Friday, October 25, 2013

Vessel Across Time: Mariko Mori's Jōmon Jump

Sister Cisterns: Mori's Flatstone (right) mirrors a kaen-doki from 3,500–2,500 BCE.

She wears all white and a calm smile. Somewhere in her artistic wanderings, she’s traveled the universe. Seen black holes and white holes. Watched stars be born and die, spilling their insides onto the canvas of space.

Not what you’d expect from someone reaching back sixteen millennia in her art.

In her recently opened solo exhibition Rebirth, Mariko Mori combines a range of styles and beliefs: New Age spirituality, technological futurism, a little Buddhism, Shinto influences. Some will have no trouble tapping into the show’s meditative wavelength and sense of renewal. Others might get lost in the exhaust of complexity and primal energies. What no one can deny is the presence of the ancient, brought to light in 2013 from the memory of Jōmon.

Best known for their stone circles and intricate pottery, the people of Jōmon Japan lived roughly between 14,000 and 300 B.C.E. They were, as far as we can tell, the first to “[master] the technology of transforming pliable clay into hard and durable containers,” with contemporary scholarly debate centered on the practical and artistic relevance of these artifacts, according to Junko Habu's Ancient Jomon of Japan.

Mori began her study of the period with fieldwork at Jōmon archaeological sites like Ōyu, Sannai Maruyama, and Miwayama, home to several of the stone circles and spherical stones that have remained intact through the millennia. From this fieldwork, in addition to collaboration with Chief Curator at Aomori Museum of Art, Iida Takayo, came the initial exhibition, Mariko Mori Jōmon: The Fossil of Light “Transcircle” Exhibition, that prepared the way for the artist's current Rebirth.

Mori's Flatstone leads to Transcircle 1.1.

Merely viewing the separate pieces in Mori’s exhibit may puzzle some visitors. After all, a 5,000-year-old Jōmon vase and the LED-powered monoliths of Transcircle 1.1 don’t exactly seem like bedfellows. It’s only after reading more about the people of prehistoric Japan that the connection is made.

The fact that the Jōmon era is named after the cord markings adorning the pottery gives one an idea of how much these artifacts have come to represent the beliefs, lifestyles, and history of an enigmatic people. All can agree to their importance, but this is where the consensus ends. Whether the pots were used in religious ritual as an embodiment of animistic belief, or they are the tools of a society of hunter-gatherers is a matter of great debate. If the latter—and recent studies suggest the pots may have been used to store fish—it would upend the idea that clay pottery was impractical for a people constantly on the move. Then again, it takes no great effort of the imagination to see the designs as the “ripples and eddies on the surfaces of the salmon-rich river,” as Iida Takayo describes them, rather than the flames from which the pots, or kaen-doki, take their name.

Jōmon stone figurines and monoliths have proven equally difficult to explain. While some dogū, or figurines, call to mind the famous “Venus” figurines of Paleolithic Europe and Asia—both types emphasize the hips and breasts, suggesting ties to fertility—others defy classification. These oddities feature a combination of human and animal features, such as dogū with horns or a cat head. Some hold a secret inside; one figure discovered in Nagashiki, Kanagawa Prefecture, contained bone particles and teeth from a child.

Writing on the topic of dogū in 1974, Johannes Maringer traced a connection between the figurines and the Jōmon peoples’ belief in animals as “epiphanies of higher beings.” Other artifacts help us approach an idea of the Jōmon religious worldview. For example, Simon Kaner argues that the arrangement of bodies in burial grounds at Sannai Maruyama, one of the largest Jōmon settlements ever unearthed, suggests both a belief in the afterlife and a kind of ancestor worship.

While some have theorized that Jōmon peoples’ overdependence on ritual contributed to their downfall against the rice-based Yayoi civilization, Kaner contends it was these very rituals that allowed their successful assimilation. After all, he says, at the core of Jōmon religious practice is a belief in the power of the individual to transform.

By combining Jōmon art styles with modern techniques—one of Mori’s pieces, Flatstone, features an acrylic recreation of an ancient Jōmon vase at its center—Mori sets to capture the fluidity of life, death, and inspiration. Those people of millennia past are not so much an interesting historical subject as a living pulse. “My body contains genes inherited from our earliest ancestors,” Mori says in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, “and those genes can produce a strong reaction when they try to arouse that special consciousness which slumbers deep within me.”

In his essay, Kaner cites Kobayashi Tatsuo and others as setting forth the theory that the people of Jōmon Japan may have used ritual not to assimilate into the Yayoi, as he himself believes, but to resist them and the revolutionary agricultural lifestyle they represented. The idea is particularly intriguing when we consider Mori and her artistic transformation over the last decade, from pointed critic of consumerism and the super-modern to student of both prehistoric and New Age spiritualism. You almost wonder if Mori isn’t using her own ritual, her art, to mount a largely silent resistance against the strange times in which we live.

--Andres Oliver

Photos(clockwise): kaen-doki flame-ware vase, Middle Jōmon period (3,500–2,500 BCE), Earthenware, 11 5/8 inches high, 11 5/8 inches diam, collection of John C. Weber; Mariko Mori's Flatstone (2006), ceramic stones and acrylic vase; 192 x 124 x 3 ½ inches, courtesy of SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, Tokyo and Sean Kelly, New York; FOREGROUND: Flatstone, BACKGROUND: Transcircle 1.1, 2004. Stone, Corian, LED, real-time control system, 132 3/8 inches diam., each stone 43 3/8 × 22 1/4 × 13 1/2 inches, courtesy of The Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Installation photograph by Richard Goodbody.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Brief History of Social Media In Japan

GREE, just one cloud in Japan's perfect SNS storm. 

The social media battle in Japan has all the uncertainty, the early call-ins and punditry of an electoral race.

(Cue Wolf Blitzer-like commentary:)

“I have some numbers coming in here… One second… Let’s see—yes, I’m seeing 13 million for Facebook. Just 13 million. And that’s got to be disappointing.”

“Mixi ahead with 17 million. The young demographic proving pivotal here.”

“Twitter going strong with 30 million.”

“LINE still leading with an impressive 40 million. We’re predicting LINE will take this contest.” 

And that’s not even including GREE and DeNA, two other SNS (social networking services) that have enjoyed varying levels of success in Japan.

Just take a look at the headlines from recent years:

Everyone trying to avoid being the “also-ran” in this metaphor.

Of course, services like LINE and Twitter provide a messaging/microblogging platform rather than a counterpart to Facebook’s and Mixi’s more fleshed-out, app-loaded social networks. However, in light of LINE CEO Akira Morikawa’s determination to establish LINE worldwide through the addition of new features, as well as the fact that many users view Facebook and Twitter as an either-or, rather than as a both-and, one can make a case for viewing these companies as being in direct competition with one another.

LINE may still far outstrip its rivals at the moment, but given the wild swings that have taken place in the social media landscape, it pays to take another look at the evolution of different services in the Japanese market. The timeline below picks up at 2006, the year that Mixi—Japan's perennial SNS powerhouse until recently—made its stock market debut.


• September: Mixi debuts on the Mothers market at the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Thirty year old founder Kenji Masahara becomes an instant success as the bidding price more than doubles the initial public offering price of ¥1.55 million. Combining the connectivity of Facebook (it will be another year before Facebook breaks out of the college student bubble) with the intimacy of a blogging platform, the site is invitation-only and requires a Japanese mobile mailing address.

• February: DeNA comes onto the scene with Mobage Town (now Mobage), which will eventually combine mobile games with social networking features.


• Yoshikazu Tanaka, founder of GREE and Japan’s youngest billionaire, brings the company into social network gaming with the launch of Tsuri-Sta (Fishing Star). Branching out from an ad-based focus, GREE starts drawing revenue from mobile gaming.


• June: Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage at Tokyo’s Ayoama Diamond Hall convention center to announce the launch of Facebook Japan. The SNS faces strong competition from Mixi, which boasts over 10 million users, including more than half of all people in their twenties.

• Twitter launches a Japanese version of its service, its first non-English release, in collaboration with Digital Garage. Digital Garage CEO Joichi Ito predicts the service will appeal to Japanese accustomed to “murmur[ing], a kind of short blogging thing.”


• May: Mixi CEO Kenji Kasahara announces that the company will see its first decline in growth since going public, despite the service remaining Japan’s top SNS. Kasahara goes on to publicize his plan open Mixi’s mobile and PC platforms to third-party developers.


• December: Japan’s Federal Trade Commission investigates DeNA on suspicion of blocking Gree’s access to game developers.


• January: Facebook Japan’s growth stalls at 2 million users, compared to over 20 million each for Mixi, Gree, and DeNA’s Mobage Town. Some blame the low numbers on Japanese user’s reluctance to disclose personal information on the Web (most Mixi users use pseudonyms).

• March 11: On the day of the Tohoku earthquake, Tweets jump to 1.8 times the average, totaling 330 million. The microblogging service allows the public to stay informed of developments and counter government misinformation. In one instance, a group of Tokyo hackers take to Twitter to post their own Geiger counter readings.

• June: NHN Japan, a branch of the Korean NHN Corporation, launches its LINE smartphone app. Developed in the wake of the 3/11 disaster as a way for NHN employees to communicate despite toppled phone lines, LINE offers both messaging and social networking and allows users to send each other “stickers.”

• July: The recently rebranded Mobage makes its worldwide debut on the heels of Isao Moriyasu’s June appointment as president.

• August: Mixi unveils public pages for companies and individuals, including Disney Japan. As with public pages on Facebook, Mixi’s allow access without login information.

• November: Gree files a lawsuit against DeNA, claiming the company interfered with its business despite an earlier order to desist from the Federal Trade Commission.

• December 9: Japanese Twitter users rack up the highest number of tweets per second ever recorded during a broadcast of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic film, Castle in the Sky. Following a tradition begun on messaging board 2chan, users tweet “balse,” a magic spell spoken by the film’s protagonists, a whopping 25,088 times per second.


• February: Data from Nielsen ranks Facebook number one for growth in unique visitors among Japan’s social networking services. The company’s success is attributed partly to its convenience as a job-hunting tool for young graduates and the popularity of 2010 film The Social Network.

• October: In a direct counter to messaging service LINE, DeNA rolls out Comm, a free messaging application with stamps and other features. Users are required to use their real name and date of birth.


• January: LINE tops 100 million users only nineteen months after its debut, about a third of the time it took Facebook to reach the same number. CEO Akira Morikawa states his intention to expand into the U.S.

• April: Japan’s National Diet enacts a bill allowing political candidates to campaign online for the first time in history. The party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hands out iPad minis to all its candidates to encourage them to promote on social media.

• April: GREE announces its first profit decline since going public in 2008. Growing numbers of smartphone subscribers—37 percent of all contracts as of March 31—and new games from Apple and Google begin to cut into GREE’s traditional social gaming base.

• September: According to a Reuters Asian markets data dump, LINE boasts 240 million users in 230 countries.

--Andres Oliver

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Star Is Reborn: Mariko Mori Expands Through Inner And Outer Space

White Hole shatters negative space and thoughts. Photo by Richard Goodbody.

When you Google Mariko Mori, you come face-to-face with images of a living doll—literally. The artist's 1994 piece Play With Me had her stationed outside a Tokyo toy store in anime-esque garb, with baby-blue pigtails and a plastic breastplate over a short, metallic dress. In another work from that year, Mori rode the subway in character as an alien visitor just arrived in Tokyo.

Today Japan Society Gallery launches Mori's first solo exhibition in New York in more than 10 years. A divergence from her work of centuries past (well, the 90s), Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori brings the focus on nature, conveying both its power and serenity.

The show “has a very urgent message about reconnecting with nature, which is not just an issue that’s being talked about by artists. It is a global concern right now,” says Dr. Miwako Tezuka, director of Japan Society Gallery, who curated the exhibition. “We’ve been experiencing such harsh weather. Everybody’s concerned about what’s going on with nature.”

Just a year ago this month, the brightest city in the world went dark for weeks when late-season Hurricane Sandy eliminated electricity from the bottom half of Manhattan. Polar bears swim for days. Mori’s home country will long feel the effects of the March 2011 tsunami.

While once Mariko Mori represented pop aesthetics and the subculture of Japan, her recent work has brought her back to basics: as in the beginning of it all.

“She’s going back to the roots," says Tezuka. "Not the cultural roots of Japan like she was doing before, but even farther back into a prehistoric period where there really were no cultural differences in the world. Where people didn’t have electricity or machines and really lived closely, intimately with nature.”

Unlike her past work, the pieces in Rebirth were born from Mori’s personal research, often from her travels to places like Egypt, Brazil, and Scotland, where so much ancient architecture still stands.

The show is full of light and shapes, a pale, shifting exhibition reminiscent of the sun rising over a young Earth again and again. Depending on one’s perspective, personal associations could range from the Book of Genesis to the opening sequence of Star Wars to whatever Terrence Malick’s been up to. Rare will be the attendee who doesn't spot Stonehenge.

The centerpiece of the show is an installation called White Hole (pictured above): the opposite of space's terrifying black holes of childhood fascination and nightmares. A domed enclosure built in the south gallery, White Hole starts as a pitch-dark space and gradually illuminates with the projection of swirling light.

Tezuka explains: “It’s based on the theory of a white hole--the antithesis of a black hole. Everything that was killed by the black hole shapes together as a renewed energy and emerges from the white hole. It’s an astrophysics theory that Mariko has been very interested in in recent years.”

Another celestial piece (though firmly fixed to the gallery floor) is Transcircle 1.1 Nine pillars made of stone and an industrial acrylic polymer synchronize with the position of the nine (yes, nine!) planets in our solar system. Their individual pastel colors pulsate at speeds reflecting the planets' orbits around the sun.

Rebirth is an ethereal picture of prehistory, astronomy, geology, ancient religion and technology, showing how they all mix in the world around us.

When asked how to sum up the show in a sentence, Tezuka said “pure” and then laughed, realizing she didn't need half a dozen more words to convey its Zen-like ambiance. “A lot of things are white”—Mori’s signature color—“and the basic concept is pure and simple: be aware of the presence of nature.”

Though the galleries proper are on the second floor, visitors will get a taste of this pure simplicity when they are greeted by Ring, hanging against the waterfall of the Society's indoor bamboo garden.

“Mariko placed it in an environment that symbolizes nature, where there’s water, earth, plants and light from above,” Tezuka says. The piece is a prototype for a large-scale version that will be hung above a Brazilian waterfall in the near future.

From sunset each evening through Sunday, Mori’s latest video work Ālaya lights up the building just above the Society’s entryway for not only gallery-goers but passersby on the busy streets outside. The title alludes to the fundamental consciousness all sentient beings share in Buddhist philosophy.

It’s worth coming in to escape the masses, as Tezuka notes: “New York life is so busy all the time. You are surrounded with noise and different crowds. Rebirth will calm you down. Instead of going to yoga, come see this exhibition!”

Rebirth: Recent Work by Mariko Mori is on view at Japan Society through January 12, 2014.

--Marisa Rindone
Mariko Mori's Ring. Photo by the author. Via.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Who Swings the Pendulum? Japan's Youth in the Pit

Once lonely at the top, Japan's elderly can expect company. Via.

Sexagenarians arrested for shoplifting. A population hardest hit by Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami. An August ministry report stating Japanese people aged 65 or older have surpassed 30 million for the first time. Japan is clearly experiencing a crisis among its elder demographic. But what of the youth, many of whom find themselves as vulnerable as their aging counterparts?

"Recall, for inspiration, that young people made the last Japanese Spring," a 2012 Japan Times article declares, citing youth participation in the Meiji Restoration as a counterexample to all the doom and gloom surrounding Japan's young. With Prime Minster Shinzo Abe unveiling a plan Tuesday for both a ¥5 trillion stimulus package and a 5 to 8 percent rise in the consumption tax, it is the 20-somethings as much as the elderly who must wait to see the real results of Abe's great experiment.

On the one hand, the sales tax could ultimately benefit both groups by mitigating runaway social security expenditures, a problem that a raise in the minimum age for collection of benefits to 61 earlier this year has apparently been unable to curb. On the other, the tax hike comes at a time when pensions earn "close to zero interest," with no rate increase planned for at least a few years, and when companies are reluctant to implement a much-needed increase in wages. In other words, both pensioners and younger workers stand to suffer from a rise in prices without a commensurate rise in income, whether in the form of social security or wages.

While part of Abe's plan provides ¥160 million in tax breaks to companies that raise wages by 2 percent, some in New Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe's LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), see this as nothing more than "wishful thinking." The results of the recent Reuters Corporate Survey seem to support the party's doubts. Of 266 companies polled as to what action they will take in response to the expected tax increase, only 13 percent planned to increase wages. Given this depressing response, Abe's call for a vaguely philosophical "virtuous circle of rising jobs, profits and wages" might prove shortsighted in the long run.

Take another part of Abe's plan: ¥110 billion in tax breaks and up to ¥300,000 in cash handouts for homebuyers. How will this affect Japan's working youth? Certainly, some kind of stimulus is needed. A 2012 government white paper showed the number of homeowners in their 30s to have dropped over 10 percent between 1983 and 2008, with a dramatic drop of over 50 percent for younger individuals. At the same time, the report blamed falling income for a rise in the burden of housing loans.

A topical look at Japan's housing development statistics paints a sunny view: increases in housing starts of 31,462 units a year for the past three years; booming business for Sekisui House Ltd., the nation's second-biggest home builder. But consider the example of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, where a fifth of apartments stand empty, and the land ministry's grim prediction that a similar fraction of all residential areas will become ghost towns by 2050. Suddenly, the housing boom starts to look much more like a housing nightmare, reminiscent of the kind of superficial newness that Murakami writes of in A Wild Sheep Chase:
"What a view! Instead of ocean, a vast expanse of reclaimed land and housing developments met my eyes. Faceless blocks of apartments, the miserable foundations of an attempt to build a neighborhood… Everything brand new, everything unnatural." (107)
Part of the problem of vacant housing stems from years of youth migration away from rural areas to cities, where they might hope to find more opportunities for work. Though young graduates have seen their fortunes improve somewhat since 2008, employment numbers still illustrate an uneven recovery. A recent report by Japan's education ministry showed 1 in 5 university grads coming into the market in the spring unable to obtain secure employment.

Nature reclaims vacant housing in Japan. Via.

Five and a half percent of those surveyed fell under the NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) designation. Though this number represents 30,770 people, only recent graduates were included in the report. If we look at an earlier study from 2009, which tallied the total number of NEETs at 640,000, we can see the grim reality: many of those unemployed graduates won't see improvement in their fortunes moving forward.

Even those who do manage to land full-time jobs face difficulties in a market with a glut of eager workers and a scarcity of positions. Recently, the term burakku kigyo (black companies) was coined to describe companies that demand as much as 100 hours of uncompensated overtime a month from their young employees. The overworked Japanese salaryman became something of a stereotype even during the golden age of bubble Japan. However, Ayako Mie of the Japan Times believes today's abuses stand apart due to the economic climate. Citing Haruki Konno of the NPO Posse, Mie writes, "exploitative companies hire new college graduates en masse, assuming most won't be able to survive the harsh conditions and will eventually resign. Then they just hire more."

With over 45 percent of college graduates employed in the service, entertainment and education industries leaving their jobs within three years, according to a 2012 health ministry report, one wonders whether the earlier 1 in 5 number for graduates without secure employment really tells the whole story.

A revolution in youth employment will require more than stimulus, such as Abe's ¥10,000 yen cash allowance for low earners. Writing on the topic of a youth-led Japanese Spring mentioned earlier, Roger Pulvers recognizes that companies themselves are "struggling to keep up not with the Joneses but with the Wangs and the Kims," illustrating the dwindling figure of the Japanese economy next to that of neighboring China and Korea.

Even inspiring efforts like that of Yujin Wakashin, who aims to establish a self-titled NEET Corporation for business-minded, iconoclastic NEETs, seem more like standouts than the start of a movement. The real rise or fall of Japan's youth will hinge not only upon the results of Abe's economic vision, but also more broadly upon a change in thinking.

Former Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda spoke at Japan Society yesterday on topics ranging from the Senkaku Islands conflict to social security reform. Prominent throughout his speech and his responses during the question and answer session was a call for Japan to become a nation that can make decisions in the present for the generations to come. His admonishment seems particularly relevant for a society and government that must decide whether to abandon its youth, and, by extension, its children of tomorrow, or to age into oblivion. The solution Noda calls for may require less of what he called the "two types of leaders: politicians and statesmen," and more of what he deems his own goal: the political reformer.

--Andres Oliver

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From LIXIL To LINE: Japanese Companies Look Outward Despite Uncertainty

LINE's Brown and Cony take on the world. Via. 

Japan's economic uncertainty seems to be provoking a domestic response not unlike that seen in the U.S of late. Just as the war-weary, financially ailing American public recently made clear its unwillingness to take on another international conflict, many Japanese are responding to the current climate by turning inward.

Earlier this year, several thousand rallied in Tokyo to protest Japan’s entry into negotiations surrounding the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would bring the country into "one of the largest free trade areas in the world." In addition, Japanese companies have come under fire for insular vision, with the trade ministry’s Global Human Resource Development Committee dubbing management’s reluctance to hire foreign talent, among other shortcomings, paramount to "waiting to die."

Is Japan sounding the retreat, closing in on itself to return to the isolationist policy of centuries past?


The success of several Japanese companies in bringing their business, and, more importantly, their vision abroad, speaks to a continued understanding of the importance of international involvement. Most recently, LIXIL, Japan’s biggest housing material maker, with products including plumbing fixtures and toilets, secured its place in the German housing equipment market with a $4.13 billion buyout of Grohe, Europe’s premier shower and faucet maker. The move signals LIXIL’s final overseas acquisition for the time being, said LIXIL CEO Yoshiaki Fujimori at a news conference in September, and comes on the heels of two other significant acquisitions: ASD Americas Holding Corp., parent company of American toilet maker American Standard, and Italian architectural contractor Permasteelisa SpA, for a total price of over $1 billion. Fujiomori clearly intends to establish LIXIL as a household name outside of his home country, with a goal of $10.2 billion in overseas sales.

Fujimori's talk at Japan Society on October 2nd comes at a critical time in Japanese history. Already suffering from a sluggish economy that has persisted for the past two decades, Japan continues to work toward recovery from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Now, the country waits to see whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s aggressive plan to combat deflation will reestablish Japan’s place on the global stage—how long since the days of Made in Japan!—or whether it will prove to be nothing more than "voodoo" economics.

Any discussion of current expansion into the foreign market by Japanese business leaders must include Akira Morikawa, chief executive of popular messaging service LINE. Allowing users to send messages to each other on their smartphones with the addition of stickers like Brown the bear and Cony the rabbit, LINE is currently installed on 71% of iPhones in Japan. The bulk of the company’s revenue comes from its games, which are free to download but provide the option of in-game purchases. However, a 92 % rise in sales in the first quarter of 2013 and booming business in Japan are not enough for Morikawa, who seeks nothing less than to establish NHN Japan Corp., the company behind LINE, as the top Asian SNS (social networking service) provider.

If LINE’s success in expanding into areas ranging from the Middle East to Spain are any indication, the company could possibly pose a challenge to Facebook, which has long since lost its appeal as youth-only hangout. Then again, LINE’s 240 million users in 230 countries as of September is less than a quarter of Facebook’s whopping 1.15 billion, and the service may find its toughest rival not in the American behemoth, but in the South Korean SNS KakaoTalk. Providing users with a similar array of cute stickers, KakaoTalk even features its own bunny emoticon, the plump Molang.

Another company that is seeking to make further inroads into the global market is Japanese retailer UNIQLO (full disclosure: I am currently employed by the company). Founded by Tadashi Yanai, who has emerged as Japan’s richest man after transforming his father’s tailor shops into Asia’s biggest clothing retailer, UNIQLO has certainly found success abroad. The company currently boasts stores in fourteen countries, including over two hundred in China alone and a prominent location on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Perhaps even more surprising than Yanai’s personal success story is the fact that a Japanese retailer has emerged as such a challenger to ailing giant Gap, which has traditionally been known for basic, functional clothing. Yet, maybe it is precisely UNIQLO’s focus on high-quality constants, such as sweaters and shirts in basic colors and designs, along with its affordability that have so appealed to global consumers. The company seems to have learned this lesson for good after attempts at branching out into more fashion-oriented items in 2010 resulted in plunging sales. Since then UNIQLO has bounced back with plans to open ten new American stores this fall.

Back in 2008, the Japan Times wrote of Japan’s "recent trends toward isolationism—even xenophobia," citing an environment hostile to foreign investment. The nation’s minister of economic and fiscal policy, Hiroko Ota, worried that Japan was no longer a "first class" economy; sure enough, China surpassed it as the world’s second largest only two years later. This was followed, of course, by the devastation of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, with costs of up to $235 billion.

Five years later amid echoes of those "recent trends", companies like LIXIL, LINE, and UNIQLO stand as evidence of the persistence of a globally minded cohort, one that sees participation in the international market as a path to growth rather than an obstacle to it. What people must ask now is whether the next few months, during which Prime Minister Abe continues to press his economic reforms, will prove these companies to be the exceptions to, or the leaders of, Japan’s fortunes.

--Andres Oliver

[UPDATED 10/3/13]