I like to think back on what Japan was like when I first arrived, in 1991. Although the Tokyo land bubble had officially burst two years before, the halo of Japan’s long period of rapid economic growth still pervaded the country. Employment was high, and everyone had plenty of money to buy silly things like toilets that wash and dry your butt, complete with remote controls — why anyone would need a remote control for a toilet seat I can’t say, but I’ve seen them with my own eyes. There was actually too much employment in Japan back in those days. On my first trip to Tokyo Disneyland I went into an ice cream shop and was surprised to see no less than eleven employees, wiping down counters while they waited to serve me, although I was the only customer in the store. It was a magical time, when companies could make profits without asking themselves hard questions about how they were serving their customers. The hard times that Japan faced throughout the “lost decade” that came after were difficult indeed but at least Japan emerged a leaner, more efficient place as a result.
Japan has changed a lot since I’ve been here.