Japan in the 21st Century

Japan is the only Asian country who stood as an equal to European and other Western powers since the late 19th century to the present times. Unlike China and India, the emerging great powers from Asia, Japan never experienced the colonial yoke, though it did suffer a crushing defeat in the Second World War and had to realign its worldview to make a resounding comeback right to the top among the world’s leading rich and industrialized nations. Considering the important role that it has played on the world stage for over a century now, the translation services industry must have been quite busy providing Japanese interpreters and Japanese translation services.

Japan may have been an imperial power in the first half of the 20th century, but has since largely been recognized for its industrial, trade, and technological prowess in every corner of the world.  Was it any surprise that in countries around the world there has always been a healthy demand for Japanese simultaneous interpreting and Japanese simultaneous translation services?

One would notice that the 21st century does not seem to belong to Japan the way the latter half of the 20th century did. One was no longer dazzled by the technological exploits of Japanese companies like Sony, Toyota, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Mitsubishi and a host of world-class companies who so dominated the business discourse in the past.

Instead one saw the USA stamp its authority in the digital space, giving rise to a new slew of world-class companies with gargantuan turnovers-the Microsofts, Googles, Apples, IBMs, Ciscos, and Facebooks of the world who have redefined the way that everybody lives their lives in ways not thought possible in the past. China, on the other hand, has become the manufacturing headquarters of the world and India is leading the world in providing support services to the massive global technology economy.

Where does that leave Japan? What is its role in the 21st century? The answer is that it is no longer a dominant economic player in Asia and indeed the world but rather a strategic one. Notice how Japan, especially under its current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is taking that nation away from its post-war pacific moorings to actively promote military deployment abroad and even sell military equipment to other nations.

This has been necessitated by an increasingly assertive China which is aggressively expanding its footprint in the region. At the same time, Japan also seeks to grow trade with its old traditional rival China.  This of course positively impacts the demand for Chinese interpreters and Chinese translators, given the large volume of trade between the two nations ($306.7 billion in 2014).[1]

The most serious problem that Japan faces going into the 21st century is the fact that it is an aging country. The number of senior citizens is burgeoning with not enough babies being born to redress a growing demographic imbalance. This can truly prove to be catastrophic not just for Japan, but for the rest of the world as well, given that this is the world’s third-largest economy.

One possible solution to this crisis in the making is to induct robots in place of people. This is not as outlandish as it sounds, as it is already happening in Japan. The Japanese robotics company Fanuc, for instance, already claims 25% of the world market for robots. This proves that when the Japanese put their minds to something, they emerge as world beaters in it, even if it is something as high-tech and futuristic as robotics. Interestingly as many as one-third of worldwide industrial robot sales made by Fanuc was to China!

One can imagine the sheer size of the document translations services business that must be getting conducted in order to facilitate trade between the world’s second and third largest economies. This trade also requires a large amount of certified document translation.  With its manpower shortage accounted for by robots, Japan is not left with any major challenges to overcome aside from food and energy security for its citizens. While one doesn’t see Japan sweating to achieve that, its strategic rival China is still a developing country with a host of political, demographic, economic, and strategic issues to resolve before it becomes a first world country, let alone the next superpower of the world.

Coming back to its energy requirements, Japan’s contiguity to Russia means that the latter should be able to source some of it from that country. That would also mean that Japan would lessen its total dependence on its staunch ally the U.S. to watch over its interests. In this regard, Japan has been reaching out to Southeast Asia and India to shore up its strategic depth, so as to be able to secure its future in an increasingly complicated foreign relations scenario.

An emerging Sino-Japanese business and military rivalry between China and Japan is a distinct possibility going forward in the 21st century. Japan is aware of this and has more or less shed its post Second World War reticence towards taking a hard militaristic view of its part of the world. The coming years will see an increasingly muscular approach by Japan in defense of its interests. This may in many years remind one of the imperialist Japan of the past, but there is a growing view in the West and Japan, that the past has well and truly been atoned for and it is time Japan stopped punching below its weight when it comes to strategic and military matters. A beginning has already been made by way of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, which is as good as a blue water navy capable of taking on the Chinese. Given the economic interdependence of China and Japan, there is very little likelihood of open economic hostilities breaking out between the two nations, but there is no harm in taking out a little insurance.

This is the new assertive and forceful Japan that the world is going to see in the 21st century. Any reservations that countries in Southeast Asia may have had towards the Japanese on account of its expansionist past are largely gone, with most nations in the region being very comfortable dealing with the Japanese.

[1] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/092815/chinas-top-trading-partners.asp