“Do rich societies really need to get richer and richer indefinitely?” he asks. “A lot of improvements in standard of living come not through what we normally consider as growth, but through technological improvements.”
In fact, Pilling sees Japan’s globally stagnant years as a time of dramatic domestic growth, if not the kind associated with standard economic measurements like GDP. “Many would agree that the standard of living, particularly in big cities like Tokyo, has improved significantly in the so-called lost decades. The city’s skyline has been transformed, the quality of restaurants and services improved greatly. Despite the real stresses and strains and some genuine hardship, society has held together reasonably well. If this is what stagnation looks like, humanity could do a lot worse.”
What makes one society hold together ‘reasonably well’, while others fail? You only have to look to the language for insight. Common words like ganbaru (to slog on tenaciously through tough times), gaman (endure with patience, dignity and respect), and jishuku (restrain yourself according to others’ needs) convey a culture rooted in pragmatism and perseverance.