A rather depressing piece in The New York Times, Japan, Once Dynamic, Is Disheartened by Decline:
But perhaps the most noticeable impact here has been Japan’s crisis of confidence. Just two decades ago, this was a vibrant nation filled with energy and ambition, proud to the point of arrogance and eager to create a new economic order in Asia based on the yen. Today, those high-flying ambitions have been shelved, replaced by weariness and fear of the future, and an almost stifling air of resignation. Japan seems to have pulled into a shell, content to accept its slow fade from the global stage.
Yet Japan's demographic and economic stagnation seems to be the ultimate likely outcome if Z.P.G. activists get their way. All things equal if I had to pick between being a citizen of a dynamic but poor society or a stagnant but rich one, I'd go with the latter. The moral of the article is that Japan's fate may await Western nations, but is affluent ennui that bad? Perhaps we are destined to become as the citizens of Diaspar. The New York Times gives an impressionistic sense of Japanese decline, and relies on the perceptions of the Japanese themselves. But let's look at some numbers. Below are some plots from Google Data Explorer with national aggregate statistics. They're comparing Japan, the USA, and Germany, over time.