Despite perceptions of decling importance, Sweden can relate to Japan's attempts to stand up against a re-emerging superpower

The strongest common impression of today's Japan was that the country had been struggling with various difficulties ever since the collapse of the bubble economy and that the 2011 natural disasters had made restructuring even more difficult. Japan was an aging society and respondents said that they did not understand how Japan would be able to cope with its various challenges. On the other hand, Japan was seen as a strong civilisation and it was noted that even more difficult challenges in the past had been solved with surprising capability and energy. Therefore, it was better not to predict how the Japanese society would develop economically and socially.

No one had an overall negative image of Japan. On the contrary, what Japan had been through made it appear societally closer to Sweden which is facing up to similar political issues and exploring solutions to them. The image of Japan as a unique case among nations was not as strong as it had been in the 1980's, when the success of the Japanese business model was on everybody's lips. Today the image of the Japanese business climate was one of trustworthiness (once you understood the necessary code words), but also one where the doors to the inner decision making rooms are tightly sealed.

Japanese culture has always been perceived as interesting in Sweden, and those interviewed were no exception.  However, when being asked what it was in Japanese culture that interested them, the answers were relatively vague, with many references made to classical culture and to the fact that many of the interesting features of the modern culture were probably more focused on the younger generation, with manga and anime being striking examples.

The Japanese political climate was generally perceived as being hard to understand, mostly due to the constant formation of new political parties, the seemingly destructive factional infighting inside them and the frequent reshuffles of the sitting cabinet. As for Japanese foreign policy, almost all viewed it as being close to Swedish foreign policy in content, but relatively invisible on the international scene, especially within the UN system. Few understood why Japanese peace keeping troops had to keep an extremely low profile, and only the administration officials had paid any serious attention to the reinterpretation of the article 9 of the Japanese constitution.

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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.