Last month Bruce Miller AO, Australia’s former Ambassador to Japan from 2011 – 2017 delivered our Perspectives: Asia seminar reflecting on Japan’s recent imperial transition, and the significance of the shift from the Heisei to to Reiwa era for contemporary Japan.

Japan has been transfixed by the announcement of the new era name, its meaning and etymology, and by a wave of nostalgia as Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko carry out their last official duties before the abdication takes effect on 30 April. But the transition doesn’t bring with it big changes. Instead, we see continuity in Japan’s Imperial tradition and in its post-war constitutional settlement.

Ultimately, the new Reiwa era will reflect modern Japan as it evolves, rather than determine how it evolves. The new era will see other changes. Prime Minister Abe will probably step down in 2021 at the end of his third and final term as head of the ruling party. Keeping the economy in good shape will require Japan to sustain its progress in trade liberalisation, agricultural reform and handling its demographic challenges by raising female workforce participation and permitting foreign labour. Unlikely to change much, however, are Japan’s challenging strategic circumstances as Japan grapples with US unreliability, Chinese assertiveness and the threat posed by North Korea. Unlikely to change too are Japan’s high levels of social trust, low levels of crime, and the quality of Japan’s merchandise and service culture.

Bruce Miller AO has had a 40 year association with Japan. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Ist class honours) in Japanese language, literature and history; and a Bachelor of Laws, from the University of Sydney. He occupied senior positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of National Assessments, including as Director-General, before he left government in December 2017 to take up roles in the private sector and academia. He became a Distinguished Policy Fellow at the ANU in September 2018 and was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Watch the #PerspectivesAsia seminar online.

There is much to be gleaned from this speech about the nature of contemporary Japanese society, Japan’s regional aspirations and indeed prospects for strengthening Australia’s relationship with Japan into the future. With Bruce’s permission we are delighted to share his speech online.

Perspectives:Asia is presented by the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University and the Australian Centre of Asia-Pacific Art (ACAPA) at QAGOMA. Previous Perspectives:Asia seminars are also available online.

Images: Joe Ruckli