If “Nationalism” is Causing Japan’s Problem, What about South Korea?

When someone wants to state “Nationalism is bad”, for some reason, Japan is the only country that is singled out. Greg Fish followed this well traveled path in his article, “Nationalism Froze Japan In Time — Trump Falsely Thinks It Will Make America Great” explaining that “nationalism” is causing Japan’s “demographic collapse”. I would like to ask Greg and anyone who agrees with this, if this means South Korea has even worse “nationalism”.

The TFR (total fertility rate) is the “expected number of children born per woman in her child-bearing years” (according to the World Bank and others). According to the World Bank, this was just 1.5 for Japan in 2015. This is below the “population replacement” number of 2.1 so it’s bad. United States is 1.8 which means that even US would lose population without immigration. Now, South Korea is just 1.2. Yes, its TFR is below Japan which means that South Korea is facing a “demographic collapse” at a worse rate and with even fewer economic surpluses. Yet, somehow, no one talks about South Korea or criticize South Korean for being even more “nationalists” than Japanese. This makes little sense considering that South Korea is neither economically small or have extremely small population. It is also a democratic and free-speech country meaning that you can’t blame dictators and state propaganda for making South Koreans into nationalists.

Perhaps, Japan is just a good punching bag to some people. These people aren’t aware that Japan did have a similar “demographic collapse” back in 18th to 19th century in a place called Edo which is now known as Tokyo. Edo was one of the world largest city with its population around one million and well exceeded that by including its suburbs. It had similar issue of low marriage rate and low birth rate as men and women came to find work but this created a technically “poor” living conditions. I wrote “poor” but you would enjoy living there. It had theaters and rental book stores. It had department stores of every thing produced in Japan and few from abroad. Vendor foods were cheap and reasonable quality. Many Edo citizens took week/month-long vacations as a “pilgrimage” to Ise Shrine and other tourist spots by pooling their money with neighbors. It was “poor” in a sense that it was very crowded and was expensive to live in. When Japan adopted Western technologies, such as steam engines, this reduced difficulties of living in Edo/Tokyo and improved living conditions outside of Edo/Tokyo so much that population of Japan would nearly triple in less than 200 years. Now, it’s declining again and somehow, everyone blames “nationalism”. Apparently, samurai who ruled back then were also “nationalist” and even common people back then were also “nationalist” despite nearly none of them ever meeting any foreigner or having any idea of what “nationalism” meant since almost all of them said “country” as his or her han (city to prefecture sized domains ruled by samurai lords).

Indeed, Greg made a deliberate lie by arguing that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had some kind of “traditionalism, nostalgic views” of Japan. If this is true, then Abe would be trying to recreate Japan again to when its population was growing since this is what happened in the past and not when its population is declining as is today. And this is bad? So Greg is opposed to Abe for trying to recreate Japan to when its population was growing and argues Abe is trying to change Japan back to “nationalist, traditional Japan” which reduces its population. Something doesn’t add up here. Either the “past traditional Japan” had declining population or it didn’t. But population data clearly showed the “past, traditional Japan” mostly did increase its population unless that refers to Edo period when population stagnated due to limited technological development and resources. The only way this could be true is “nostalgic view” that Greg say Abe has means something like “Japan: 1995–2000” which would make less sense since this time period is usually considered “bad year” after the collapse of housing bubble and showed the declining number of children. And Abe had his first time as the prime minister in 2006 which would hardly make “1995–2000” nostalgic.

While Japan does have its problems, it is trying to solve it by different means than “traditional” that people love to use. For example, under Abe’s administration, policies and laws for hiring and firing workers had been gradually and continuously changed to be more in line with US so that companies can fire workers for more reasons than “its bankruptcy” as they had been. It is expected that after the snap election in this fall, a new hiring law would be passed that would enable companies to offer the one-time compensation (basically, several months/years of salaries) to its workers as the incentive for accepting firing. This trend had been and still is opposed by labor unions and opposing parties that like Greg did, claims Abe is a “nostalgic traditionalist”. When making it less likely for Japanese companies to hire workers for life and workers to expect that is somehow blamed as “traditional in Japan”, you have to wonder what exactly “traditionalism” mean to those attacking or using Abe to attack another political figure.

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