"I have experienced failure as a politician," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once said. In his second round as the country's prime minister, he is determined to avoid the mistakes of the past -- beginning with how to deal with the stagnant Japanese economy. I asked Abe about this when I met with him on Thursday afternoon in his office in Tokyo. "My policies do not conform with the conventional wisdom," he said. "However we have been suffering from a long period of deflation and at the end of last year we faced a serious unemployment crisis. I am convinced that my economic policies are the only path to break out of this crisis." For now, while the U.S. and Europe sputter along, restrained by the politics of austerity, Japan under Shinzo Abe is set on a bold course to revive a moribund economy.
Japan's spirit is being tested by the same recession and financial crisis afflicting all industrialized nations. But paradoxically, there are answers to be found to Japan's very modern crises in its most ancient traditions. There are shrines and temples and gardens everywhere. It is common to see monks meditating and easy to join them in meditation. And the latest twist is Buddhist temples using Zen meditation, cold-water ablutions and other traditional ceremonial practices to help young people looking for jobs! By taking its traditions and adapting them to solve new problems, by going both forward and backward, both outward and inward -- juxtapositions that in Japan don't have to be contradictions -- the people of Japan are poised find a new and vibrant balance for the 21st century.