诚然，自1990年日本资产价格泡沫破灭以来，该国经济增长缓慢，股市大幅下跌，国家债务在GDP中所占比例攀升至可怕的水平。但是，尽管面临这些 困难，日本仍然是一个理智、稳定、繁荣和令人激动的国家。就政治、文化、甚至经济而言，与其说日本提供了一个教训，不如说它在如何应对长期逆境方面树立了 一个令人鼓舞的榜样。
令许多局外人感到困惑的是，在经济陷入相对停滞的多年时间里，日本人始终选择由自民党执政。少数人士甚至把这作为日本不够民主的证据。但日本乐于做 出尝试和改变。它曾选择个性张扬的自民党成员小泉纯一郎(Junichiro Koizumi)担任首相，后者在2001年至2006年间，推动日本走向了更高程度的自由市场化。如今，它转而选择了不那么迷恋美国模式的鸠山由纪夫 (Yukio Hatoyama)和民主党。
这可能是因为他们在应对经济困难方面，比外国人有时承认的要强得多。例如，《经济学人》(Economist)杂志有时会抱怨日本“让人失望的能力 惊人”。确实，外国投资者会发现, 过去20年里日本股市尤其令人失望；日经指数目前仅略高于10500点，而泡沫鼎盛时期曾达到过39000点的峰值。日本人还曾因不愿更冷酷地处理“僵尸 ”公司、执著于“终生雇用”等过时传统而受到外人的诟病。
日本决心保住就业岗位，这使得其劳动力市场不那么“有弹性”，也让经济付出了代价——但这种代价并非不可承受。学者们发表“日本将成为全球第一强国 ”的惊人预测的日子早已一去不返。但在经历了20年的所谓停滞之后，日本依然排名第二——是全球第二大经济体。日本的大型企业依然在制造世界一流的产品。 例如，丰田在研发普锐斯(Prius)等混合动力汽车方面，就走在了世界的前列。
When the great recession began last year, the fate of Japan was often held up as an awful warning to the west. If the US and the European Union failed to adopt the right policies, it was said, they too might suffer a Japanese-style “lost decade”, followed by years of feeble growth.
Now that the Japanese have used Sunday's election to elect the Democratic party – breaking with more than 50 years of rule by the Liberal Democratic party – a new western narrative is taking hold. This is a political revolution; it is Japan's big chance to break with the years of stagnation.
But both these stories are wrong. The Democrats are unlikely to shake things up hugely. Nor should they. For the story of Japan over the past 20 years is by no means as dismal as much western commentary would have it.
It is true that, since its asset-price bubble burst in 1990, the country's economy has grown slowly, the stock market has slumped and national debt has risen to awesome proportions. But, despite these trials, it has remained a sane, stable, prosperous and exciting country. Politically, culturally and even economically, it offers not so much a warning as an inspiring example of how to deal with a long period of adversity.
The fact that, throughout the years of relative stagnation, the Japanese kept electing the LDP puzzled many outsiders. A few even saw it as evidence that Japan is somehow less than democratic. But it was willing to try and change. The country gave a mandate to Junichiro Koizumi, the flamboyant LDP prime minister, who pushed Japan in a more free-market direction from 2001 to 2006. Now it has turned to Yukio Hatoyama and the Democrats, who are less enamoured of the American model.
However, Japan has always gone for change within well-defined limits. Europeans and Americans worry that a deep recession could stoke political extremism – not without reason, perhaps, given the hysterical tone of politics in the US and the increase in the vote for far-right and far-left parties in Europe. But during almost 20 years of tough times, the Japanese have never flirted with political extremism.
That could be because they have coped much better with economic difficulty than foreigners sometimes acknowledge. The Economist, for example, has occasionally lamented Japan's “amazing ability to disappoint”. It is true that foreign investors will have found the country's stock market a particularly disappointing venue in the past two decades; the Nikkei currently stands at a little over 10,500, compared with 39,000 at the peak of the bubble. The Japanese have also been chastised by outsiders for their reluctance to deal more ruthlessly with “zombie” companies, and for clinging to outmoded traditions such as “lifetime employment”.
But the efforts to cushion the worst social effects of an economic downturn have paid off. Last week there were shocked headlines proclaiming that the global recession had driven Japanese unemployment to a new high – 5.7 per cent. That still compares pretty favourably to 9.4 per cent in the US and the euro area. There is probably a lot of disguised unemployment behind the official number – but the same is true in the west.
The Japanese determination to preserve jobs made their labour market less “flexible” and the economy paid a price – but not an unbearable one. The days when academics wrote breathless predictions about “Japan as number one” are long gone. But after 20 years of alleged stagnation, it is still number two – the world's second largest economy. Its biggest companies still make world-beating products. Toyota, for example, has led the world in developing hybrid cars, such as the Prius.
东京给人的感觉，的确不像一个陷入终极衰退国家的首都。东京的米其林星级餐厅比巴黎还要多。英国《金融时报》的时尚宗师泰勒•布律莱(Tyler Brûlé) 徜 徉在东京街头，不知疲倦地搜寻前沿设计的范本——这是在向日本的时尚声誉致敬。日本2002年主办世界杯时，“失落的十年”刚刚过去，日本向世界呈现出一 副欢乐而好客的面孔，相比于其联合主办国韩国怪异的民族主义，显得格外讨喜。日本人的足球踢得也不错。日本国家队赴北京参加了2004年亚洲杯的决赛，击 败了东道主中国队——而且还活着离开了中国。
当然，日本有其自身的问题。其人口平均年龄正稳步上升，而人口总数逐渐减少。每5个日本人中，就有一个年龄超过65岁。民主党已承诺将提高养老金和 父母的育儿补贴，并采取减税措施。但很难想象日本政府如何实现收支平衡。当英美两国担心其公共债务可能达到国内生产总值(GDP)的80%时，日本的债务 却正逐渐接近GDP的200%。
Tokyo certainly does not feel like the capital of a country in the grip of terminal depression. The city's restaurants have accumulated more Michelin stars than are to be found in Paris. Tyler Brûlé, the Financial Times style guru, prowls the streets of the city, searching relentlessly for examples of cutting-edge design – a tribute to the country's reputation for style. When Japan hosted the football World Cup in 2002, just after its “lost decade”, it presented a cheerful and welcoming face to the world that contrasted pleasantly with the spooky nationalism of its South Korean co-hosts. The Japanese can even play football. The national team went to Beijing for the final of the 2004 Asian cup, beat China – and got out of the country alive.
Of course, Japan has its problems. Its average age is rising steadily and its population is shrinking. One in five Japanese is over 65. The Democrats have promised to raise pensions and payments to parents – and to cut taxes. It is hard to see how the sums add up. While the US and the UK worry that their public-sector debts could hit 80 per cent of gross domestic product, Japan's debt is heading for 200 per cent.
Some of its efforts to deal with an ageing society are positively unnerving. The country has led the world in developing robots as companions for the elderly. These include a “snuggling Ifbot” that, according to press reports, “lives in an astronaut suit, chats about the weather, sings and plays games”.It is best not to laugh. As the US and Europe struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of a bubble economy, rising public debt and the retirement of the baby-boom generation, they should look to Japan with respect. It may be the future.