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Monday, Dec. 26, 2011

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Brace for the year of the dragon, when all shall be revealed


Special to The Japan Times

In the Sino-Japanese cycle of annual zodiac signs, the year 2012 will be the year of the dragon. 2011 was the year of the hare. How quickly it is jumping away.

The dragon is the only fictitious character in the lineup of twelve creatures that make up the cycle. Its presence is a must in all tales of fantasy and science fiction. We are all just a little bit in love with the character. If love is too strong a word, then mesmerized certainly fits the case.

For all the fascination, however, one is never quite sure what the dragon actually stands for. And that, of course, is a part of its charm. Is it friend or foe? Is it an emissary from heaven promising salvation? Is it a messenger from hell bringing damnation in its wake? Is it cruel or is it kind? Do we pray to it or run away from it?

The year of the dragon, which is now very nearly upon us, certainly looks to be a year that will bear all of the fearsome characteristics of its zodiac namesake. It seems to me that much of what happened this year had the air of a preview, or a rehearsal perhaps, for the actual drama set to unfold next year.

The sovereign debt crisis hitting Europe; its spillover effects into the realm of private-sector banking, which is gaining increasing global reach; the homegrown fiscal woes of the United States and Japan, which are equally bad if not a lot worse than the European version.

Then there is the clearly discernible desire of nation states to cut up the global market into trading blocs, with the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative looming as a typical a case in point.

The growing impotence of monetary policy everywhere as money crosses national borders in search of ever more lucrative financial opportunities, with leakage now a very serious problem in monetary pipelines. The volatility that the foreign-exchange market has experienced all throughout the year.

The emergence of strange people with at least superficially not altogether strange ideas who threaten to take over through common sense democracy.

All of the above are surely trying to tell us something. They come in flashes of vision that almost show us the whole story but stop agonizingly short of total revelation.

Of such stuff are good trailers made. But it is often the case that the previews and trailers are much more exciting than the tale itself. How well we know this — once we have seen the trailers, we have seen it all.

That, however, is only applicable to the cinema and TV dramas. Insofar as the coming year of the dragon is concerned, the real thing promises to be much more frightening than the previews. We will surely get our money's worth of shocks and thrills. For nothing has been resolved — and anything can happen -with regard to all of the aforementioned items we saw emerge during the course of 2011.

All of which may actually be suggesting it is entirely appropriate for 2012 to be the year of the dragon. For it looks as though we shall need all the wisdom and sagacity the dragon is supposed to possess in order to get through the trials and tribulations that await us next year.

I should perhaps mention in passing that I was born in another year of the dragon. Never mind how many years ago. Once upon a time, anyway.

Noriko Hama is an economist and professor of Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.


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