Although it is remarkably difficult to come up with decent data, from what I can tell, the Japanese bubble was considerably bigger relative to the size of its economy than the US debt binge was. Yet even though the Japanese aftermath has been remarkably protracted, and arguably worsened by a slow and cautious initial response, visitors to Japan find the country wearing its malaise remarkably well.
One of the reasons may be the Japanese preoccupation with employment. Entrepreneurs are revered not for making money but for creating jobs. Japanese companies went to great lengths to keep workers, cutting senior pay to preserve manning. That was done largely for cultural reasons, since companies are seen as being like families.
But was this preoccupation also good economic policy, and might it have played a more direct role in buffering the worse effects of the bubble aftermath? In this interview, Pavlina Tcherneva argues that the way policymakers think about growth, that demand drives employment, may be backwards.