In the late 1970s, Ezra Vogel's book, Japan as Number One, became a runaway best seller both in Japan and in the United States. Contrary to popular belief, the book did not predict that Japan's GDP would surpass America's to make Japan the world's biggest economy. Rather it noted that in a wide variety of industrial, technical, and socio-political fields, Japan's performance was, well, number one.
Over the past twenty odd years, what Japan had accomplished and is capable of accomplishing has been forgotten in a dismal fog of schadenfreude inspired denigration of what has come to be widely accepted as Japan's "two lost decades." During this time, it is said, Japan has endured anemic growth rates, has lost its ranking as the world's number two economy to China, has pushed its national debt to the world's highest at 220-40 percent of GDP (Greece is only about 160 percent), and has generally lost its former samurai mojo.
Never mind that Japan's GDP growth for the twenty one years 1990-2011, when adjusted for inflation and population growth, was about the same as that of the United States. Indeed, its growth of GDP per capita actually exceeded that of the United States as did its growth of productivity per capita. Never mind that Japan's debt is almost entirely funded from internal sources and that its interest rates are at rock bottom and that its currency , the yen, has become a safe haven currency. Never mind that Japanese life expectancy is near the top of the rankings and far above that of the United States and that Japan's streets are safe for walking at any hour and that it has more Michelin three star restaurants than France.
The truth is that the denigration of Japan (what I call the true "Japan bashing") has been way over done by western analysts and officials. Nevertheless, it is true that Japan has lost some of its edge. What we long expected from the likes of Sony now comes from Samsung and while Toyota vows to maintain production in Japan, other Japanese manufacturers have embraced what they long criticized American producers for doing -- offshoring production to China, Vietnam, and other low cost countries in Asia.