Japan has been in the economic doldrums since before it was cool. While the United States and Europe waited until 2007 or so to have a real estate crash followed by a prolonged period of slow growth and high unemployment, Japan got in on the act in the 1990s. The country got a brief respite of export-led growth for a couple of years in the aughts under former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but then was rapidly dragged back down into the muck by the worldwide economic collapse. At this point things have been so bad in Japan for so long that foreign commentators have largely stopped even hoping for a turnaround, just vaguely gesturing at the idea that perhaps a recovery in Europe and America could help Japan out. But at a time when most eyes are on the U.S. fiscal cliff and E.U. negotiations over Greek debt, the real economic game-changer may be Japan’s Dec. 16 election.