, or a multi-plate set lunch for about $12. Housing is generally affordable even in Tokyo, and everybody is covered by national health insurance. Crime is low: In 2022, there were just three gun killings in all of Japan. If you forget your cellphone in a restaurant, chances are it will be there when you return.

Cherry blossoms, seen here in a Tokyo park last year, are one of the many constants in Japanese life. Credit…Issei Kato/Reuters

“I am pretty happy with my living conditions,” said Chihiro Tsujimoto, 26, a classical music percussionist who had come out of a movie theater with his sister in Chofu, in western Tokyo, last week. Japanese people, he said, have “given up and feel rather happy as long as their life is full and fine.”

Related Articles

Back to top button