Very balanced and fair article. I lived in Japan in the 1990s and many of the qualities that Ross describes were well in evidence then as well. Economically speaking, the "lost decades" line is a bit overstated. Yes, Japan definitely lost some ground relative to Korea and China, but in many other areas, esp culturally, it is surprising and noteworthy to see Japan gaining worldwide leadership (anime being a classic illustration). For a country that for so long prided itself on its sense of uniqueness, becoming a thriving cultural export centre is quite remarkable.

The state of the public infrastructure is amazing, the Shinkansen is a wonder and Tokyo's subway system is first-rate. The airports have also improved markedly from the time that I was living there, the biggest positive change being the expansion of Haneda, so that more international flights can go through there (Narita, being an hour and a half drive away from the Tokyo city centre, was a nightmare). Osaka's new aiport also excellent.

Also worth noting that this is a country that has full employment, comprehensive healthcare for all its people, the lowest income inequality and is one of the world’s leading exporters. This country also scores high on life expectancy, low on infant mortality, is at the top in literacy, and is low on crime, incarceration, homicides, mental illness and drug abuse. It also has a low rate of carbon emissions, doing its part to reduce global warming. In all these categories, this particular country beats both the U.S. and China by a country mile. Truly a magical place.

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Apr 30Liked by Ross Barkan

As beautiful as this article is, I sheepishly admit that my real takeaway from it was "my god, I want a followup article where Ross talks about his favorite anime" :P

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May 5Liked by Ross Barkan

thank you for a wonderful article on Japan, and your interest in it since childhood. When it comes to present day journalism, I wish I were either wealthy or at least upper middle class. I am a retiree who is caring for a husband with multiple ailments. I wish I could support the many people who write well, especially those on substack.

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5 of the happiest years of my life. Just a marvelous country. And, yes there is much we coukd learn from Tokyo in terms of how ti run a city appropriate for the 21st century. Love your work BTW. Very happy subscriber

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"For the first time since the fall of Constantinople, a non-Christian, non-Western power crushed the military of a Christian nation."

Not even remotely true. The Ottomans went right on crushing Christian militaries for another 600 years.

"Regardless, there is no honest justification of the obliteration of two cities, of erasing the equivalents of Baltimore and Cleveland."

Of course there is, it saved hundreds of thousands of American and Japanese lives by averting the need for an invasion of the mainland. More people died from the invasion of Okinawa than the atomic bombs.

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Apr 28·edited Apr 28

Excellent piece, however I had to take issue with one sentence here.

"It is not an accident that most major American cities lack a Japanese enclave, whereas Chinatowns and Koreatowns have flourished."

You're conflating the histories of tourism and immigration. The reason most US cities lack a Japanese enclave, in the 21st century, is because the many enclaves that did exist along the West Coast were systematically destroyed with the Japanese internment during WWII. Japan also industrialized earlier than Korea or China, and the waves of immigration from when Japan was a less wealthy society occurred earlier than corresponding waves in the other countries.

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Fascinating piece. However, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts upon the punitive nature of Japan's criminal justice system and its role in the societal behavior and relative lack of violent crime. The fact that it was referred to in just a single sentence housed within a paragraph is telling.

Also, the description of Japan's xenophobia would be, in many American liberals' minds, not only racist, but also clearly prohibited under the law. I completely acknowledge that it is unfair to judge any other country with a comparison to U.S. law; but, let's please not limit racism to the countries we feel comfortable criticizing.

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Thank you for such a well written piece, from the first comma in the title, to the first sentence, to the longing for a world that could, yet may never be.

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I think your discomfort comes from the fact that they’re more than a bit fascist still.

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A wonderful read. Honest (brutally at times) and thoughtful.

Japan's xenophobia, softly spoken of here, as well as it's colonialist past, would be vilified here at such a high volume it's almost impossible to imagine. Perhaps that's the price a country pays to have the wonderful things described in the article. I don't know, but one wonders.

I'm a train / public infrastructure geek. My wife would use the word 'obsessed'. I still wonder how Westchester county would have been much improved if the county fathers hadn't let the New York, Westchester and Boston railway go under in 1937. I can point out where the stations were, where the structures still stand ... I'm that guy. Your paragraphs on the high speed rail were fantastic. I wish we had something akin to that here - and this comes from a NYC railfan.

Great article.

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