Ditchley and Japan

By Jasper Newport

Jasper Newport is currently studying for an MA at the Diplomatische Akademie, Vienna. He researched the Ditchley archives as part of an internship in spring 2022.


Japan is an extraordinary country with an extraordinary history. Since the 1950s, Japan has become an economic superpower, a cultural giant, and a key geopolitical player both in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. At its point of greatest momentum in the 1980s, Japan was tipped by many as on its way to unseating the U.S. at the pinnacle of the global economy. There are few cases of more staggering and comprehensive efflorescence in the post-war period. Yet today Japan is beset by fundamental challenges. Economic slowdown, a shrinking population and an uneasy security position all cloud the country’s future.

The Ditchley Foundation has engaged with Japan’s distinctive advantages, challenges, and opportunities since 1968. Participants at Ditchley’s conferences and lectures have discussed the country, asking what has characterised Japan’s role in the post-war period, examining its strengths and weaknesses, and considering how it may adjust to the contemporary world. This paper charts this relationship’s past, present and future.

The study of Japan at Ditchley has gone through three distinct phases. Firstly, Japan’s salience grew from initial conferences in the 1960s to events in the later 1980s. The country rose from a war-ravaged nation to a near-unmatched economic titan, inspiring nervous admiration from onlookers at Ditchley. The 15 years between 1965 and 1980 alone saw GDP rise from $91 billion to $1 trillion. Secondly, this sense of ascendancy vanished in the 1990s and early 2000s. Afflicted by deep economic and social challenges, discussion of Japan shifted to new centres of dynamism in the Asia-Pacific, with Japanese economic stagnation now a topic of discussion. Thirdly, from 2010 we see Japan re-enter the central stage. With the ‘Rise of Asia’, Japan’s economic and political weight promoted a fresh bout of speculation, albeit speculation qualified by recognition of the persistence of its weaknesses.


Ditchley and Japan from 1972 to 1986: Rising Star

In May 1972 Ditchley participants sat down to a conference entitled ‘The Pacific and East Asia’. One country dominated the discussion: Japan. Memories and presumptions forged in the Second World War were very much alive; the mainly European and American guests were concerned by the ‘latent militaristic ingredient’ of Japan’s ‘national character’. Despite this, the group recognised the enormous changes that Japan had experienced since the war had ended. Foremost amongst these changes was Japanese reliance on the U.S.. The United States was perceived by participants as a central foreign power in Japanese life. Japan’s foreign policy was expected to change in lockstep with American priorities. For example, Ditchley’s guests felt that President Nixon’s rapprochement with Mao would pressure Japan to follow suit. Sure enough, six months after Nixon’s visit to mainland China, Japan established diplomatic relations with the Chinese Communist Party. However, participants never presumed that Japanese foreign policy was solely influenced by the United States. The U.S. enjoyed ‘interdependence’ with Japan, based both on economic exchange and strategic cooperation. Though wartime memories were alive, they did not prevent the assembled diplomats and politicians from recognising the geopolitical role Japan played in East Asia. In Korea, Japan was modelled as one of the ‘big four’ powers navigating tensions between North and South.

            Ditchley observers in the 1970s went beyond assigning Japan’s role as America’s key partner in the Asia-Pacific. Both in 1972 and November 1975’s ‘Conference on European-United States-Japan Relations’, Japan, and particularly its economy, was regarded with unconcealed admiration. Japan had enjoyed 10% GDP growth per annum throughout the 1960s, and proved able to recover rapidly from the global oil crisis in 1973. European observers, struggling through a much slower recovery, saw this example as ‘extraordinary’. Japanese economic growth had significant implications. Though some time was spent trying to explain Japanese success, in both earlier conferences the basic reaction was reappraisal. Japan, participants emphasised, was to be treated with respect proportionate to its newfound weight. In particular, Japanese investment in South-East Asia was welcomed by the largely western guests as an alternative pattern of engagement between regional states and major capitalist powers to the debacle of U.S. intervention in Vietnam. However, Japan was not the new America. Recognising both domestic constitutional constraints and sensitive regional memories of Japanese militarism, the proposal that Japan uses its wealth to redevelop its navy was deemed the wrong course to take at Ditchley in 1975.

By 1982, admiration for Japanese success at Ditchley had reached a fever pitch. This time, a conference was held directly seeking to learn: September 1982’s ‘Lessons from Japan and the East Asia NICs’ explicitly sought to identify areas in which the Europeans and Americans in the audience could learn from Japan. Japan’s growth had pushed it further up the ladder of global economic prestige: Ditchley’s director Sir Reginald Hibbert considered Japan’s current account surplus as comparable to that enjoyed by the United States after its emphatic victory in the Second World War. Japan was now universally seen as a crucial player in the global economy, both due to its deep engagement with other Asian countries and the challenge it presented to other developed economies. Participants pored over Japan’s social makeup in pursuit of clues to its success. Trading policy was a common focus, as was a social milieu defined more by meritocracy than class struggles. In particular, the Japanese education system was singled out for praise. These particular foci were not entirely accidental. Neoliberal thinking was on the rise in Britain and America in 1982, and its representatives at Ditchley may have been drawn to a perception of Japanese meritocracy trumping the more class- and bureaucracy-laden societies of Europe. Certainly, Japanese voices did not dominate the conversation: only three Japanese figures attended in 1982. Underlying this admiration for Japan was a palpable sense of fear towards the Asian heavyweight. A decade earlier, trade friction between the U.S., the EEC and Japan had been predicted at Ditchley: echoing contemporary concerns over Chinese economic competition, Western participants had worried that relatively cheaper Japanese manufacturing, strengthened by technology transfers, would come to pose a serious threat to European and North American producers, creating economic and political tension. By 1982, this prediction had come true, and was now a serious challenge within the developed world. Suggestions ranged from the benign encouragement that Japanese companies engage in joint ventures with American counterparts, to the extreme: a complete exclusion of Japanese goods from European markets was considered. If 1982 gives us a vignette of increasingly nervous European and American views of Japan, 1986’s annual lecture on Japan’s Role from the Global Perspective, delivered by Japan’s former ambassador to the United States, shows us the view from the other side. The ex-ambassador presents a vision of unprecedented Japanese confidence. Made during a period of economic uncertainty in the U.S., and when the Japanese economy was accelerating towards its ultimate moment of overheating in 1991, the speech outlines clearly how Japanese economic influence could be used. In this period, excited investors would declare that the land upon which Tokyo’s imperial palace rests was worth more than the entirety of California.  Drawing attention to Japan’s now unambiguous position as the second greatest western economic power, Okawara declared Japan’s willingness to adapt its economic policy in a spirit of solidarity with its capitalist partners, and also of U.S. responsibility to address its own fiscal shortcomings. In 1972, European and American participants at Ditchley had spoken of drawing Japan into the ‘Western club’. Now a crucial member, by 1986 Japanese leaders felt comfortable assuming a vanguard position, even lecturing the superpower under whose nuclear umbrella they sheltered. In 1987, Japanese GNP per capita would exceed the United States. The tables, it appeared, had turned.

Ditchley and Japan from 1994 to 2010: Twilight Years

Cut ahead to the 1990s. The tables had turned back. Japan’s bubble economy burst in 1991, and with it the predictions of coming Japanese superpower status. Japan would no longer be compared to the United States. This does not go unnoticed at Ditchley, where in 1994’s ‘East Asia: Security, Prosperity and Political Evolution’ conference, Japan was described as experiencing an ‘unprecedented systemic crisis’. This bold statement had bite: the Nikkei stock average fell 63% in the 1990s, while property prices remained at 40% of their 1990 levels in 2008. In 1993, the Liberal Democratic Party lost control of the Prime Ministership for the first time since 1955. Crises such as the Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks added to a sense of social disarray. The reaction at both Ditchley’s April 1994 conference East Asia: Security, Prosperity and Political Evolution, and its November 1998 conference on Implications of the East Asian Economic Situation was largely to look away. Japan was old news: other regional states, particularly China, rose up the agenda. Though Japan’s continuing economic weight was not ignored (in 1998, it was noted that the country still consumed 70% of East Asia’s resources), when Ditchley participants thought ‘Asia’, they no longer thought ‘Japan’. The country was now a known variable, a predictable middle power.

When Japan was discussed at Ditchley, new approaches were adopted. One key change was a move to considering domestic politics. In the 1970s and 80s, what little mention had been made to the National Diet or Japanese elections served as quick reminders that the Liberal Democratic Party was firmly in control. From 1993, this assumption had to be reassessed, as did the presumption that Japan’s political system was functioning well. By May 2003’s  Conference on Japan in the 21st Century, participants judged the lack of real opposition to the LDP to be a contributing factor to the party’s stagnant culture. More widely, Japan’s political system was perceived as blocking, rather than fostering economic growth. Furthermore, participants looked at Japanese society in a new way, no longer seeking to emulate, but to diagnose root causes of economic trouble, noting both old issues, such as recurrent environment crises, and new ones, such as how Japan was relatively ‘closed off’ from the world economy, and the worrying onset of population decline. Discussion of Japan’s engagement with the United Nations in 2003 is symbolic of the country’s changed image at Ditchley. Where in the 1970s observers had recognised Japan’s desire for a Permanent Security Council Seat, yet denied this possibility, now the reverse was true. In 2003, participants deemed Japan to be deserving of a Security Council seat, but recognized that the East Asian power now had little appetite for such a role. Elsewhere, we see more evidence of a transition away from Japanese self-confidence. While in 1986 the Japanese ex-ambassador was happy to step up at Ditchley and present Japan as a standalone power, by 2003 the Japanese government was hesitant to act without international partners. This was particularly true in the field of security: Japan remained closely aligned with the United States on the persistent issue of North Korea, and outside East Asia, Japanese desire to engage in Iraq only in step with the European Union was noted. For its part, the EU proved a disappointing partner, although the meagre efforts of the EU were given as a roadblock to this dynamic. Overall, Ditchley’s engagement with Japan in the 1990s and early 2000s offers a sharp contrast to earlier decades. Japan was now seen as old news, a rusting power with newfound challenges to tackle.

Ditchley and Japan from 2010 onwards: Asia Rising

From the early 2010s, a new paradigm emerged at Ditchley, and in the wider Western intellectual world: the ‘Rise of Asia’. Spurred by enormous economic growth in East and South-East Asia, and by political shifts such as President Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’, this development draws eyes at Ditchley to the Asia-Pacific. Japan is brought back onto the stage. However, renewed attention does not mean a return to the Japan-mania that dominated the 1980s. Even at conferences ostensibly focussing on Japan, such as December 2013’s ‘Japan’s regional and global future’, China’s rise is high on the agenda. In the Twentieth Century, Japan’s most important relationships had been those with Europe and the United States. In the Twenty-First, with China overtaking Japan to become the second-largest global economy, such an approach became obsolete. Discussion of Japan’s regional role now focusses largely on bilateral Japan-China ties. The potential for mutual benefit was emphasised by Ditchley participants: the huge and expanding Chinese market was seen as a major opportunity for Japanese businesses, as was the lucrative flow of Chinese tourists into Japan. However, territorial and nationalist disputes threatened these opportunities. A more assertive China escalated the risk of regional conflicts, and as attendants noted in the September 2015 conference ‘Asia-Pacific: an agenda for new challenges’, Japan has shown itself willing to deploy self-defence forces against perceived Chinese incursions. These territorial disputes continue to be inflamed by wartime injuries, fanned by incidents like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2013 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, home to the graves of multiple accused war criminals. The new importance of Asia framed Ditchley proposals for Japan’s international role. One interesting suggestion was made in November 2019’s ‘Japan, the West and China: Japan’s future and role in the world’ conference: that Japan, with one foot in Asia and one in the West, could potentially act as a mediating middle power between the US and China. More generally, the desirability of Japan asserting itself as the regional champion of ‘Western’ norms and values has been stressed, particularly as China’s statist alternative has grown in importance. Ditchley’s guests noted the continuing importance of Japan’s economic ties with South-East Asia as a model of how the country could engage productively on the international stage. In October 2016’s ‘ASEAN: the key to East Asia’s future?’ Conference, Japan's healthy trade with the region was noted as a counterpoint to perceptions of China as already predominant. However, a common conclusion was that Japan had yet to take up such a heavy mantle. Ditchley participants in 2019 did not discuss how Japan has assumed leadership of a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership since US withdrawal as a case of regional influence.

            Alongside discussion of its regional role, Ditchley’s guests have not ignored Japan’s economic evolution. Japan’s global role still relies on its huge economy: Japan was the world’s largest Foreign Direct Investment provider in 2018. The country is comparably rich. However, this economic role has shifted in an age of globalism: as highlighted by the Director in 2013, most of the country’s corporate income now comes from abroad, linking it ever tighter into the global economy. Furthermore, relative decline is undeniable. In 1989, 32 of the world’s 50 largest companies were Japanese. In 2018, only 1 remained on this list. Indeed, Japanese withdrawal from global markets and exchange was noted as a serious concern in both 2019 and 2015. In particular, Ditchley’s participants raised the point that disconnection from global trends could expose Japan to sharper and more unexpected future shocks: ‘black ships’ once again haunted Japanese shores. One important continuity from the conferences of the ‘lost decade’ is a focus on the interplay between domestic politics and economic change in Japan. From the lows of the 1990s, the assessments made at Ditchley since 2010 have cast Japan’s institutions in a more positive light. Much hope was placed in the initiatives of the Abe government in the early 2010s, with initiatives such as ‘Abenomics’ and ‘Womenomics’ promising to knock the cobwebs off the Japanese economy. Both in 2013’s ‘Japan’s regional and global future’ conference and later in 2019, ‘Abenomics’ was thought to be making some headway. However, even this partial optimism may have been misplaced. In one 2014 poll, nearly three quarters of Japanese respondents indicated that Abenomics was having no noticeable effect on their lives. Furthermore, it is hard to label Womenomics as even a partial success. In 2020, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap ranked Japan in 121st place for female economic empowerment, while targets such as a 30% female share in executive positions have been postponed to the 2030s. In 2016, 60% of Japanese female employees were in non-regular employment. Still muddying the waters are Japan’s longer-term economic challenges. Some of Japan’s most fundamental problems have now worried Ditchley’s participants for 30 years: demographic decline in particular remains a huge concern. Furthermore, previous components of the Japanese system have switched from objects of praise to ones of concern. Education, raised in 1982 as a key area in which European countries could emulate Japan, was cited in 2019 as another institution that failed to promote innovation and dynamism. Despite comparatively high Japanese educational performance, Japan’s school system has been criticised for failing to emphasise independence of thought. Further, Japanese education funding is below the OECD average. Finally, new challenges are perceived by participants: in 2019, the sharp decline of Japanese students studying abroad was noted at Ditchley, symptomatic of a wider disengagement with foreign opportunities. Since 2010, Japan’s profile has risen at Ditchley. As a central player in an increasingly central region, and further one with a close and nuanced relationship with China, Japan’s role is of increasingly clear importance. However, an unenviable cluster of challenges threatens both Japan’s present and future position.

Ditchley and Japan from the Past to the Present

Japan has been discussed at Ditchley for 54 years. Throughout that time, certain issues have remained central to Ditchley’s conversations. Firstly, participants have long struggled to identify what international role Japan should play. Ranging from the 1970s, where Japan seemed to be emerging as a global economic leader, to the 2010s, where the country’s potential to be a regional champion of western norms is highlighted, one conclusion has been maintained: that Japan could be doing more on the international stage. Secondly, Japanese globalisation has been a difficult puzzle to solve. On the one hand, Japan has long been recognised as successfully riding the wave of growing global exchange, particularly in South-East Asia and in particular industries, such as automobiles. On the other, Japan has not seen some features of globalisation typical in other wealthy societies, such as increased migration. Particularly in the last decade, the demographic and innovation losses this incurs have been emphasised at Ditchley. One issue that has largely flown under the radar and not had the attention, is security. Even in the 1970s and 1980s, when Japanese military activity was minimal, the country resting firmly under US protection, Japan’s recognised role in issues such as conflict in Korea has only received limited attention. With a resurgent China presenting an increasing threat to Japan, security is likely to come further into the foreground.

            Japan was last the central topic of discussion at Ditchley in 2019. In retrospect, 2019 can be marked as the ‘calm before the storm’. The following three years have been marked by a high degree of instability. In particular, the Covid-19 Pandemic placed the global economic system under stress, prompting unprecedented government interventions into society, pushing fragile supply chains to the breaking point and creating a less secure, more threatening international environment. Drawing upon a series of interviews conducted in Spring 2022 with thought leaders specialising in Japan, this paper now considers how Japan has charted these choppy waters and what the future may hold for the island nation.

Japan since 2019: Rough Seas

As one interviewee pointed out, if the 2014 Fukushima disaster nudged Japan towards isolation, the Covid-19 pandemic pushed the country even further away from global engagement and exchange. The flow of goods, services and people to and from Japan ground to a halt, while the Japanese government adopted a new role as the country’s economic lifeline. This came at a cost. In 2020 alone, the already debt-ridden Japanese government spent $3 trillion on Covid relief measures. Furthermore, major opportunities were lost to the pandemic. In 1964, the Tokyo Olympics were an announcement of Japan’s post-war reconstruction and re-emergence as a thriving democracy. In stark contrast, the 2021 Tokyo Olympics were held under strict quarantine conditions, drawing more domestic opposition than international admiration. What could have been a key opportunity to outline Japan’s role in the world was instead a Games held in a state of emergency, with no spectators permitted. Despite these painful blows, Japanese leaders can look back with some satisfaction. Japan entered 2022 with a per capita death rate ten times lower than the United States and Great Britain. Furthermore, the Japanese economy has gradually recovered from the initial blow of the pandemic, a rebound facilitated by the success of vaccination drives.

In September 2020, Shinzo Abe resigned as Prime Minister of Japan. The longest-serving Prime Minister in Japanese history, Abe was described by multiple interviewees as a rare figure in Japan’s often-bureaucratised leadership circle. A visionary Prime Minister, Abe advocated a clear position against China and North Korea and, according to some, fanned the flames of World War II-era ‘History Questions’ with South Korea as well as having rolled out a package of socio-economic reforms aiming to revitalise Japan’s stagnant economy. The ‘Abenomics’ policy package has accelerated growth in Japan since 2012, but as some suggest, has left root causes of economic stagnation largely unchanged. Japanese wages have remained stagnant, and labour productivity was said to be lower in 2021 than it was in 2017. While the drive to ‘unlock’ the economic potential of Japanese women has contributed to some successes, such as the entry of 3 million women into the Japanese workforce since 2012, government targets have not yet been achieved. In 2020, only 10% of management positions were held by women, against a target of 30%. The mixed results of these policies have not led to their abandonment. Yoshihide Suga (Prime Minister 2020 - 2021) made clear his intention to ‘maintain and push forward’ Abe’s policies, speaking to the residual influence of the departing leader. However, new initiatives have been proposed: current Prime Minister Kishida’s ‘New Capitalism’ represents a partial departure from the growth-centric Abenomics package, focussing instead on tackling economic inequality. Whether this new approach will be able to assuage social strife while preventing a brain drain to more expansionist economies remains to be seen, particularly considering Kishida’s more cautious style than both Abe and Yoshihide Suga, his immediate predecessor.

Since 2019, Japan’s geopolitical environment has also seen significant change. President Biden’s victory in the 2020 United States election had important consequences for the Indo-Pacific. Though the Biden Administration has maintained key Trump-era regional policies, such as efforts to balance against China and disinterest towards the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the new President has inaugurated a fresh American approach to Japan and its neighbours. The withdrawn character of Trump’s tenure has been left behind. United States officials are once again working closely with Japan and other regional allies to shape a rule-based regional order. Even on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Secretary of State was in Melbourne, attending talks with the Quad’s other Foreign Ministers. The U.S. has proved willing to make new commitments to the region, as seen in the September 2021 announcement of the AUKUS Pact, a provision of support to Australia received warmly in Tokyo. Furthermore, the American government released the ‘Indo-Pacific economic framework’ in May 2022, outlining priorities for regional engagement such as clean energy, digital trade and supply chain resilience.

In contrast to the reassurances of current U.S. policy, Japan’s anxiety over security threats posed by China has only increased since 2019. Not only does the Chinese navy now field more ships than its American counterpart, but the Western technological lead appears to be shrinking. China’s successful 2021 test of a hypersonic nuclear missile was described by one U.S. official as a ‘sputnik moment’, while the threat posed by Chinese firms such as Huawei has been emphasised by both Washington and Tokyo. Despite Abe’s failure to significantly water down the ‘Pacifist Clause’ of Japan’s constitution, Japanese efforts to counterbalance China have steadily increased over the last decade. The Diet approved record defence budgets in both 2021 and 2022, while Japan was the first country to offer funds to businesses seeking to relocate out of China, and has enthusiastically supported the inclusion of new partners, notably India, into the China-balancing coalition. Given recurrent depictions of Japan as an ailing, elderly state, what is remarkable about Japanese domestic and geopolitical challenges is the energetic manner with which the state has responded.

Looking ahead

Japan’s domestic and geopolitical position continues to evolve. Already in 2022, Japanese relations with Russia have changed significantly. Japan is one of many nations newly hostile to Russia, condemning its invasion of Ukraine and asserting its rights over the contested Kuril Islands. However, given its military expansion, economic weight and territorial claims, China continues to represent the primary concern of Japanese foreign policy in the short and medium term future. Japan has shown signs of encouraging its companies to decouple from China, particularly when strategically significant goods and services are concerned, a policy catalysed by the Chinese government’s repressive anti-Covid policies, which  serve as a stark reminder both of the unpredictability of operating in China and of the illiberal character of the Communist Party. However, there are hard limits to the extent to which Japan can free itself from Beijing. Over 100,000 Japanese companies operate in China, a significant proportion specifically aiming to service Chinese markets and make use of Chinese resources. That will not change overnight.

As Japan looks to balance against China and recover from the pandemic, it needs partners. The Biden Administration has breathed vitality back into the U.S.-Japan alliance and the two powers’ joint leadership efforts in the region. However, the sudden withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has not been forgotten, and the prospect of an ‘America-first’ Republican victory in either or both of the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential elections presents a future obstacle to American participation. Closer to home, the South Korea-Japan relationship has clear scope for expansion. Cooperation between the two has been limited at best over the previous decade, in part due to the dual nationalisms of Shinzo Abe and Moon Jae-in. With both leaders gone, there are better prospects for engagement, and clear areas in which the two can build ties. South Korea is neither a member of the Quad nor CPTPP. However, both leaders are constrained by domestic political sentiment. In Korea, there is a desire to see Japan change its position on History Questions, while Abe’s dismissal of working with Korea played well with the Japanese public. The two East Asian states have much to gain from working together, but historically efforts to cooperate have been fraught with nationalist emotions and practical economic disputes.

In contrast to Korea, Japanese links to other regional actors have much more momentum. ASEAN is a primary beneficiary of Japanese efforts to decouple from China, and the two continue to seek deeper economic cooperation. However, the growth of Chinese investment in the region, not least in the construction of dams that could strangle the Mekong river, strongly deters ASEAN nations from attempting to directly compete against China. Furthermore, the election of pro-China Ferdinand Marcos Jr in the Philippines serves as a reminder that Japan and the West are not default partners in South-East Asia. Ties between India and Japan are close, and likely to increase in significance. Japan is a chief supporter of India’s engagement in the Quad. Cooperation between the two also includes major economic projects, such as the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor. While these projects are still dwarfed by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India’s economic growth and potential superpower status strongly incentivise Japan continuing to work with New Delhi to craft a friendly regional environment. Even so, again there are limits to the prospects of an anti-China India-Japan coalition. India and China have substantial economic links, and India is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, though it left the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership over concerns about Chinese dominance. Secondly, India is much less enthusiastic about working with the United States than Japan. India was pushed into the Quad by the threat of China, rather than eagerly joining, a distinction that Japan should note as it encourages the partnership to solidify.

Japan’s domestic challenges are not going away. Though Japanese companies such as Toyota have retained their advantages in global engagement and innovation, Japan’s reliance upon imported oil and gas presents a major challenge, particularly in the turmoil following the Russia-Ukraine War. New challenges are also looming, with underemployment becoming chronic in the Japanese economy: casual employment now represents 40% of Japan’s labour market. Further, social ageing has worsened in the last decade. More than 25 million Japanese people are now over the age of 65, requiring support from family and state, and diverting resources from investment in other sectors. The need to support the elderly places more pressure on already an already stretched workforce. Over the 2020s, Japan’s need for more new human resources will become more urgent, Though Japanese leaders have previously hesitated to present an open door, whether to women in Japan or potential migrants to the country, saying no to new workers is only going to get harder. Alongside this broad issue, there are a series of more specific challenges which Tokyo must rise to in its efforts to retain Japan’s prosperity, including reinvestment in education, the pursuit of innovative ways to care for the elderly in a dignified and cost-effective manner, and the digitisation of government. Japan will sail through stormy waters in the next decade, and will require new policies, resources and partners to do so effectively. However, the country retains immense advantages that will smooth the way. Japan is still the world’s third largest economy, an hugely significant provider of aid, and a trusted partner for other states both in the Indo-Pacific and further afield.  Tokyo has entered the second decade of the twenty-first century from a position of strength, and will act as a key place in the Indo-Pacific and beyond in the future.


1952 - US Occupation of Japan ends

1955 - Japanese economy overtakes pre-war levels, Liberal Democratic Party formed

1964 - Japan hosts the Olympic Games

1965 - Basic diplomatic relations established with South Korea

1966 - Asian Development Bank founded with the US and Japan taking a leading role

1968 - Japan becomes the second largest capitalist economy in the world

1972 - Japan establishes relations with the People’s Republic of China; Ditchley Conference on ‘The Pacific and East Asia’

1973 - Oil Crisis prompts global economic slowdown

1975 - Ditchley’s ‘European-American-Japanese Conference

1982 - Ditchley conference: ‘Lessons from Japan and the East Asia NICs’

1985 - Plaza Accord: yen appreciates against the dollar

1986 - Ditchley’s annual lecture is held on the subject ‘Japan’s Role from the Global Perspective

1989 - Japanese economy enters decade-long deflationary spiral, Emperor Hirohito dies

1991 - Dissolution of the Soviet Union, end of the Cold War

1992 - Tokyo Stock Market falls to lowest point in 1990s

1994 - Ditchley conference on ‘East Asia Security, Prosperity and Political Evolution

1997 - Asian Financial Crisis, run on Japanese banks narrowly avoided; Kyoto Protocol signed

1998 - Ditchley conference on ‘The implications of the East Asian economic situation

2001 - China enters the WTO, prompting its already huge growth rates to surge upwards

2003 - 1,000 Japanese soldiers sent to Iraq to help with reconstruction, the largest deployment of force since 1945;Ditchley conference: ‘Japan in the 21st Century

2008 - Japanese population peaks, declining in subsequent years; Japan experiences recession in context of global financial crisis

2010 - Japan’s first overseas base established in Somalia; Ditchley conference: ‘The Global Implications on the Rise of Asia

2011 - Fukushima disaster, Chinese economy overtakes Japanese

2012 - Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’, introduction of ‘Abenomics’ policy package

2013 - China’s Belt and Road initiative announced; Ditchley hosts a conference on ‘Japan’s regional and global future

2015 - New legislation allows JSDF to take part in collective self-defence actions;  Ditchley conference on ‘Asia-Pacific: an agenda for new challenges

2016- -Japan signs the TPP agreement; Donald Trump’s election suggests an era of US retrenchment; Ditchley conference on ‘ASEAN: the key to East Asia’s future?

2018 - The CPTPP is signed by 11 nations, Japan taking a leading role in lieu of the US; Japan receives a record number of tourists, with 31 million visiting in the year

2019 - Emperor Naruhito takes over from his father; EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement enters into force;  Ditchley conference on ‘Japan, the West, and China

2021 - Japan hosts the Olympic Games


Sir Frederick Warner - Chaired the European-American-Japanese conference in November 1975.
Sir Frederick Warner  was born on the Second of May, 1918, and would go on to pursue a varied career in Diplomacy, Politics and Business.

After serving in the Second World War and completing his studies at Magdalen College, Oxford and the University of Sheffield, Warner joined the Foreign Office in 1946. His early work included postings to the Soviet Union, Burma and Athens. Despite a damaging association with Guy Burgess, a Soviet agent in the British Government, Warner was soon promoted, and became the Ambassador to Laos in 1965.

Warner was yet to reach the summit of his diplomatic career, becoming Ambassador to Japan in 1972. In this position, he organised the first visit of a sitting Prime Minister to Japan and was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun for his services to Anglo-Japanese Relations.

When he chaired Ditchley's 1975 discussion of Japan, Warner had just left the diplomatic service. He would go on to work as the director of multiple businesses, and in 1979 was elected as a Conservative MEP for Somerset. He died in 1995.

Tadao Kato - Attended the European-American-Japanese conference in November 1975.
After his education at Tokyo and Cambridge Universities, Tadao Kato joined Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1952. He served around the world, holding various positions in Singapore, the United States and Mexico before becoming Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1975, a position he would hold for the next four years. A firm proponent of strong ties between Britain and Japan, Kato also became President of the Japanese-British Society and Chairman of the United Kingdom-Japan Group in 1984. Following his diplomatic career, he entered business and served as a senior economic advisor in the Japanese civil service.

Yoshio Okawara - Delivered the Ditchley Foundation Lecture in 1986.
Yoshio Okawara was a diplomat of immense stature and profound commitment to the Japan-US relationship.

Born in 1919 and graduating from Toyko during the turbulent wartime years, Okawara's diplomatic career focussed on improving the ties between Japan and other Western nations. He was posted in London, South Africa, and the Philippines, and served as Japan's Ambassador to the United States from 1980 to 1985.

Okawara's commitment to US-Japan relations did not end with his tenure as ambassador. He worked as the President of the America-Japan society after 1985 and the Institute for International Policy Studies.

Aged 99, Yoshio Okawara died in 2018. His funeral was attended by former prime ministers of Japan, Presidents of Toyota and Kikkoman, and multiple American and Japanese ex-Ambassadors.

Professor Marie Conte-Helm OBE - Attended the May 2003 confernce on "Japan in the 21st Century".
Professor Marie Conte-Helm OBE is a leader in fostering greater UK-Japan ties, and an academic specialising in the economic and cultural relationship between Japan and Britain.

Marie Conte-Helm has published a wide range of material relating to Japanese external relations, including books on Japan's relationship with the North-East of England and on Japanese economic encounters with Europeans. She serves as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Alongside her academic work, Marie Conte-Helm has made significant contributions to Japan-UK relations. She served as the Director-General of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation from 1999 to 2011, and as the Executive Director of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group from 2011 to 2017. In 2011, she was awarded an OBE for her work fostering Japan-UK ties.