Much of the discussion in the international media tends to view the worsening economic situation in Japan as the outcome of national policies and national historical developments, in isolation from the rest of the world economy. In fact the Japanese crisis is intimately bound up with tendencies in the global financial system stretching back to the stockmarket collapse in October 1987.
When Wall Street crashed, the immediate response of central bankers and finance ministers around the world, in particularly the newly installed chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board Alan Greenspan, was that they were not going to make the same mistake as their predecessors in 1929. Consequently, they pursued a policy of credit expansion in order to boost stock markets and avert an immediate recession.
This policy had the most far-reaching consequences in Japan. The growth in international liquidity saw the creation of a giant financial bubble. The Tokyo stock market escalated to unprecedented heights (at its peak the Nikkei Index reached over 39,000 compared to its level of around 17,000 today) while real estate prices were so high it was calculated that the land under the Imperial Palace was worth more than all of California.
Why, the homeless are left on their own with out help from the government or the public at large. Few are those that volunteer to help those in need and organize soup kitchens for them or closing. We have about 20 NGO working with the Homeless and the unemployed here in Tokyo and surrounding areas, trying to provide meals and shelters. Those NGO's receive about 90 per cent of their revenue in form of donations from abroad. The aid given by the NGO's is often undermined by the “Guardian Angels”, a paramilitary group of sorts, that is closed in combat pants, boots and military like beret. They are patrolling the streets to keep order and cleanliness on behalf of the "good" citizens and businesses that support them. Those “Guardians” give the NGO’s much grief at times, for they do not want to see those NGO's setting up in their part of town to help the homeless. Ironically, the NGO’s best ally against the "Guardians" are the Yakuza’s also known as gokudō (極道), they do provide a social function along their better know other activities. Of course one does try to stay away from the Yakuza, still every now and then they are the only thing that stands between being able to help the homeless or being hindered by the "Guardians" to do so.
Alarmed at the prospect of the last Japanese pensioner switching out the lights, probably sometime in the 22nd century, the government – made up mostly of older males -- has swung into action, with sometimes comical results. In a gaffe-strewn foray into the marriage and fertility debate, Welfare Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo recently said Japan had a “fixed number” of “baby-making machines” aged 15-50 and recommended “healthy” youngsters should have at least two children. The political message – that women and not government policies are responsible for the lack of babies – infuriated opposition Social Democratic Party leader Fukushima Mizuho and many others. “Yanagisawa’s remarks were tantamount to telling women to give birth for the nation,” said Fukushima. “The [ruling] Liberal Democratic Party is to blame for this problem itself for not creating the environment where women want to have children.”
Where once everyone seemed to be treated more or less the same, merchants and marketers are focusing on the affluent. And it is paying off even during Japan's prolonged recession. Mercedes-Benz luxury cars are selling at a brisk pace while overall car sales have slumped. Private banking services offered to the wealthy are also proliferating.
"For years, everyone's pay increased as they got older," said Shoji Hiraide, general manager of Mitsukoshi's flagship department store branch in central Tokyo, which has begun a campaign to woo the wealthy. "It made everyone think that we are all in the middle class."But lifetime employment is crumbling and salaries are based more on merit and performance," he said. "In seven or eight years, Japanese society will look much more like Western society, with gaps between rich and poor that can be clearly seen."
"I see a serious problem," says lawmaker Takuya Tasso of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. "Japanese society is dividing into winners and losers, rich people and poor people. The middle class is being destroyed." The trend is troubling in a country where just about everyone considers themselves middle class and where no one is supposed to get left behind.
"There is an expression in Japanese, ichioku-sohchu-ryu, which literally means, '100 million completely middle class' (or) more naturally, 'a nation of middle-class people," says Shigeru Miyagawa, a professor of Japanese at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Newspapers are now asking, 'What happened to ichioku-sohchu-ryu?' "