Every time I visit Japan, the country surprises me. It captures my soul and awakens my curiosity and desire to learn more about the Japanese people and how they have made it to the top of the ladder of human development.
This is a nation built on discipline, tenacity, hard work, excellence and a perfect blend of respect for tradition and thirst for development and progress sans losing its soul and essence—all of this with exquisite politeness and impressive cleanliness.
This is a country that has learned the most painful lessons from its history and has done so without doubting its engagement with democracy and human rights, and without nostalgic resentments or the obsession for revenge that has clouded the collective psyche of so many other countries in history.
In Tokyo, the most imposing buildings of top-rated architects harmoniously coexist with small back streets and tiny alleys spotted with traditional restaurants in charming minuscule buildings; an extraordinary historic Imperial Palace where time seems to have stopped, all in a Blade Runner-like metropolitan giant of almost 40 million inhabitants and a GDP of a top nation. Japan has long been admired around the world for its great technology, robust economy and corporate giants, and it has now become one of the main epicentres of fashion and trends. Japanese designers, architects, chefs and culture irradiate the world.
Japan needs to fight what some demographers call its birth rate catastrophe. It is true that the rate has been slowly inching back since the turn of the century, having just overtaken Germany’s (1.44 compared to 1.38), one can feel that there are more babies and young children that flood shopping malls and parks, if compared to 10 years ago. The tendency has proven to be consistent for the past decade.
This is a people reaching out to its innermost self, in a positive way. National pride sans aggressive nationalism. Precisely, Japan has been capable of transforming their past aggressive nationalism that led to their expansionist militaristic aggression, to a healthy non-exclusive patriotism, which was subdued for decades and has been reborn, so far, in a healthy and contained manner. And there is nothing wrong with that provided it doesn’t derive in the belligerent and expansionist follies of the past.
Today, Japan is a country at ease with itself which combines the inward-looking isolationism, of not a negligible part of this society, with an open spirit and outward-looking healthy ambition. And this happens because they are growingly aware of the immense challenges of the times we live in, the dangers of populism, instability and insane aggressive policies of some leaders and nations.
It has accepted the historic role that a great economic power, also a great democracy, has to play in the 21st century. Every day, the Japanese media analyse the geopolitical situation, pushing their society to understand the great responsibility that is in their hands to become a more proactive actor on the world scene, not only a major regional player.
Many of the risks that this nation faces could be the potential spark of a conflict, even a nuclear escalation, of unfathomed consequences. World chaos and a general geopolitical and geo-economic crisis of global proportions could start in this part of the world if actors of this region do not confront the sources of instability with courage and determination.
Having been the Spanish Ambassador to India and coming back to Japan after some years, I can now fully understand why Japan and India are natural strategic partners; two vibrant democracies that face the same geopolitical threats and challenges as well as complex relations with complicated neighbours.
The political scene around the globe is scary, the rise of extremism and populism has slowly but effectively lurched its way back to the political centre stage. Political opportunism and short-sightedness have conquered mainstream political parties, and the depth and quality of leadership is at an all-time low. But in this part of the world the system seems to be working, and the much-needed Asian wisdom and common sense would be of great service to mankind in this hour of gloom.