Not long ago, people around the world looked to Japan for technological breakthroughs and advancements that promised to revolutionize the future.
Although the nation is still prosperous and its citizens enjoy a better-than-average standard of living, it no longer wields the global influence it earned a generation ago.
So what caused this shift? There are several factors, but two stand out.
The end of innovation
Visitors to Japan still marvel at cultural achievements such as a world-leading high-speed rail system — but most of those accomplishments were made many years ago.
When the nation emerged from the devastation that led to the end of World War II, it did so with a determination to reshape itself as a manufacturing juggernaut. That plan paid off with class-leading automobiles and consumer electronics designed and made by Japanese companies.
By the early 1990s, however, the economy was in deep trouble and regulators began seizing control of almost everything that happened nationwide. This curtailed innovation and fueled the stagnation that is still being felt today.
The dwindling population
Part of what made Japan so attractive to the rest of the world was its culture, which was and still is unlike anything else on the planet. From animation to music to architecture, this is a corner of the globe that is largely unsullied by outsiders — and that’s by design.
Only about 3% of the population is foreign-born and, although there are many multicultural families, the nation has always made it quite difficult for would-be immigrants.
Although this has helped preserve its society and national identity, it has also resulted in an aging population and the deterioration of many once-vibrant communities across the country.
As the old guard maintains a tight grip on power, it seems unlikely that anything will change in a substantial way anytime soon.