It’s pity to learn our own country is viewed as a bad example for other countries not to follow. I found the word “Japan-lite problems” in the article of Time magazine (August 25 issue) titled “Six lessons Japan can teach the West”. It goes as follows:

“We have consistently taken the view that the Western world was suffering from ‘Japan-lite' problems: weak money supply growth, high levels of debt, lots of deleveraging, structurally weak growth and a rapidly deteriorating fiscal position. Given recent economic developments, perhaps ‘lite' should be replaced with ‘heavy'…The West is increasingly looking like a bad version of Japan. And, like Japan, our political leaders are offering few answers.”

I understand “-lite” is used as a suffix. But I don’t understand what “Japan-lite”really means.

COD (10th Ed.) defines “-lite” as “suffix forming names of rocks, minerals and fossils. From this, I hazard to guess “Japan-lite problems” implies petrified economic status of the country i.e., the quagmire Japan has been bogged in for a score of years without finding the exit, but I’m not sure.

The author says “’Japan-lite’ should be replaced with ‘Japan-heavy.’” It could be banter. But beside “Japan-light (heavy)”, are there such word as “Greece-lite (heavy),” “Italy-lite (heavy)” or even “America-lite (heavy)”, “German-lite (heavy)” and “China-lite (heavy)”?

  • 1
    It's worth pointing out that although it's relatively common (and highly productive), the -lite suffix is usually somewhat informal/quirky/self-conscious. So it gives the author a chance to make the somewhat "loose" comparison with Japan's economic problems, without fearing that he'll be held to account because the analogy can't be taken too far. Japan-heavy is definitely a bit of non-standard banter. Commented Jan 10, 2012 at 19:25

4 Answers 4


The -lite suffix is added as a way of implying a diminutive form of the noun it is modifying.

It draws from the word light meaning not heavy:

You can see the definition at dictionary.com: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/light

light2 adjective — 1. of little weight; not heavy: a light load.

You can see examples of this applied to things like food and drink where the term lite is used to imply less fat or fewer calories.

So Japan-lite [X] means that [X] is like it is in Japan, only less so.

So one might say

The University of Hertfordshire produce Japan-lite AI.

So when Time suggest that Japan-lite should be replaced with Japan-heavy they are suggesting that the problems in the West are worse than those in Japan, although still comparable.


"Lite" is just a clever way of spelling "light". This is often used in advertising to promote something as a lighter flavour or a diet variety of a product, e.g. Miller Lite beer.

In this sense, "Japan-lite" means something that is an imitation of Japan, only "low-fat", or "sugar-free", in other words, still unhealthy, but not as bad.


The author of the article is expressing an opinion that there are certain (negative) economic traits demonstrated by Japan, and that this is typical of the Japanese economy.

The suggestion that Japan can teach the West something, or that some Western economies are like 'Japan-lite', means that in his/her opinion, some of these Western economies are starting to show the same negative traits... that these economies appear to be suffering lesser (hence 'lite'), but similar, problems.


Lite here is being used as an antonym to Heavy or rather Full.

This is a play on the various PC/Android/Mac/IPhone applications available today having either a Lite version (reduced features) or a Full version

As one of many examples http://www.robotask.com/lite_vs_full/


In reply to Jez, light (adj.) meaning "not heavy" has an alternative spelling lite, the darling of advertisers, is first recorded 1962.

As to what "Japan Lite" means, it's beyond my knowledge of economics. I can find an older article titled "The United States Could Become Japan Lite" , so it might not have been invented by the author of this Time piece.

So the basic premise being a pejorative sense

Japan Lite = lesser set of problems as compared to Japan


Japan Heavy = greater set of problems as compared to Japan

You could of course turn this around and say Japan is now "US Lite" in terms of economic problems.

Further Reading: http://www.grammarist.com/usage/lite/

  • I wonder when 'lite' began to be used in this way. It's certainly older than the iPhone. I remember the "coffee-/communism-/Ferrari-/Muller-lite" expression from way back in my childhood (80s, probably). Maybe some food or drink product advert started the trend?
    – Jez
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 11:09
  • @Jez: Seems 1962. Now to find which ad started this.
    – JoseK
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 11:18
  • In 1962 a case argued in a US court for Bakers Franchise company which had trademarked Lite Diet and advertized this product as low calorie bread
    – JoseK
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 11:27

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