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How Does a Nation Collapse? And How Long Does That Take?

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.
- From the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous

Throughout the second half of last year, TokyoFreePress ran "Death Watch for Japan" series. As I went on with the instalments, I grew increasingly uncomfortable with my collapse theory.

I had already known that it wouldn't make any sense at all to discuss the likelihood of the collapse of a nation without defining the C-word very precisely and specifically, which is what I tried to do. I wrote Japan would take a tumble when its 1955 System and unique "culture" underlying it collapse altogether. But I couldn't make my doomsday scenarios look very plausible and real. All along I felt as though I was forecasting yesterday's weather.

I have realized by now that when defining the collapse, be it Japan's, or be it China's, I should have followed the lead of my own intuition by thoroughly internalizing these issues I took up as signaling the imminent collapse. When a country is about to perish, or has perished, it is something to be felt, or even lived, certainly not theorized as if from afar. Therefore, I might as well have shown myself already crushed under the debris of the system to my predominantly Western audience so they can visualize the real situation here. Yet I'm not very certain if they would have taken me any more seriously because they still couldn't have internalized what's going on in my reality show.

Another thing I learned when talking about collapse probabilities was that it takes years, or even decades, for a country to take a tumble. The Soviet Union didn't collapse on December 25, 1991 when the drunkard by the name of Boris Yeltsin announced the foundation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). At least it all started in the mid-1980s when then General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev started to advocate Perestroika and Glasnost. The irreversible process of the fall of the Evil Empire can possibly be traced back even further. To make things even more complex, it seems the process of the erosion is still going on in Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Some historians put the fall of the Roman Empire at September 4, 476 A.D. when Emperor Romulus Augustus was deposed while some others argue that in a broader perspective, it lasted another millennium until one of its successors, the Eastern Roman Empire, better known as the Byzantine Empire, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. So it's not really beyond dispute which year should be remembered as the one that saw the fall of the Roman Empire.

It's true that there are some countries that look like monocellular organisms where the death of the cell is the end of it. However, when talking about the fate of bigger guys such as China and Japan, or even Koreas and Iraq, it always holds true that a mere regime change cannot be the end of the story.

Don't take me wrong, though. I am not denying the significance of such dates as December 25, 1991 and September 4, 476. I am just saying what happened on either one of these dates may not deserve to be called a collapse. We should be very careful not to mix up indications of a short-term implication with those viewed from a long-range perspective. In this respect it's important to note that historians are there to secondguess the past whereas we political bloggers are people who always focus on the present and the future which always send you a mixed signal.

In short, you can't normally tell exactly when the collapse happened, let alone when it will, except when you are looking back on the distant past like a historian.

The same sometimes applies to individuals as well. My late father, Mineo Yamamoto, was a prominent scientist. He is said to have died on August 8, 1979. But that was only after many years of suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and many weeks of artificial respiration. To me August 8 doesn't mean anything more than the date at which he was confirmed dead, belatedly.

During my long absence from the blogosphere, I was working intensively on a personal project to launch Yamamoto Family Websites. It was a time-consuming endeavor in part because the web-design company didn't have the slightest idea about what a family website should look like. It is a rarity in this nation for an obvious reason. Moreover the designers had to deal with an added difficulty arising from my covert intention to gauge how far, and how fast, the erosion of human quality is progressing at the family levels.

Actually my domain named is structured like a trilogy. We have a Family Reunion Site and a secular Memorial Service Site. Alongside of the two sits a Cyber Museum to commemorate the portrait of Mineo Yamamoto, whose topnotch intelligence, unjapanese sort of dignity and unwavering self-reliance were always our source of pride, along with his prewar and wartime accomplishments in aeronautical engineering and postwar contributions to Japan's automobile industry.

I thought by juxtaposing the hero of the clan with his offspring in such a roundabout way, I would be able to find out if a constant and irrevocable process of degradation is going on from one generation to the next even in our extended family tree. Unfortunately, now I knew that is the case with our clan, too, from the family profiles I asked each branch to post on the Family Reunion Site.

I don't particularly want to air our dirty laundry in public, but they look like yet another bunch of the living dead, only with some exceptions, who complacently lead a purposeless life. Since they "think" on an ear-to-mouth basis without involving their brains, one of my closest kin could only write a dozen or two short, bland and banal sentences, which are equivalent to the amount of information carried in a couple of text messages, when portraying his own 38-year life and his family members'. Wordcount-wise this is awful enough, but quality-wise this is a nightmare. It's as though my father has never been around.

This is how I came to know it wasn't a valid question to ask whether, and when, Japan will collapse; Japan HAS already collapsed. To say the least it has been caught in a downward spiral for quite some time now that seems to lead to the ultimate ruin. I've been trapped, in person too, in the same process, and there's no way out of it.

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