The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Sometimes it takes a change of guard to get the blades turning on societal transformation. Sometimes it takes a cataclysmic act of nature. Sometimes it takes both.

Where we stand today, near the end of 2020, is certainly not where we thought we would be when the year started. The impact of Covid-19 on our personal and professional lives has been well documented—certainly in the pages of this journal. But the way in which it would rock the foundation of society took a bit longer to see. Now that the winds of change are blowing, items from the reform wish list are taking flight.

While we knew that a post-Shinzo Abe Japan was on the horizon, his sudden resignation in August came as a surprise. As the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history, he provided great stability and brought needed reforms to the economy and foreign relations.

But to take the next steps, maybe unexpected change was needed. The out-of-the-gates energy of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his administration and the pressures placed on traditional practices by the coronavirus have led to calls for quick change. Tools and practices—some dating back centuries—that complicate our business and personal lives could be gone in the blink of an eye. These include the use of hanko (personal seals), faxes, and paper forms, as Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono has called for an end to them. We’ve talked about these before. But there are calls for change that may help modernize Japan in other areas.

One of those is renewable energy. Suga is set to announce that Japan will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and set concrete plans for supporting renewables.

Kono, who is in charge of regulatory and administrative reform, plans to encourage private investment in wind and solar power. And Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama says talks are underway to set new policy goals and draft a strategic energy plan for 2021. More details on these changes start here.

As someone who has called Japan home for a quarter century, I’m glad to see movement on these matters. Still, many issues remain, all of which impact business:

  • Can Japan embrace diversity and inclusion?
  • Will marriage equality become official?
  • What about the goals of Womenomics?

These three, in particular, seem difficult to advance in Japan. Why? Because they can’t be solved just by setting policy; they require a change of mindset that does not come easily.

I have felt progress on diversity and inclusion—especially as it has been embraced by companies that are chamber members—but hope to see it make the jump to Japanese business at large.

The same can be said for marriage equality. Companies are leading the way, because they understand how important it is for the happi­ness and fulfilment of their team members. That alone is enough, and the increased access to the best talent is a bonus.

As for Womenomics, progress has been made in the percentage of women in the workforce, but the goal of more women in corporate lead­er­ship remains on the horizon. At the heart of the problem is work–life balance, and that is where Covid-19 has brought potential for change. The forced work-from-home situation has given hus­bands and wives, mothers and fathers, a chance to share the load. And that’s where mindset change begins. If the Suga admin­­istration can latch onto that, maybe Abe’s vision can finally be realized.

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.