How Has Japan Become So Advanced?
A student passionate about Japanese culture shares some history about how Japan recovered from WW2 and became a potential world superpower
Uchechi Princewill is a fiction writer and medical student at the University of Benin, Nigeria. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in The Story Tree Challenge Maiden Anthology, and PPW DREAM Anthology. He is also a winner of the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Council Unseen and Unspoken Poetry Competition.
How Japan Became So Advanced
Asian pop culture has seen an explosion of global interest.
Korea has its pop music, drama and comics (k-pop, k-drama, and manhwa) and, depending on your personality, you’re probably addicted to one or all of these, and perhaps others I am not aware of.
Chinese pop culture has been its own thing for a long time. The movies and martial arts inspired a whole era. The animation is beautiful. The manhua delightfully strange.
Indian cinema is a whole other vibe. Or several, if you want to be accurate. Bollywood. Tollywood. Another Tollywood. Bhojiwood. Dhollywood. Pahariwood. Sandalwood. Mollywood. Ollywood. Pollywood. Kollywood. Deccanwood. The rabbit hole is bottomless, and I recommend you grab a snack or eight before diving in. And you definitely should dive in.
And Japan? Weeb is a spectrum, and we’re all on it. If you’re not fighting titans or slaying demons, you’re searching for an elusive one piece, or going to the most dramatic high school on earth, or maybe you’re progressively transforming into spikier-haired versions of yourself and fighting increasingly powerful opponents. Anime is a global phenomenon, and it has pointed our attention at Japan. What does our interest find? Japan, to many people, exudes the aura of an older brother. The cool one with all the coolest gadgets. Japan is the brother who does hot stuff and just goes on his way right after, because it’s normal for him. Of course, the Japanese would find some of these impressions ludicrous, but that won’t change that a lot of the world now sees Japan as some sort of futuristic pilgrimage site.
So, why is Japan so advanced?
It wasn’t always.
By 1946, the Japanese economy had been crippled by the effects of the Second World War. (1) The cotton industry had been brought to its knees. (2) And yet, despite the state of its economy in 1946, Japan was able to claw its way out from under the trauma of WWII, becoming the world’s second-largest economic entity by 1960. (3) This period of rapid total economic recovery is known as the Japanese economic miracle.
The ‘economic miracle’ was possible chiefly due to the efforts of the Japanese government in its economic interventionism, paving the way for the formation of a number of keiretsu (remarkable cooperative groups of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, and banks). Thus, we could say that the work of nation-building (that proved so thorough and speedy in its execution that the world termed it a miracle) was a cooperative effort of closely connected causes and effects, resulting in a fully formed and prosperous multi-faceted economy that has supported the social evolution of its people for decades without end. (4)
Most of the economic system that began to yield tremendous dividends in the later years of the miracle was cultivated between 1949 and 1953 by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, MITI, the government body principally concerned with industrial policy in Japan. The Japanese Finance Minister and subsequent Prime Minister at that time, Hayato Ikeda pursued a policy in line with the global development strategy of heavy industrialization. This policy ignited a series of events that resulted in two major economic positions of significance. The first was the national Bank of Japan gaining complete control over local banks without the use of force. The second was the emergence of keiretsu, loosely organized alliances of companies with interlocking business relationships and shareholdings centered on a core bank, an arrangement that effectively insulated each company from stock market fluctuations and takeover attempts while also enabling long-term project planning. (5,7)
The buoyancy the economy of Japan enjoyed during the most explosive years of the miracle was a result of the rapid growth of production-based revenue generated by the keiretsu on the capital backing of the banks. These two driving forces were direct results of the foresight-driven reforms of Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda and MITI. (5)
At a glance, we can see a lack of invasive foreign companies in Japanese industry as well as a powerful emphasis on exports. It is, however, interesting to note that the prevalence of Japanese-owned companies is more a result of the keiretsu locking out foreign companies from Japanese industries, and not the government introducing stifling anti-foreign laws. In other words, the growth of local businesses locked out foreign companies almost entirely on its own. This careful strategy ensured that the government wasn’t banning imports at points when local production was sorely insufficient to sustain the population. Rather, the quality and quantity of local production drove its own market even into export trade, and the Ikeda administration stimulated this growth through continually and carefully revised gradual import control in its Foreign Exchange Allocation Policy. (1,4,5)
Another important point of consideration is that the keiretsu was markedly different from the arrangement that preceded it, the zaibatsu, which basically consisted of family-controlled vertical monopolies. These zaibatsus held great influence over Japanese national and foreign policies, were affiliated with its political parties, were notoriously corrupt, and garnered suspicion on the basis of their continued prosperity even in the midst of an economic depression that was affecting the working class and creating increased poverty. The war brought an end to the zaibatsu, but it remains unknown whether Japan would have recovered from its near-destruction had the zaibatsu not been replaced by the newer, more progressive keiretsu. (4)
By the time Ikeda left the office of Prime Minister, the Gross Domestic Product was growing at a phenomenal rate of 11.7 percent. (6) That was 1964, and principles that guided Japan into the economic miracle have remained largely intact into the 21st century.
So, why is Japan so advanced? The country’s leadership took full advantage of the opportunities available to them at a time when their economy was in shambles, and they have not let go since. They forsook the pursuit of war-making for the chance to build a society that could survive. So, the next time Eren says 'tatakae', remember that a great fight is not for itself but for progress.
- Nakamura, T. (1981). The postwar Japanese economy: its development and structure. University of Tokyo Press. p. 56.
- Macnaughtan, H. (2004). Women, Work and the Japanese Economic Miracle: The case of the cotton textile industry, 1945-1975. Routledge. p. 11
- "Ranking of the World's Richest Countries by GDP (1967) – Classora Knowledge Base". en.classora.com. Archived from the original on 29 May 2020.
- McGuire, J., & Dow, S. (2009). Japanese keiretsu: Past, present, future. Asia Pacific journal of management, 26(2), 333-351.
- Johnson, C. (1982). MITI and the Japanese Miracle: The Growth of Industrial Policy, 1925–1975. Stanford University Press. p. 211
- World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files (1961-2022). GDP growth (annual%) - Japan data.worldbank.org.
- Tetsuji, O. (2015, February 9). Lessons from the Japanese Miracle: Building the Foundations for a New Growth Paradigm. nippon.com
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