Here's a world description "inspired" by Doug Muir's old "Liberal Japan" timeline on SHWI and continuing it to the present, albeit with some details being changed and certain shifts in direction from the original TL.
The main divergence from OTL, is that a worse series of rice riots make the army look bad which forces the Emperor to step in and do a few changes such as making the Navy the senior service along with reducing (not removing) the army's guarenteed influence in the constitution.
The 1920s and 30s see a continuation of Taisho-era liberalism, as Japan manages to avoid going off the deep end. They do, however decide to set up an independent protectorate in Manchuria as per OTL but unlike our world stop there. They even refrain from massacres for the sake of massacre -- japanese rule in Korea remains autocratic but at least it's legalistic.
The second world war sees an opportunistic Japan negotiating for Japanese entry in late 1939 arrangements in which 1) japan would get protectorates over indochina, the dutch east indies 2) French polynesia.
3) revival of the anglo-japanese alliance in return for a Japanese entry into the war. Japan quickly sets up protectorates in those areas, taking time to formally grant independence. America enters the war in early 1943. The combination of sudden extra pressure from the entrance of the United States into the allies leads to the Valkrie coup plotters managing to take out the Nazi leadership in 1944 and the Reich imploding by mid 1944 with the soviets in a less advantageous position.
The cold war begins with more of Germany being in the allied zone while Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Hungary being neutrals. While the soviets held less territory and did not get the boost to prestige that was spreading communism to China they had a more unified communist block. This allowed it to last roughly as long as our world's soviet bloc. That and a more pragmatic government following Stalin's death in 1953 let it survive worse economic strains than our world's USSR. Despite the removal of China from the soviet bloc, the cold war largely followed a similar pattern to our world.
The end of the cold war came in the early 1990s as decades of occasional reforms to paper over the soviet system all broke down at once. Things were quiet in 1991, there were riots in 1992 and by 1993 there were three seperate soviet governments in Vladvivostok, Leningrad and Alma-Ata. The Alma-Ata faction won out, since that was a mix of pragmatic technocrats and the military. The Leningrad faction were hard-core stalinists who wanted "Peace through Power' and an invasion of the west to shore up government legitimacy. The Vladvivostok faction were... Gorbachev types.
Once the USSR fell, the world settled into it's current multipolar form -- Japan slowly eased off it's participation in US commitments and China came out of its geopolitical shell. Western Europe remained schizophrenic in it's foreign policy and kept it's US ties for lack of an appealing alternative that'd sell to most of the voting base. Much like our world, Russia recovered in the 2000s from a better base given the FRE's retaining more of the old soviet borders.
The world's current worries are the weather, America's imperial decline and a second energy crisis.
THE BIG THREE
America is remarkably recognizable, if a bit less smug than in our world. With real competition in the form of East Asia along with the Eurasians, the government has been kept more honest and much more social solidarity survives -- the left versus right conflict is merely at 1970s levels instead of getting to the level of venom of the 1980s or now. Retaining this sense of cohesion means that culture wars are a bit toned down and special interest groups/elites get away with a bit less -- there is no DMCA or Bono act extending copyrights or repealing Glass-Steagall. There being never any divisive intervention in Vietnam, means that politics is less toxic. Economic policy is mostly "centrist", but banking laws still exist. Another side effect of this shift on economic policy is that the US has a real healthcare system -- this has had dividends in the form of a rather less stagnant economy.
The Empire of Japan has 275 million people in it's home islands, Korea and it's island territories and counts as a great power in it's own right for military reasons and not just an economic power. Starting with Emperor Heisei, Japan has in recent years once again moved in a less democratic direction, if radically different than OTL's militarists. Think Liechtenstien or to a lesser extent either Dubai or Singapore as models. A result of this, is that the... enthustiastic politics of the second half of the Showa era are slowly fading away. A more traditionalist culture means birthrates are higher and the population is still slooowly growing. Japanese religion is a bit different, given that part of it's pro-assimilation policy includes attempts to digest Korean shamanism into Japan's normal religious environment. This is one of the many signs of Korean influence on the empire as a whole.
The Japanese Empire has created a co-prosperity sphere, consisting of non-chinese East and southeast Asia, which has it's roots in puppet states gained during the second world war, but now is a voluntary economic and military alliance. Nobody knows how objectionable the idea of a co-prosperity sphere in the area would be a few timelines over. These states range from low-end latin american levels of standards of living in Mongolia or Madagascar to outright first world status in Vietnam and Thailand.
Manchuria is a japanese-influenced monarchy with around 200 million people living there and per capita GDP around half of a first world nation. Around a third of it's population is of either Japanese or Korean descent, or one of those two mixed with the local Han. It is also a bilingual nation speaking both Mandarin and Japanese. The government is somewhere between small-f fascist and a corrupt 'dominant party' democracy -- there are elections but sometimes candidates get jailed for traffic tickets that have a funny tendency to happen around election time.
Thailand is a developed nation, and the monarch keeps a firm hand on the military to prevent any of OTL's shenanigans.
Vietnam is much like OTL Thailand -- it's a monarchy where the army has the upper hand.
The Philippines' OTL decision to sever economic ties with the US post-independence, along with economic boosts from trade within the sphere means it's by now a low-end first world nation by now. These days, it's even a country of immigration -- they get Indians, chinese, Viets and (non-muslim) Indonesians to name a few.
Malaya is malay-plurality, instead of Malay majority in OTL. It's a bit more secular and includes Singapore, but is mostly recognizable. The fact that Singapore is involved, means that there's enough Chinese to block malay initiatives like the bumiputra laws and enough pressure from *both* Japan and China to make it look like a suicidal idea. The fact that there was no Pacific war to make things unstable enough to cause the malayan emergency is yet another point working to the advantage of Malaya's chinese.
Third but not least is the inwards-looking but still powerful Republic of China, a nation whose government has gone from military junta to now generic one-party state. At least traditional Chinese culture wasn't wrecked by a *Cultural Revolution. Even though it's economic policies resemble pre-economic reform India, the Republic of China has made it to upper latin american levels due to the fact that even crippled free markets work better than say Maoist-style central planning. Think a standard of living like Mexico's. The communist insurgency in the countryside still rages even if it's gone down to northern irish levels, nowadays funding itself through producing Opium then selling it. Tibet and Uighiristan have (token) levels of autonomy, but in reality aren't doing all that better than OTL. At least Tibetan culture is doing better, with Beijing deciding to stop at getting rid of serfdom instead of actively trying to destroy the culture.
The Federated Republics of Eurasia is essentially Russia in the large economy size, with a more honest government that doesn't even pretend to be democratic -- a coalition of military officers and technocrats took over instead of letting an idealistic secretary-general throw everything away. One side effect of not being as democratic as our Russia is that the FRE's leaders don't feel a need to do gestures to placate the religious types the way Putin does, so gay people are doing better. Their agricultural sector is benefitting from changes in climate enabling higher wheat yields in Siberia. A more aggressive campaign of russification meant that the FRE retained much more of the old soviet union than in our world's Russian federation.
Finland is recovering from being a warsaw pact member and has the world's most libertarian economy. Think of Finland as cyberpunk with an all white cast. The fact that there are no restrictions on drug usage or civilian firearms ownership or sale in Finland annoys it's neighbors.
The baltics are all much as in OTL.
The European Union is much like OTL, albeit with somewhat different internal borders --- czechslovakia remains one, Germany includes Austria and Yugoslavia is still a united nation. The chinese immigrants that have come in, as well as the muslim immigrants that came in for the same reasons as OTL have started fighting in the cities. This last has led to the rise of right-wing parties in recent years, but it's more moderate than OTL's rising populist right -- think more "making immigrants act civilized" rather than "deport everyone darker than wheat except for the roma who just get shot".
Romania is comparable to OTL Belarus, if a bit more socially conservative and religious -- it's militarized, poor, socialistic and very Orthodox. The old policies against contraception remain in place.
Latin America remains within America's imperial sphere much as in OTL. It's a bit wealthier than OTL due to East Asia demanding much more minerals or food from the area but mostly recognizable. Argentina, Uruguay and Chile have all made it to the lower-end first world. One difference is that the region has a growing chinese minority that's recently immigrated since the 1940s.
Without communism, Cuba remains a partying place.
Like in OTL, Australia tries getting involved in East Asian economic arrangements but is soundly rejected. At least it's 50% richer thanks to more need for it's uranium in a world clearly past oil peak.
Afghanistan is a mess and the Federated Republics of Eurasia is still shoring up a left-wing puppet government. Afghanistan is now as modern and integrated to the world as early 1930s Turkey, but the locals are shockingly ungrateful.
Africa is much like our world, except a bit richer due to China getting involved in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s instead of the last decade or so. Many African nations have populations of chinese expats or workers on the ground. In recent years, much of Africa has started to become de facto Chinese protectorates.
South Africa is ruled by whites, coloreds, Indians and a few favored tribes(Tswana, zulu) with income qualifications on voting for blacks along with a loose confederal structure to create lots of local black elites who buy into the system. The lack of sanctions combined with more demand for minerals means that South Africa's economy is chugging along just fine. It's not first world, but barring any real disasters should be there by 2020. Tax policies and pro-baby propaganda mean that South Africa's white TFR is around 2.5, while black TFR is barely at replacement.
Rhodesia *still* has the lowest rate of crime in the world, and even has a Black PM these days. He's from the Rhodesia Front, of course and was a millionaire before going into politics. The rural guerillas of the 1970s and 1980s have been defeated. The sanction regime fell apart in the 90s and 00s as China and Japan flexed their muscle. Rhodesia is around a fourth Chinese these days, with the government promoting this immigration to.
India, didn't do as well and remains only as developed as it is in OTL. At least there is hope for the future in the fact that there is 1) a bigger developed world to sell to 2) China is already at upper-end latin american levels, and thus is starting to price itself out of the lowest level industrial markets.
Compared to our world, Japan is even more of a center of popular culture. This is more of a broadbased movement, than OTL's popularization of japanese culture which was largely based on video games, manga, anime and to a much lesser extent certain live action movies. The big wave of Japanese culture happened in the mid 1980s, instead of starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. J-Pop includes K-pop. This infusion has made it scarily successful.
China stands out as a third center of culture, on par with Japan. The addition of a third, non-anglophone center of fandom which produces big-budget media has had it's effects. Japan may do anime and annoying pop music better in the world's opinion, the Chinese do big budget movies and internet memes far better.
Besides youth culture, East Asia has real influence in other domains like fashion, fast food, live action films and of course popular music. These days, there are even influences on western architecture -- most of the buildings built or remodeled after the 1970s display this influence.
America's getting all of the German rocket scientists made the space race initially slower, but unlike our world the Soviets made a serious attempt at it and it got further before petering out in the 1980s. There are American, Russian, Japanese and most recently Chinese moonbases. On the military level, there are orbital battle stations and expensive, almost useless lunar missile silos. Purely civilian efforts in space include several orbital hotels, factories in orbit and this world is in the early stages. The issues of long-term human survival in space have not yet been solved, but they're closer to figuring it out than we are.
Adding both Japan's sphere and China to the world capitalist economy early combined with the space race being stronger means that technology has been pushed farther than in our world. Directly military or military-driven technologies have been pushed 10 years ahead of our world, while more purely civilian technologies are 15 years ahead.
This world has recently passed the energy peak and the weather is getting funny. The fact that the world has over half a billion extra people in East Asia and the atlantic world isn't helpful. It gets worse when you factor in that most of them are middle-income or developed nation levels of prosperity isn't helping at all. Oddly enough, since one of the big symptoms of peak oil is increasingly volatile oil prices prices per gallon of gasoline are actually *lower* than our world as of 2013.... This is only for the moment, of course.
The fact that Japan's sphere of influence in Eastern Asia, and China have modernized so fast while the rest of the third world has largely followed OTL's path makes books like "The Bell Curve" or "IQ and the wealth of nations" more credible than OTL. As a result, immigration into first world nations tend to be limited to other first worlders, eastern europeans, Russians, east asians and latin americans who have money. The working class and unskilled labor in the first world does better as a result, but the professional class does less well due to competition from Chinese immigrants.
The internet as a mass medium is a decade older. As a result of 1) becoming widespread in a more outgoing period 2) the west having a bit more solidarity thanks to real competition(China, Japan and to a far lesser extent the FRE) internet culture is significantly more like the early net, albeit with more bandwidth. The phrase "Social Media" has never been used and Mark Zuckerberg recently killed himself after being fired from Mcdonald's.
There is a growing Chinese minority in more of the planet, with 1) the west 2) Latin America 3) Africa all being the areas with the biggest increases in population. These immigrants fit in well in some places like the US, are ghettoized in others like Malaya or France.