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The independence and satisfaction of Japanese women have greatly increased in recent decades, but this has brought problems of its own, since Japanese men have not adapted their expectations accordingly. Husbands rarely perform family duties, leaving them to their wives. Rather than accept that division of labor, some women prefer to remain childless and unattached. The result is that, on average, women in Japan marry later and bear fewer children than do women in virtually any other country.

Mild in comparison with the U.S., social ills are nevertheless becoming more acute. The use of amphetamines and marijuana is growing, as is the fear of crime. In the past, only members of the Mafia, or yakuza, carried guns, and for the most part they killed only other yakuza. But last year there were several brutal handgun murders that did not involve mobsters. Three female employees at a supermarket, for example, were shot in the head in a Tokyo holdup. An advisory board to the National Police Agency last year endorsed the hiring of tens of thousands of additional police because Japan "is proceeding down the path to becoming a Western-style crime society."

In such unhappy times, no government is likely to be popular. But politicians and bureaucrats have done a great deal to bring disrepute upon themselves. The Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan from the year it was founded, 1955, finally lost power in 1993 after one corruption scandal too many. Since then four successive, fragile coalitions have ruled. The current government, led by Ryutaro Hashimoto of the L.D.P., is committed to the status quo when it comes to economic reforms and other measures that are needed to revive Japan.

The once infallible bureaucrats, meanwhile, have been entangled in an unprecedented series of scandals. In recent weeks the Health and Welfare Ministry admitted that from 1983 to 1985 its officials let Japanese pharmaceutical companies sell blood products even after they knew they might be tainted with hiv. So far, an estimated 400 hemophiliacs have died. And since last year, taxpayers have been furious with officials at the powerful Ministry of Finance because it wants to start paying out billions of dollars in tax revenues to rescue Japan's banking system, which the same bureaucrats once called the world's safest. The ministry used to be far and away the most powerful organization in Japan, but now there is a nationwide call for its dismantling.

So much for the miraculous Japan, with its uncanny, clockwork economy and culture. Ichiro Ozawa now believes it's time to close the postwar chapter. He argues that Japan's highly regulated society inhibits the cultivation of talent at home and friendship abroad that Japan needs if it is to thrive in the future. He calls for a "third opening," a change in Japan as momentous as the Meiji revolution, which opened the nation to the world in 1868.

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