Granted, Japan’s ethic of uncomplaining perseverance — gaman, in Japanese — may also explain why the country settles for third-rate leaders. Moreover, Japan’s tight-knit social fabric can lead to discrimination against those who don’t fit in. Bullying is a problem from elementary school to the corporate suite. Ethnic Koreans and an underclass known as burakumin are stigmatized. Indeed, after the terrible 1923 earthquake, Japanese rampaged against ethnic Koreans (who were accused of setting fires or even somehow causing the quake) and slaughtered an estimated 6,000 of them.
So Japan’s communitarianism has its downside, but we Americans could usefully move a step or two in that direction. Gaps between rich and poor are more modest in Japan, and Japan’s corporate tycoons would be embarrassed by the flamboyant pay packages that are common in America. Even in poor areas — including ethnic Korean or burakumin neighborhoods — schools are excellent.