I have now been in Japan for 5 days and am beginning to formulate my thoughts about what I have seen and what I have learnt.
Firstly I would say that if the Japanese Local Government Centre offer you the chance to visit Japan you should accept whether you are an officer or a Councillor. Visiting a culture which is very different from your own is mentally challenging and can lead you to think about what you do more than visiting a nearby council or another western European country. Of course they do all of the things that we do. They have to keep the streets clean, make sure that the school,s are run etc. etc. etc. BUT they do it from a very different culture and a very different baseline.
In many ways the challenges are so similar. What I have found as I have travelled the world is that the problems facing all developed democracy are very similar. They face the world of austerity. Many of the certainties which governed our live prior to 2007 are shattered. We all over borrowed and over spent. We must pay the price and governments must we do so but ensuring at the same time that our poorest citizens do not pay a greater price than anyone else.
Put simply Japan is running out of people. It has a rapidly ageing population with the birth rate declining but the longevity rising. Japan within a few years will not be able to afford the health and social care needed by its 65+ aged population. And that is before you pay the costs of pensions.
In the UK are problems are being eased by immigration both from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth. That immigration will provide us with the workforce that will, in future, pay the costs of dating for the elderly through their taxation. Japan, as yet, has no such remedy. Many people have been staring at the group of 10 of us as we went through this large provincial city. We were clearly just about the only foreigners in town. Just think that in central London you can walk past the former citizens of 100+ countries in our city centre? Even in Liverpool you might pass the former citizens of 40//50. In Tokyo you might just pass the citizens of thee countries. Japan is mostly composed of Japanese people. Immigration is very rare and there is a cohesive society which is remorselessly in decline. Either the Japanese need to have more children or they need to import more people otherwise Japan will inevitably decline as an international country and it’s ageing citizens will be seriously left without services. There is no sign that the politicians are up to this necessary debate. They all seem to be Nigel Farrages!
But the people of Japan are great. In Kumamoto tonight I have been stopped 6 times by local people who were concerned that I was lost. They were genuinely concerned for my welfare. Everywhere we have been the people have been polite not only to us but each other. The streets are clean, safe and well managed because that is the way people behave and not just because that is what councils or governments are trying to do.
They genuinely love their culture and are proud to be Japanese but not in an aggressive jingoistic way. They are at ease with themselves but ONLY have about 100 years of outgoing international history and for much of that they were on a ‘different side’ to those countries like our own who are their natural allies. They don’t appear to be very confident in dealing with the outside world.
I feel very safe, secure and comfortable here. I believe that I am in a Country with whom my Country could do business. I feel that there are many opportunities for our Countries to work together and will make some suggestions about that when we meet tomorrow and when I blog at some time in the not too distant future.
In the meantime two thoughts:
One is that Japanese TV seems diabolically bad. It may be that I just cannot work the remote to find something worth watching but what I have seen is dire.
Second is that the Japanese culture is very hierarchical and not really open to challenge from within. As I will discuss in greater detail the public sector is not very technologically advanced although much of the technology and hardware that we use in the public sector in the UK originates in Japan.
One thing that really attracts me is the the respect shown I Japan for elders. But those that know me might say that such a view is merely self interest!