The disaster in Japan is testing the mettle of one of the most disciplined peoples in the world.
Yet to emerge from its already two decades of economic stagnation, Japan over the past two weeks is enduring what its Prime Minister admitted was the country’s worst crisis since the Second World War.
As if the intensity-9 earthquake and the 10-meter tsunami that came in its wake – and wiped out entire cities and towns in northeastern Japan – were not enough, what was once the world’s second biggest economy is faced with a looming nuclear meltdown rivaling the Chernobyl disaster, which has been the worst on record.
Despite the triple whammy that hit them, the Japanese had been well-behaved, even in the throes of despair. Their discipline has prevailed even amid the desperation in what passed off as ‘panic-buying’ in Tokyo and other Japanese cities in response to fears of a shortage in food and other essential items should the nuclear crisis become drawn-out.
Indeed, the disaster that has befallen what remains one of the most technologically advanced countries has led to little outpouring of financial support from the rest of the world.
Tinsel town – which was at the forefront in relief efforts during disasters that struck Haiti, Indonesia and closer to home, southeastern US – barely raised any alarm about Japan’s current straits – save for a million dollars donated by Sandra Bullock and two donation campaigns, one launched by singing sensation Lady Gaga and the second by disgraced actor-comedian Charlie Sheen.
For East Asia’s first economic powerhouse undoubtedly has the financial wherewithal to cope with its present crisis.
Despite the recent dip, Japan’s savings rate remains one of the highest in the world, generating a huge amount of liquidity that countries like the Philippines could only envy and occasionally try to tap through the so-called Samurai bond market.
In fact, Manila was looking at another yen-bond offering after last year’s successful issuance to help plug the Aquino administration’s budget deficit.
The Philippines has since announced that it would put off its plan to undertake another round of borrowing from the Samurai bond market in what the government said was an act of sensitivity to Japan’s current difficulties.
Indeed, Japan’s deep financial market is but a symptom of that country’s economic and social malaise – a reflection of the equally deep pessimism held by its people, and something that preceded its current disaster.
Doubtless, the Japanese would survive the disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami, and, we venture to say, even the potential nuclear fallout from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
We can see this from the defiance shown by Filipina migrants’ Japanese husbands, many of whom opted to stay behind in Fukushima to help in the recovery and rehabilitation efforts.
It is the same bravery we witnessed during the Second World War with the imminent defeat of the Imperial Army. In fact, no people in modern history have rivaled the heroism of the kamikaze fighter pilots of that last Great War.
This is something other nationalities, including Filipinos, should take a lesson or two from.
But if Japan and the Japanese were to not only survive the triple whammy of disasters that has befallen them this past few weeks, but more importantly emerge from the economic and social crises that have dampened their spirits for the better part of the last two decades, then that country and its people would have to rouse from several gridlocks.
We hope Japan’s politicians would take this opportunity to rally the people around efforts not only to recover and rehabilitate the disaster-hit areas, but also to resuscitate their economy.
As international ratings agencies have said, Japan’s fiscal burden is far from insurmountable, and definitely not life-threatening at the moment, given that country’s deep financial markets.
What Japan’s policymakers should pursue is to revive the animal spirits of their people. An ageing population has slowed consumer spending dead on its tracks, especially since the incentive structure had long compensated export-oriented enterprise and discouraged imports particularly in key sectors like agriculture.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan already began the process by introducing generous incentives for families to kick-start domestic consumption. We hope other sectors of Japanese society – from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party to the labor unions and various interest-groups – give what appears to them an unorthodox way of reviving their economy another try.
Japan and the rest of the world have everything to gain from a full-fledged recovery.