And then there was the earthquake. On 11 March 2011, 16,000 lives were lost in a quake and tsunami of unprecedented scale. The triple-meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will take decades to clean up. The disasters showed Japan's strengths - there were no riots, just peaceful cooperation - but the government and power company's slow response also highlighted its flaws: bureaucracy, insularity and a lack of personal accountability.
In the aftermath of the quake, Japan discovered a newfound sense of consumer patriotism. Konami's Hideo Kojima, Platinum's Atsushi Inaba and Sega's Toshihiro Nagoshi have all spoken about their desire to help restore Japan's national pride in the wake of the earthquake. "'Made in Japan' is a good thing," says Nagoshi. "I think Japanese games should wear that 'made in Japan' badge on their chests with pride and march boldly into the Western market."
Binary Domain was Nagoshi's most western game, and while it was only half-successful, the new global mindset of Japanese developers - and the global budgets that come with it - could mean better games for everybody.
"If I had the money, I'd open an American branch tomorrow," says Inafune. Four of his 20 staff have lived overseas, and a fifth is a Canadian national. "Japan would be stronger if it collaborated with other countries more. We should make the most of Japan's good points and mix them with the good points of other countries to make better products."
It all boils down to flexibility. Japanese society loves rules and can be extremely conservative. But Japan's post-WWII economy was built on an ability to adapt and improve. After five years of steadily losing ground, Japan is ready to rise once again.