One of the most difficult issues I have had in trying to write this book has been to confront the many ways that Japan is both different and similar to the other countries that I have studied. Quite frankly, Japan is not an easy country to understand. This is because Japan is both one of the most modern countries in the world and at the same time it is a remarkably traditional society.
Let me give you a few examples: Japan is clearly a successful democracy with universal suffrage, competitive elections and freedom of the press. Still, until 2009, a single party dominated politics and controlled the government for over 60 years. That party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), however, never offered Japanese voters a coherent or programmatic policy agenda. Similarly, the economy is highly competitive, but at the same time it has been run like a giant cartel. This county is widely known for its hugely successful technically sophisticated international firms, but in reality small and inefficient producers, farmers and retailers dominate much of the economy. Japan has some of the largest and most modern cities in the world, yet throughout Japan one sees farmers and their families standing knee-deep in their rice paddies, hand-planting individual stalks of rice on their small one to two hector farms. Until very recently at least, the distribution of wealth in Japan has been almost as egalitarian as in Sweden.