Earlier this month, an article published in the New York Times written by one Eamonn Fingleton, “The Myth of Japan’s Failure”, achieved wide circulation online. Briefly, Fingleton argued that the prevailing picture of Japan as a country stuck in a slump for the past two decades is wrong, that by many measures Japan is thriving–he cites the Japanese trade surplus, growth in life expectancy, and the increasing number of skyscrapers for instance–and that in fact Japan is a stronger country, relatively even, than before.
Spike Japan has none of that. In a very thorough fisking, that Japan blog argues that Fingleton has either cherry-picked evidence to support his case or is an incompetent commentator. For instance, on Fingleton’s report that “of the 50 cities in the world with the fastest Internet service, 38 were in Japan”.
Our first lesson is on the use and abuse of statistics. That the Japanese city with the fastest average Mbps, Shimotsuma, ranked 3rd in the world, is a small Tokyo dormitory community to which very few Japanese could point on a map, and that one of the Japanese “cities” in the top 50, Marunouchi, is not a city, nor even a ward of Tokyo, but a few blocks of office buildings clustered around Tokyo station, make it readily apparent that if you are a largish country for which Akamai has a lot of data collection points and you have a highish average connection speed, then of course you are going to dominate the city rankings. For a more truthful picture of Internet infrastructure, we need to turn to a country-level analysis.
In 2011 Q2, Japan ranked third for average connection speeds, at 8.9Mbps, behind South Korea at 13.8Mbps and Hong Kong at 10.3Mbps. Impressive, to be sure, but not quite the picture of global leadership that Fingleton insinuates it has. Indeed, the broader the metric becomes, the worse the picture looks for Japan: for high broadband connectivity (above 5Mbps), the Netherlands ranks first at 68% of all connections, Japan ranks 6th, at 55%, and the US 13th at 42%, while for good old-fashioned broadband connectivity (above 2Mbps), 10 mostly European countries have penetration rates over 90%, the US ranks 35th at 80%, and Japan is actually behind the US, coming in 39th place at 76%. What’s more, Japan’s high broadband connectivity actually fell 8.9% YoY and its broadband connectivity fell 12% YoY, while the rates of almost all other countries surged. Not all that stellar a performance at the broadest end of the spectrum, especially given how suited relatively small, very densely populated Japan is to the build-out of broadband.
Fingleton goes on at length. Is the number of skyscrapers more relevant a figure than the square footage of real estate that is being used? Can the low Japanese birth rate really be put down to a canny plan to maximize Japanese food security? Why would anyone think that the number of restaurants in Tokyo highly rated in the Michelin guide has any particular relevance to general standards of living, likewise growth in electricity use per capita?
Read the whole post. It’s a devastating, brilliant, fisking of a man whose views on Japan are almost humourously off-kilter. It’s also very good journalism.