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Political reform in Japan

The reconstruction of Japan as a nation since World War II
Sociology 33
Chin-shou Wang
April 16, 2004
Daniel Cummins
Hana Crume
Julia Easton
Peter Grigg
Honor Code:

Political reform in Japan:
The reconstruction of Japan as a nation since World War II
Throughout the past sixty years, Japan has grown from a defeated militar
y super power to one of the most influential and prosperous nations in the world
. The post World War II political climate in Japan provides a window of underst
anding into this successful metamorphosis. However, such an extreme example of
a reform-driven society cannot be simply explained as one type of reform or anot
her. Rather, it must be seen as a melting pot of several forces, molded and led
by a changing political society. Among these forces are economic advances, ben
eficial foreign relations, and social movements.
In order to provide an illustration of Japanfs total reform package, an i
nitial explanation of the changing political history is necessary. After World
War II, the United States occupied Japan for six years. During this time, Japan
ese officials were under the command of political reform movements proposed by t
he U.S. and headed by General MacArthur. The initial concern was devising a new
constitution for Japan. The Japanese cabinet and General MacArthur went throug
h a series of negotiations and in 1946, finally agreed on a U.S. made constituti
on. In it, Article nine renounced Japanfs right to go to war and banned their us
e of armed force (gThe third openingh 21). In effect, Japanese politicians, now d
ependent on U.S. armed forces, gained semi-sovereignty. There would be freedom
of speech and assembly, free trade unions, womenfs suffrage, and dissolution of g
iant financial and industrial trusts. Japan was to become a parliamentary democ
racy with political power in the hands of the peoplefs elected representatives.
The reforms brought about by the occupation seemed to point towards a tr
ue democracy. Even after the occupation in 1955 there was a two party system?th
e conservative LDP and the leftist Social Democrats. However, this initial demo
cratic nirvana would soon transform into a single party monopoly. The LDP rapid
ly gained control over other parties and generally maintained that control over
any opposition party for several reasons.
One of the most influential factors that contributed to LDP rule was the
multi-member constituency system, which did not place a limit on the number of
candidates a party could fund. This of course required vast amounts of financia
l resources, something that the LDP already had. In fact, gThe LDP alone had the
financial resources to put up several candidates in a single constituency,h let
alone a multiple constituency. (McCargo 101). The result was low competition in
elections as other parties lacked the funds to put up as many candidates. Comp
etition was usually so low that the strongest opposition that LDP candidates fac
ed under this system was from other rival LDP candidates. When rival candidates
from the same party compete against each other, it is pointless to campaign on
party issues and policies. Instead, votes are gained by offering material benef
its and jobs to small provinces and interest groups and getting financial suppor
t from rich bankers and bureaucrats. This high intra-party competition among ca
ndidates leads to factionalism and corruption in an attempt to keep their LDP ti
Their Relationship with the bureaucracy magnifies this overwhelming corruption a
nd power. LDP Faction leaders often played the role of middleman between busine
sses and bureaucracy. By providing under-the-table benefits to both sides, the
faction leaders were able to receive substantial funding for campaigning. Like
the multi-member constituency system, this allowed the LDP candidates to once ag
ain avoid controversial policy issues. To perpetuate their positions, all they
needed to do was use political clout to sell access to and influence between bus
inesses and the bureaucracy. One example of this corrupt relationship is found
in the case of Japanese premier Kakuei Tanaka. In 1976, evidence emerged that h
e had awarded an American aircraft manufacturer a contract to supply all Nippon
Airways with a number of their planes. In return, the American aircraft company
had paid Tanaka substantial bribes to support his political position (McCargo 1
07). Although illegal, this campaign funding was such a common affair that, gSin
ce 1975, the Japanese have experienced some 18 major political corruption scanda
lsh (Chalmers 23).
Another factor contributing to the LDP monopoly was the electoral districts. Th
e districts were drawn in 1947 based on the dominant rural population of that ti
me. The LDP drew its initial strength from the rural population by offering ben
efits to the farmers such as rice subsidies and a limit on foreign agricultural
imports. Although helping out the rural citizens, these benefits came at the ex
pense of the urban citizens. This was of no concern to the LDP since the distri
cts were already drawn to their favor. In effect, they did not focus on the comp
laints and problems of the cities, despite the growing number of urban citizens,
and refused to redraw the districts to accommodate the shift in population dist
ribution. Therefore, the opposition parties were unable to draw a unified urban
support in any electoral district.
There was a brief moment in Japanese history, however, in which the opposition p
arties experienced short-lived rule. Throughout the 1980fs, Japan saw a vast eco
nomic growth, and LDP politicians in turn saw vast benefits from more companies.
This bubble of economic growth brought with it continuing western influence ove
r the Japanese, even after the bubble burst in 1992. In effect, according to St
even Butler of the US News and World Report, there was a cultural movement from
Japanese consensus to western individualism that contributed to a strong desire
to vote for the opposition parties in the election of 1993 (34). At the same ti
me, the benefits that the LDP reaped in from scandals during the economic growth
resurfaced during the election.
The strong desire that the Japanese people had for younger, less corrupt, and m
ore outspoken leaders was reflected in their votes for Hosokawa of the New Party
for prime minister. Unfortunately, three major forces made his rule difficult.
First of all, the opposition parties, split between a radical and a moderate s
tance on reforming the electoral process, failed in creating a unified front aga
inst the LDP. Second, despite Hosokawafs platform against funding scandals, it w
as ironically revealed during his rule of prime minister that he himself was inv
olved in a political funding scandal. Third, all the while, the LDP was still th
e largest party in both upper and lower houses after joining with the socialists
, and still had close ties with bureaucrats. Hosokawa resigned from office in 1
994, ending the brief opposition rule.
Despite its brevity, the opposition was able to influence some electoral reforms
, contributing to a movement from the multi-member constituency system to a sing
le member constituency system for the 1996 election. Ideally, candidates were a
ble to speak about issues rather than provide small groups of voters with benefi
ts, and campaigning corruption was meant to be restricted. However, smaller par
ties still lacked the money to build local machines and buy television advertisi
ng. (gBlowing in the Wind 37). So though the LDP is restricted in campaign spend
ing it can still use its money to override other parties.
Currently, there is still a one-party rule of the LDP with strongest support in
rural areas, where the voters still look to them to take care of local needs. H
owever, due to the growing popularity of campaign manifestos?detailed reports ab
out a candidatefs plans to take care of larger issues allowing urban voters to ma
ke clearer choices?the opposition Democratic Party is showing increasing support
with each subsequent election (The Economist, 1995).
In the final years of World War II Japan witnessed the destruction of its econom
y as the Allies bombed their cities continuously. Manufacturing sites were targe
ted thus destroying Japanfs production capital and bringing an abrupt halt to the
economy. Upon its surrender Japan was enshrouded in an economic crisis. The dam
age caused by the Allied bombings equaled twice the national income of the fisca
l years of 1948 and 1949 and cost Japan nearly 25% of its national wealth (Allen
). The collapse of the economy combined with the massive war debts led Japan int
o a period of hyperinflation soaring into the triple digits (Imai). The bombings
also destroyed much of the residential areas in the cities accounting for 25% o
f the countries housing (Allen). The housing shortage grew substantially as six
million Japanese military personnel and civilians returned from the occupied lan
ds that the country lost upon surrender. Agriculture also suffered in this time;
production equaled approximately 1/3 of its prewar levels. In addition to the l
ow production, the disorganization brought about by the frantic evacuations of c
ities during Allied bombings created major problems in agricultural transportati
on and distribution; as a result, food shortages were rampant. The Japanese reli
ed on the American imports of food and raw materials to provide them with the ba
sic necessities to survive. The Japanese economy was paralyzed creating several
years of suffering for the population; but they were eager to work with the Amer
ican occupation force to reconstruct that which had been lost. Over the next 60
years through various economical reforms and government assistance Japan develop
ed its economy at such an astounding rate as to rank it second only to the Unite
d States.
The Allied occupation, overseen by General Douglas MacArthur, lasted six
years from August 1945 to April 1952 (Japan-guide). During this period MacArthu
r implemented several reforms that would reshape the Japanese economic landscape
into a democratized free-market economy. In 1946 and 1947 MacArthur enacted lan
d reforms that confiscated large tracts of land from absentee land owners and re
sold it to tenant farmers at low prices (Imai). The result was twofold; it creat
ed a large middle class that contributed to economic growth through savings inve
stments, but it hindered agricultural growth rates as smaller farms were unable
to employ economies of scale and could not afford more advanced technology (Imai
The occupation forces reformed education based on the American model. A
ll children were required to attend school: elementary school for six years midd
le school for three years (Imai). Coeducation was also introduced into the publi
c school system. The new system created a more uniform educated labor force by
offering a standard system of education to both men and women throughout the cou
ntry. The existence of a well-educated work force was essential to the rapid eco
nomic growth in the years to follow.
MacArthur imposed labor reforms in the forms of legislation that legaliz
ed the formation of trade and labor unions; the law was known as the Law Union L
aw enacted in 1946. His goal was to provide factory workers and state employees
with a method of negotiating higher wages and more benefits. Unexpectedly, the u
nions quickly rose to become militant forces, and many fell under the influence
of the Communist party (Brower). Harsh strikes took place in 1946 and 1947 in re
sponse to shortages.
The other major economic reform was MacArthurfs anti-trust measures of br
eaking up the monopolistic zaibatsu, giant family-owned trusts that spanned acro
ss different industries. The goal was to break up the concentration of power all
owing for a more competitive market; this would give a greater number of smaller
enterprises greater opportunities. The legislation did produce the desired effe
ct but the large trusts reappeared after the onset of the Korean War in which th
e Diet took advantage of the Americanfs relaxing of anti-monopoly laws in order t
o allow Japan to compete more effectively in the international arena. On Septemb
er 1, 1953 the Diet amended the Anti-Monopoly Law giving large trusts the abilit
y to once again amass economic power (Escobar).
Japan had to recover from the war before it was capable of growing econo
mically. The years following the war witnessed the hyperinflation of Japanese cu
rrency due to the paralysis of production and the immense war debts. To combat t
his the Allied Occupation Force imposed an austerity plan in 1949, known as the
Dodge Plan, which proposed nine points to stabilizing Japanese economy. These po
ints included balancing the budget, strengthening the tax program, limiting cred
it expansion to economic recovery, wage stabilization, price controls, foreign t
rade and exchange controls, rationing, increasing production, and improving food
collection program (era of Japan). What followed was a rapid deflation that was
only curved by the onset of the Korean War in 1950. At this point the United St
ates reevaluated the role of Japan in the international community and concluded
that what was its enemy only a few years before must now become its ally in chec
king the spread of Communism. The principle effect of this new view was the shif
t in the goals for Japanfs reconstruction; the new priority lied in hastening Jap
anfs economic recovery to provide the U.S. with a Southeast Asian ally capable of
providing the economic and military needs. MacArthur planned to make Japan a gse
lf-supporting nationh (Brower) in order to defend itself from Communism; this, in
effect, released some of the resources that the Allies allocated to protect the
country, and, by cutting expenses, lowering the budget deficit, and taking adva
ntage of increasing American demand for Japanese goods, it placed Japan in a pos
ition to begin rapid economic growth. By 1951 the gross national product reached
its 1934-1936 level and by 1954 per capita income also returned to its 1934-193
6 level.
Due to its relative lack of natural resources Japan focused on becoming
an export-oriented economy. According to Rodolfo Rosas Escobar, gmuch of what it
manufactured would be sold abroad and the foreign currency they made would be in
vested in the purchase of technology, management, raw materials and energy sourc
es for its further industrial developmenth (Escobar). The country saw unsurpassed
economic expansion from the period of the 1950 to 1973. In 1960, Prime Minister
Ikeda took office and announced his plan of gdoubling income in ten years,h depic
ting the confidence and drive of the economy; this plan succeeded in only seven
years (Imai). The annual growth rate averaged 11% during the 1960s compared to t
he United Statesf 4.3%. The economic growth was so rapid that by the 1980s the ec
onomy was the second largest in the world despite its relatively small size and
resource-poor geography (Post-Occupied Japan).
The factors that created the environment for Japanfs economic boom can be
divided into two categories: factors created before the rapid growth, and facto
rs created during the growth that contributed to its continued momentum. After t
he war, the six million returning Japanese helped create a large, homogenous, ed
ucated work force. The social geography witnessed a transformation as many moved
from rural areas into urban cities looking for jobs; this motivated the focus o
f economic investment and reform in urban areas. By 1950 Japan had a very large,
cheap, and able work force. While the unions bargained for higher wages, many l
arge companies, pressured by the government to create a welfare-society, employe
d a policy of guaranteeing its employees life-long employment if they took lower
wages. Two results emerged, the economy had an abundance of cooperative and che
ap labor and the government was able to avoid spending on unemployment benefits
A second factor occurring before the economic boom was the new constitut
ionfs restriction of 1% GDP on military spending. MacArthur demanded it include a
statement saying, gnever again shall we be visited with the horrors of war throu
gh the actions of governmenth (Brower). During the war, Japan spent 90% of its GD
P on the military (Hoshino). This restriction freed massive amounts of governmen
t funds for other sectors of society.
The changing role of technology before and during the boom influenced its s
uccess. During the war the economy developed rapidly creating a strong presence
in heavy industry. According to Escobar, gMuch of the increasingly militarized ec
onomy was diverse and sophisticated in ways that facilitated conversion to peace
time activityh (Escobar). The economy was dynamic enough that companies were able
to convert the wartime advances into economic development in the reconstruction
; for example, machine gun factories were turned into sewing machine factories a
nd optical weapons factories shifted to cameras and binoculars (Escobar). In add
ition to its own technological advances, Japanese companies relied extensively o
n the equipment leases of U.S. corporations.
The international arena also helped spawn the Japanese economic miracle
by providing it with the resources it needed from production materials to foreig
n markets. In the 1950s with Japanfs focus on heavy industry it relied on cheap o
il and raw materials from abroad. Furthermore, the trade treaties among governme
nts, such as GATT, opened trade systems allowing Japan to enter foreign markets
relatively easily. Its relationship with the U.S. offered it a unique opportunit
y; U.S. policy allowed Japanese corporations to enter its markets without suffer
ing tariffs while Japan imposed heavy taxes on American companies attempting to
enter the Japanese market. This unbalanced relationship led to the U.S. developi
ng a large trade deficit.
The most influential factor governing the economic growth was the charac
teristics of investments and how they flowed into the private sector. A high ava
ilability of loans allowed companies to borrow easily and grow remarkably quickl
y. In general, these investments gmade Japanese industries more competitive on th
e world market, created new products, and brought Japanese enterprises the benef
its of mass production and improved productivity of the workerh (Batfa Japan Inc.
). The prime source of investment capital was the high level of Japanese househo
ldsf savings rate. According to Escobar, gthe average household saved under 10 per
cent of its income in the early 1950s, but savings rate soared steadily as the e
conomy grew and reached 15 percent by 1960 and topped 20 percent by 1970h (Escoba
r); these funds were routed into economic development. They were placed in priva
te banks and public institutions such as the Japan Development Bank that was fou
nded in 1951 under the Japan Development Bank Law as an integrated policy-based
financial institution ( This particular establishment had access t
o a large pool of funds known as the Fiscal Investment and Loan Plan (FLIP) whic
h offered individual investors the attractive offer of tax exempt accounts; Esco
bar states, gFLIP thus amassed the savings four times the size of the worldfs larg
est commercial bankh (Escobar). In addition to the high level of private investme
nt, the government followed a budget balancing policy that did not crowd out oth
er investments (Imai) ensuring the flow of private investment into economic deve
lopment. Policy also regulated the flow of investment to domestic industries by
setting controls against foreign investment (Imai). By keeping investment intern
al to Japan it removed the need to seek foreign capital thereby protecting the J
apanese economy from external shocks.
A second highly influential factor was the role of MITI and the Ministry
of Finance. MITI was created in 1949 and its primary function was to allocate t
he government more control in determining the reconstruction of Japanese economy
through trade policies and domestic economic regulation. MITI was in charge of
strengthening Japanfs industrial base (FAS: Intelligence Resource Program). To ac
complish this it provided industries with assistance in administration, moderniz
ation, technology intelligence, investments, and protection from import competit
ion and regulation of domestic competition (FAS: Intelligence Resource Program).
MITI accomplished this through the implementation of tariffs, quotas, subsidies
in the form of low-interest loans, and other regulating measures. Furthermore,
it regulated the movement of investments and labor from industries in decline, s
uch as coal when oil began to dominate the energy sector, to newer industries wi
th high growth potential. With MITIfs guidance the economy initially focused on h
eavy industry production, such as steel and automobiles, because raw materials a
nd oil were relatively cheap, but after OPECfs embargo MITI helped steer the econ
omy away from high-energy required industries to high-value added industries suc
h as semiconductors, robotics, computers, and bioengineering (
Because MITI has such a vast influence over the economy and foreign trade it ha
s allowed the government to maximize the efficiency of economic policies and red
uce conflicts between the economy and trade thereby providing the export industr
ies a safe environment.
MITI has also regulated domestic competition by directing investments to
relatively few specific promising firms. Though the zaibatsu were dissolved in
1947 by the Allied Occupation Force, in 1953 with MITIfs desire to create less co
mpetition to maximize the use of resources, the Diet amended the Anti-Monopoly L
aw. Many of the monopolies returned and the development of a new business networ
k emerged known as keiretsu. With close ties to the government, the keiretsu ens
ured long-term stability and benefits to the industries. Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and
Fuyo are examples of horizontal keiretsu while Nissan, Toyota, and Sony are ver
tical keiretsu. These trusts cooperate with each other and with MITI to compete
with foreign companies in foreign markets. Many corporations agree focus on comp
eting domestically thereby artificially keeping prices high; simultaneously they
undersell foreign competition thus driving them out of business in their own ma
rkets. The television industry serves as one example; through low prices and adv
anced technology Japanese television makers have drove all of the American compe
tition out of business except for Zenith, which remains as the last American tel
evision maker.
A final factor in the economic boom was Japanfs fixed exchange rate of 36
0 yen per dollar. This rate guaranteed international competitiveness by presenti
ng relatively cheap Japanese exports. This situation allowed Japan to amass a la
rge trade surplus of 5.8 billion U.S. dollars by 1971 (Value of the Yen). At thi
s point the United States felt that the yen was undervalued which played a facto
r in President Nixonfs decision to suspend the gold convertibility to the dollar
(Imai). Afterwards, the United States, followed by the rest of the world, switch
ed to a floating exchange system. Japan finally joined this trend in 1973 and so
on found that the value of the yen was increasing making its exports appear less
attractive and imports were becoming more expensive; Japan began to lose the tr
ade surplus that it had amassed (Value of the Yen).
The new floating exchange system marked the end of the economic miracle.
In order to accommodate for the transformation the Japanese government decided
promote moderate inflation; in 1972 Prime Minister Tanakafs government lowered in
terest rates and increased the supply of money thereby created inflationary pres
sure on the economy (Imai). In October 1973 OPEC announced the oil embargo, whic
h had a major blow on the oil-focused industry. As a result, inflation soared. B
y 1974 the gfWild Inflationf [Kyo-ran Bukka] reached 30%h (Imai). Corporationsf deman
d for investments dropped as their expected earnings fell, and the economy slowe
d because without the economyfs spending on advanced technology productivity woul
d not rise. The real growth of the 1974 fiscal year dropped to ?0.5% (Batfa Japa
n Inc.). MITI acted to protect the industrial base by pressuring the economy to
shift its focus from high-energy sectors to new energy-saving sectors. The autom
obile industry serves as one example of the industryfs shift in focus; it shifted
to producing lighter and more economical automobiles ( In 1979 w
ith the Iranian revolution breaking out another oil shock hit the world. The Jap
anese government was better prepared and took measures to tighten its hold on ca
pital. In 1980 the economy slumped into a recession as businesses and individual
s cut their spending. The growth rate dropped to an average of 3.6%, which was o
n par with the rest of the industrialized countries ( By the mid
1980s OPEC had cut its oil prices and combined with the weakened yen the Japanes
e economy began to grow again with the increase of private-sector investment (Ba
tfa Japan Inc.).
1985 marked the beginning of Japanfs bubble economy as the yen increased
to three times its value in 1971 ( As a result, foreign exports b
ecame less competitive but the government took measures to increase demand domes
tically. Banks played a key role in the development of the bubble economy lendin
g out a total of 69 trillion yen (Notes on: Japanfs Capitalism). The trend lasted
until 1989 when the government suppressed the rising real estate values by tigh
tening monetary policies ( This in turn sent stock prices plungin
g, and combined with the dropping real estate values led many corporations to de
fault on loans and even into bankruptcy. By 1993 the recession hit its lowest po
int and has been recovering since then. In 1995 the yen reached an all-time high
, which prompted the expansion and investment in overseas markets.
Such changing tides in reform measures like economics would not remain the same
without foreign relations. Since the onset of the 20th century, the world at la
rge has been on a steady course of interconnection and co-dependency, starting f
rom the beginnings of mass communication such as the telephone and highly organi
zed mail systems, to todayfs instantaneous communication via the internet and cel
l phones and the like. Furthermore, map-changing events such as wars, territoria
l expansion, and economic partnership shape the global climate in drastic ways.

The separation between East and West has always been present in a myriad
of ways, be they cultural or political. Only in recent centuries have doors be
gun to open toward creating a truly unified planet. The 20th century saw this p
rocess accelerate to unprecedented speeds, as the size of our world appears to s
hrink at a surprising rate. Japan and the United States are two nations whose r
espective histories are integral to world events. In the last half-century these
two world powers have played vital roles in the development of the balance of m
ilitary power and greater world economy.
As the fates of both nations have appeared to be at least partially conn
ected, of paramount importance to this timeline is the nature of the role of the
United States in Japanese history. Certainly the US has served a vital role in
many major events over the years, and has been a deciding factor in much of Jap
an's development in the last 50 to 60 years.
The end of the Second World War saw Japan left with a devastated infrast
ructure, crippled economy, and an unsure sense of national identity. Nearly eve
ry large city in the country, with the exception of Kyoto and others, was either
destroyed or severely damaged. Japan's industrial might and transportation se
rvices were heavily hindered, and the nation was in need of some restructuring.
By contrast, the United States emerged from the war a victorious world superpow
er. It had demonstrated to the world, for better or for worse, that it was a fo
rce with which to be reckoned both militarily and economically. Being the first
and to date only nation ever to deploy nuclear weapons in an armed conflict set
it apart from the rest of the world. In terms of Japan, since the United State
s was the cause of much of its destruction and for the loss of infrastructure, a
nd thus became the main responsible party for aiding in the nation's reconstruct
The Allied occupation of Japan began in August 1945 and would continue f
or 7 years. Largely headed by American leaders, the operation was put under the
stewardship of Supreme Commander General George MacArthur. The stipulations of
the early terms were that Japan would lose essentially lose all the territory i
t had acquired after 1894, regardless of means. Island groups Kurile and Ryukyu
were occupied by the Soviet Union and the United States, respectively. Okinaw
a, the ongoing site of a US military presence for many years, was eventually ret
urned to Japan in 1972.
To say that the United States was a very visible presence during the occ
upation years is putting the situation mildly. General MacArthur was a man among
many Americans with definite ideas on how affairs should be run in Japan's brav
e new world. As a result, the new Japanese constitution championed some very Am
erican ideals. The emperor was removed from a position of authoritative total p
ower, in a typically American anti-monarchist move. Universal suffrage was gran
ted to all and thereby provided what is arguably the most essential aspect of a
democracy, voting. The separation of church and state, a key tenet of cultural
and religious stability in the United States, was transplanted across the Pacifi
c, as Japan's native religion of Shintoism was removed (or freed, depending on o
ne's perspective) from the Japanese state.
In addition to ideological governmental imports, the United States also
spearheaded the new Japanese economy into one more closely following a western r
ecipe for success. Less centralization was the theme, and MacArthur sought to b
reak up concentrations of power by dissolving the Zaibatsu and other large compa
nies, in favor of more traditionally capitalist competition. Additionally, the
public education system and police departments were also decentralized. It was
felt by many that the only way to get Japan on its feet would be to get the popu
lous en masse to become more involved in the fate of the nation. This meant smal
ler companies, economic competition, and less centralized government.
Overall, from the perspective of the United States, the occupation of Ja
pan and the development of the nation following the war years in essence consist
ed of exporting what worked in the Western world and applying historically Ameri
can concepts into a Japanese context as a blueprint for the formative years of t
he new Japanese world.
The transition from occupation to autonomy began in the years surroundin
g the early 1950's. Overall the cooperation between the Japanese and Allied pow
ers is considered to have been relatively smooth, all things considered. Neverth
eless, over time Japan sought to emerge from behind an Allied curtain and become
its own nation. With the advent of the Cold War, the United States was increasi
ngly pressured to act in its own interests, thus generating some critics in the
Japanese government. The US attempted to heighten its security against communi
sts, station more troops in Japan, and pressured the Japanese to establish a 'se
lf-defense force' despite the restrictions of the anti-war clause in the new Jap
anese constitution. As many considered this new shift in United States emphasis
to be a 'reverse course', some Japanese felt that the time was right to end dir
ect US involvement. The occupation officially ended in April of 1952. When the
Self-Defense Force was established in 1954, public demonstrations abounded as ma
ny Japanese feared that sowing the seeds of a military might lead them back to t
he type of nation that led them to war. Nevertheless, with the treaty signed an
d America across the ocean, Japan began a rapid economic climb that would contin
ue for decades.
At this point in history, the United States had played an important role
in helping to form the basis of the Japanese government by importing some of it
s own ideas. American leaders knew that Japan could and most likely would becom
e an important economic force in the world, and thus sought to encourage a metam
orphosis in which the Japanese work ethic that gave Japan its strong military mi
ght displayed during the second world war could be channeled into a similarly st
rong economic juggernaut. Sure enough, over the years that followed, Japan would
do just that.
Over the next few decades, Japan's economy would flourish, promoting rai
sed living standards, societal changes, and solidifying the general niche of Jap
an amongst the other nations of the world. During the Korean War, the United Sta
tes would use the remnants of Japan's 1940's war industry to help supply and fin
ance the Allied war effort in Korea. With this acceleration, Japan's economy wo
uld grow even further in the years following into the 1960's.
Japan and the US would find themselves in similar predicaments in the 19
70's when oil became a precious commodity. With the 'oil shocks' of 1973 and 1
979, it began to become clear to Japanese and American businessmen that with the
profitability of oil shrinking, and the rising issues of pollution-related illn
esses and environmental concerns, technology would replace industry as the lifeb
lood of their joined economies. America's cultural climate in the late 1970's a
nd 80's would provide a breeding ground for Japanese investments. Stereos, colo
r televisions, and the like would flood into the West at amazingly low prices gu
aranteeing their Japanese manufactures an edge over their domestic counterparts.
Japan applied the now-famous motto of 'smaller and more efficient' to its tech
nological forays and with the combined force of numerous juggernaut companies li
ke Sony, Mitsubishi, and Sanyo, made a name for itself in the United States as a
n economic force in the technological revolution of the 20th century. Respondin
g American companies in true capitalistic spirit sought to increase their compet
itiveness. Thus the result was a myriad of low-priced, well-produced products in
America. Applying this same principle to automobiles, manufacturers such as To
yota and Honda had similar effects on the American motor industry, and result wa
s again an influx of low-priced, relatively well-produced cars into the West.
Many analysts have opined that the ruthlessness with which Americans and
Japanese fought in the Second World War is the same tenacity employed by their
sons and daughters in the technological wars of the 1980's. Many American manuf
acturers and retailers advertised their products by appealing to the American pa
triotic spirit. 'American-made' was the catch phrase used to promote domestic bu
siness and products. This competitive spirit continued through until the early
90's, when the Japanese economy, for lack of a better term, reached critical mas
s, as stock market prices plunged, and many of Japans major financial institutio
ns faced bankruptcy.
Throughout the 1990's Japan's technological race with the United States
would lessen to a degree. Not until the early part of the 2000's would Japan re
bound with fresh new ideas in the telecommunications industry. The rapidly growi
ng network of wireless Internet, cellular phones and digital communication techn
ologies is creating a similar situation in telecommunications to the entertainme
nt technology boom in the 1980's. Recent years have seen the Japanese stock mar
ket fluctuate to the degree that some analysts believe another technological eco
nomic war between the United States and Japan may be just beyond the horizon.
Overall, the United States has without question had a pivotal role in th
e history of Japan since the Second World War. Furthermore, in laying the found
ation for the Japanese government, the United States would unwittingly create an
economic monster that would soon rival its own world superiority. The past hal
f-century has seen an import/export relationship of political ideology, economic
business, and competitive spirit that will only continue to grow in the future
and further invigorate the world economy.
Along with developments in Japanfs foreign relations and economy, methods of prot
est and social movements have also come a long way. Until recent events convinc
ed Japanese government officials to send troops to Iraq, post World War II Japan
has been firm in its efforts to remain a peaceful country. Peaceful in this ca
se, however, does not mean static. Despite its nonviolent policies, Japanese ci
tizens have swayed domestic and international opinion on a number of issues, usi
ng strategies that are alternatives to violence. Two of the better-known social
movements that swept through Japan were the womenfs movement, led by the New Jap
an Womenfs Association and the anti-Vietnam War movement, led by Beheiren. Both
demonstrated Japanfs anti-war sentiments during the Vietnam War, and both continu
e their activities today.
Beheiren, also known as the Citizenfs Alliance for Peace in Vietnam, is known to
many as the originator of civic movements in Japan (Amenomori, online). It was
formed in 1965 by the modern left (separate from the institutional left) and lib
eral intellectuals, such as Makato Oda, to protest the United Statesf bombing of
northern Vietnam. Membership in this organization was completely voluntary ? an
yone who participated was a member, there was no paid staff, and participants we
re responsible for bearing their own risk in situations that may have been dange
rous. Beheiren members formed 381 known groups at schools, workplaces, and comm
unities throughout the country. It was characterized by its refusal to set a fi
rm hierarchy and centralized leadership (Naso, pg. 4).
Beheiren is best known for its support for United States Army deserters. In 196
7, for example, Beheiren helped four deserters from the US Carrier Intrepid flee
to Sweden through the Soviet Union, while the Carrier was anchored at Yokosuka
(Japan Times, online). During its existence, this movement helped over twenty d
eserters escape the army, sometimes providing them with foreign passports to fac
ilitate their exit from Japan. It also supported the GIfs who were stationed at
the Marine Corps Air Station at Iwakuni, who were writing and publishing the und
erground, anti-war newspaper gSemper Fi.h
Beheiren leaders understood the importance of communicating with the outside wor
ld, and learned from the American Peace movement how to use mass media to connec
t and appeal to more people more effectively. One example of how Beheiren put t
his knowledge to use is when it bought advertisements in the New York Times to e
xpress its membersf outrage at the war and to accuse Americans of hypocrisy (Iriy
e, online). Internationally, Beheiren gained support from such salient world fi
gures as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Joan Baez, and Noam Chomsky (Hira
no, pg. 8). Beheirenfs official existence ended in 1974, with the signing of the
Paris Agreement on Peace in the Vietnam War, but its members have remained acti
ve until this day. Recently, former Beheiren members have been donating documen
ts and films on the organization and its operations and equipment to the Museum
of Vestiges in Ho Chi Minh City (Nhan Dan, online). Several objects given to th
e museum have included badges and posters donned with slogans opposing the Vietn
am War, and journals published by pacifist soldiers from United States military
bases throughout Japan. Because of the Japanese governmentfs silence on the issu
e of the Vietnam War and the United Statesf bombings of Vietnam, citizens found a
way to clearly express their sentiments to their own political leaders and thos
e of other countries as well.
The womenfs movement is one of the bigger ongoing social movements in Japanfs hist
ory. One of the largest womenfs rights organizations, the New Japan Womenfs Assoc
iation (NJWA), or Shinfujin, was founded on October 19, 1962, by 32 Japanese wom
en. Since then, it has grown to include 170,000 members, and has local headquar
ters in all 47 prefectures of Japan. It is a member of the Japan Federation of
Womenfs Organizations and the International Womenfs Year Liaison Group, and in May
of 2003, the NJWA was granted Special Consultative Status by the UN Economic &
Social Council. Its weekly paper, the gShinfujin Shimbun,h is read by some 300,00
0 subscribers.
The NJWA focuses on issues such as womenfs rights, equality with men, better livi
ng and working conditions, child-care support, education, environmental protecti
on, peace, and the elimination of nuclear weapons, through five main objectives.
These objectives are:
1. To protect the lives of women and children from the dangers of nuclear w
2. To oppose the adverse revision of the Constitution and the resurgence of
3. To work together for better living conditions, extended womenfs rights, a
nd childrenfs happiness.
4. To win genuine national independence, democracy, and emancipation of wom
5. To join hands with women in the world for building lasting peace.
(NJWA, online)
One of the most recent concerns that the NJWA has addressed is the war in Iraq.
The Liberal Democratic Party, in coalition with the Komei Party, supports the U
nited States war on Iraq and passed the legislation that lets Japan enter wars t
hat the United States started. This legislation allow Japanese Self-Defense for
ces to use arms and mobilize citizens by enforcing penalties on those who do not
submit to the governmentfs calls for support. The women involved in the NJWA op
pose this war very strongly, perhaps as a result of having felt the damaging eff
ects of war first-hand (Yamane, online). In 1945, the United States dropped ato
mic bombs on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing over 200,000 instantly, and ca
using 310,000 others to suffer from bomb-related diseases and disabilities almos
t 60 years later. Because of the disastrous results of these bombs on Japanese
citizens, the NJWA understands the importance of peace and non-violence as a met
hod of conflict resolution, and for that reason is against the war in Iraq. Wor
king under slogans such as gLives of Iraqi children are as precious as the lives
of our own,h the NJWA is doing a good deal of international work concerning world
peace as well. For instance, in January of 2003, the NJWA appealed to and gain
ed the support of women all over the world to join their gMy Peace Actionh campaig
n and to work together to institute international rules for peace under United N
ations initiatives (NJWA, online). Within Japan, the NJWA, along with several o
ther womenfs organizations, held seminars, made a petition to the Japanese Diet,
and visited embassies and consulates, asking them to resolve the Iraq issue peac
efully. Locally, NJWA members wear ribbons and badges to express their position
, put up posters, send e-mails, and organize peace walks, like the International
Womenfs Day rallies held on March 8 in over 100 different areas of Japan.
Another active womenfs group in Japan is the Motherfs Movement for Peace, which me
ets annually as the Motherfs Congress. Founded in Tokyo in 1955, this organizati
on has gradually gained support and respect throughout the country. Keiki Asano
, from Yawatahama City, said of the Motherfs Congress, gIfve never seen such strong
womenfs power as this and I am convinced that it is women who change society at
the grassroots levelh (Yamane, online). A main motivating factor for the formati
on of this group was the 1954 hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll that killed one
Japanese fisherman and injured dozens of others. One huge impact that this gro
up has had on Japanese society came as a result of a resolution adopted at the 6
th Motherfs Congress in 1960 to eliminate Infantile Paralysis. The members becam
e a solid force that visited the Welfare Ministry, organized and participated in
sit-ins with their children, and eventually convinced the Japanese government t
o import vaccines from the USSR that saved 10,000 children from the disease (Yam
ane, online). The Liberal Democratic Party, in modifying the Japan-United State
s Security Treaty, suppressed the Motherfs Congressf activities at the same time i
t was trying to suppress Communism, and halted subsidies that helped the group r
un. One mother displayed her fervent support for the group by replying, gIf it i
s eredf to protect our children, letfs all become eredf.h Her intense emotion and wil
lingness to risk her own safety and rights was reflected in the rest of the wome
n involved in the Motherfs Movement for Peace, and is representative of the senti
ments felt by many women throughout Japan.
The nonviolent manner in which the Japanese citizens from all walks of life proc
eeded with these movements is key to understanding the development of Japanese g
overnment and the political reform that has shaped this country since World War
II. Although neither the womenfs movement nor Beheiren actually changed any gove
rnment policies towards the Vietnam War, or wars in general, they are landmark c
ases because they paved the way for other similar, grassroots organizations to m
ake an impact using peaceful methods of protesting.
Impacts and instabilities have plagued and blessed Japanfs citizens for the past
60 years. Geographical form may be the only easily distinguishable similarity
between todayfs Japan and the Japan of 1945. Japanfs post World War II stage was
set for a changing society. Framed with a transforming political climate, refor
m measures touched the arenas of economics, foreign relations, and social moveme
nts. The product is a dynamic country, ready for continuous changes and a part
in the larger global arena.
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