Japan was the first Asian country to become a global power, sometime in the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. For a while, leading up to the Second World War, it even became an imperial power, annexing territory across China, Korea, Southeast Asia, and right up to the doors of India. After their defeat in the Second World War, the Japanese nation turned pacifist and focused on rebuilding its economy, which it did so successfully that the industrialized West barely seemed to be able to keep pace. It grew to be the second largest economy in the world and remained that way for over three decades until China relegated it to third place in 2010.
Japan hasn’t been making much of a splash internationally in the new millennium, but it remains one of the powerhouse first-world economies with its very high level of industrialization and development. Unlike in China, it is a high-income group country with its citizens enjoying an extremely high standard of living.
It boasts of some of the most iconic brands in the world and trades majorly across the world. The Japanese language is not an international language in the sense that English or Spanish is, and is not that widely spoken globally. The role of Japanese interpreters and Japanese translators has therefore been humongous in making it possible for the many iconic companies to spread their footprints across the world.
Consider for example that there are three systems of writing Japanese, making it an extremely difficult language to master. It is not just learning to write the language that is difficult for Japanese to English translators, but also the fact that the Japanese culture is rigidly formal, with the use of honorifics being an essential part of the language. This is something that is equally true for English to Japanese interpreters. Any business in the U.S. that would like to communicate with a Japanese audience would have to take care to hire the services of a translation agency that employs translators and interpreters with the right credentials and has the best English to Japanese translators.
The same would be true of Japanese businesses trying to communicate with an English-speaking American market. The interpreting would still be bidirectional, but the translation would be more from Japanese to English instead of English to Japanese. The scope of the translation and interpretation services is quite large encompassing areas like law, email translation, website content, brochure content, document translation and so on. It also includes services like Japanese simultaneous interpreting and Japanese conference interpreting.
Coming back to the fact that the Japanese economy remains a major pillar of the global economic order, let’s consider a few things. It plays a major role in international affairs, providing an enormous amount of aid as well as credit and capital to regions and countries that need it. Then there is Japan’s inordinately large influence on the world’s asset markets on account of the country’s surplus savings. The net worth of the assets that Japanese citizens own abroad has risen to $3 trillion, which is equivalent to 60% of its annual GDP.
Japan may not be in the news as much as the new kid on the block China, but that is because the former has long arrived at the high table, while the latter longs to be there. Besides, Japan is a well-established democracy where rule of law is paramount. Not just that, its imperial past notwithstanding, it is an avowed pacifist nation that does not wish to become a hegemonistic power that throws its weight around in its neighborhood and beyond.
To that extent, Japan is the West’s natural ally and confidant, which is something inconceivable with regards to China, despite its enormous economic clout. Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has focused entirely on economic and welfare matters and left the defense to its main ally, the U.S. There are signs now that Japan is willing to shed its traditional diffidence in matters of defense, especially under the stewardship of its current prime minister, Shinto Abe. Moreover, with the US wanting its allies to shoulder more of the defense burden of the Western liberal order, Japan may play a more assertive role in world affairs, sooner rather than later.
The U.S. and Japan have engaged with each other from the middle of the nineteenth century sometimes as bitter adversaries but mostly as trading partners and allies. Their relationship is a textbook case of two former adversarial nations, who have Pearl Harbor and an atomic bombing between them, joining hands in a way that it is inconceivable that they will ever be in opposing camps ever again.
The world today is in a state of flux, in terms of the global power balance. If the liberal-Western democratic ethos, which has served the world so well for the last more than half a century is to be preserved and strengthened, Japan, along with much of Europe will continue to play a very crucial role.
Come to think of it, Japan’s dominant role in the world never really diminished. Every time someone thinks of buying a car, probably the first brand that comes to mind is Toyota. If it is a bike someone is thinking of buying, it has to be a Yamaha or Honda. In case of a camera, it is Cannon. One could go on and give so many examples of the myriad Japanese products of stellar quality that people across the world buy and swear by. In fact, for most people “Made in Japan” means the best quality in the world, even if it is kitchen knives.
Therefore, to state that Japan remains an economic powerhouse is to state the obvious. The polite and well-behaved people that the Japanese are they may not brag about it, but there is no denying their importance in the global scheme of things. They may have entered the 21st century quietly, but given their track record, one can expect this far Eastern nation to deliver many more miracles and wonders.