China Still Has Much To Learn From Japan

Essay: Much has been made of China moving past Japan as Asia’s leader. But a Beijing-based Japanese writer says Japan’s relative economic decline in the past 20 years hides the fact that it has built a model society for its citizens.

Scooting through Tokyo
Scooting through Tokyo
Daisuke Kondo*

BEIJING - SMAP, a popular but aging Japanese boy band, recently preformed in Beijing, immersing their Chinese fans in days of ecstasy. SMAP is one of the most popular bands in Japan, and has been the guest group, for 18 straight years, on NHK Japan's New Year Eve broadcast. The band has sold more than 20 million albums, and their best-selling single "The One and Only Flower in the World" has long been on the lips of young people all over Asia.

Early this year, Uichiro Niwa, Japan's Ambassador to China, said that SMAP's Beijing concert should be regarded as "the most important activity representing Japan". Over the past six months, the Japanese Embassy fully mobilized its staff to prepare for the concert.

Today, recalling that passionate concert, I'm thinking "What remains of my motherland Japan?"

Since the beginning of 2011, talk of the "Japanese Decline" is everywhere. China's GDP has bypassed Japan's to become the world's second largest. Not only has Japan lost its second position behind the US, but the gap between China and Japan is as much as $721.9 billion.

March's devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, left more than 20,000 dead and missing. Japan's northeastern coastal region collapsed economically.
Coupled with the Fukushima nuclear plant accident, the country, which used to be proud to be "the safest nation in the world" suddenly became the most dangerous.

In 2010, China's foreign investment also surpassed Japan's for the first time.

More and more, researchers in Beijing are interested in recent Japanese history. When asked what they study, many respond "Japan's lost 20 years." In other words, they are researching Japan's decline in order to see how China can avoid a similar fate.

The Japanese Department in China's Foreign Ministry used to be considered a launchpad for successful diplomatic careers. That was the path taken by Tang Jiaxuan, China's former foreign minister. But today, China's foreign minister is more likely to have studied in Europe or the US: Jiaxuan's successors, Li Zhaoxing and Yang Jiechi, are experts in Europe and the US, respectively.

I have personally experienced Japan's decline in reputation.

I have interviewed about 150 Chinese people for positions in my company's Beijing office over the past two years -- and have had trouble finding top candidates. When I complain to the head-hunting agency, they reply that the kind of talented people we are looking for usually go to work for American, European or Chinese firms.

What is left of Japan?

When I ask candidates why they studied Japanese, the responses I get are often along the lines of "because I didn't pass English" or "because Japanese is easier." These answers stun me. When I was young, in the 1980s, the most outstanding students studied in Japan.

One can't help but feel melancholy.

Just before SMAP's Beiijng concert, I happened to have an in-depth discussion about "What remains of Japan in 2011?" with Miyauchi Yuji, the director of the University of Tokyo's Beijing Office.

The University has compiled data across a range of indicators about how life is lived in Japan – and the trend is in fact positive nearly across the board. Over the past several decades, the murder rate and traffic deaths in Japan have steadily decreased; there have been no food poisoning or other major public health scandals since 1979, and the country's university enrollment has risen to 50 % for college-age young adults. Inflation is stable, life expectancy up, the country's near universal state-of-the-art sanitary conditions the envy of the world.

"Chinese people's idea that Japan has lost two decades since 1990, declining from the rapid economic growth to economic bubbles is simply wrong", Miyauchi's said. "Not only has Japan not declined, it has also built a safe, secure society. In terms of standard of living increases, Japan has achieved even greater development during this period."

In other words, says Miyauchi: "there is still a great deal that the Chinese can learn from Japan."

After listening to Miyauchi, I feel relieved, like a stone has been lifted from my heart. Japan has become an ageing society sooner than China. One out of four of Japanese today is over 65 years old. Even one of "boy band" SMAP's singers will turn 40 next year.

SMAP's most active period was exactly the moment when Japan was supposed to have begun to lose its luster. However even this group, is not really in decline: their latest concert in Beijing proves it. The members of SMAP have grown from the innocent sentimental boys of 23 years ago into adult role models. And their artistic talent has not faded, it has just evolved and become more sophisticated.

Isn't it the same for Japan?

*Kondo is the former deputy editor of "Magazine Modern" and currently the Vice General Manager of Kodansha (Beijing) Culture Co.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo-tinou bao

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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