20th Century Japan
The end of Japanese isolation
The origins of Japan, Inc.
At the beginning of this century, Japan had already begun one of the most radical changes societies have seen in recent times. In the space of a few short decades, Japan had, under the auspices of the Meiji Restoration, undergone a systematic effort to "westernise". Previous centuries of isolationism had left the country, technologically and economically backward and when the country was finally opened, there was a rush to modernise. All things western were considered advanced and beneficial, from language to lifestyles and soon Japan was the most modern country in Asia with a burgeoning urban population.
Japan's industry was now humming smoothly in factories, mills and workshops across the countries. Increasingly, people were moving: to the cities, to the factories, to foreign countries. Many left to colonise Brazil and the US while the rest spread across South East Asia. However, migration could not stop the population from increasing exponentially as the benefits of greater affluence and modern medicine were felt. But the increasingly younger, better-educated Japanese were becoming more politically active and took advantage of the new, democratic Meiji Constitution to voice out their grouses, causing the state government to hurriedly take measures to pacify the people and stamp out the seeds of communism.
Rape of Nanjing
Japan between the wars
Japan's military, namely the Imperial Army and Navy, progressively gained more and more political power in Japan, to the point where the state government and the military were inextricably connected. Nor were the Japanese displeased. In fact, the military was perceived as the democratic defender of the nation and impartial champion of the people, while the government was seen as weak and ineffective, both at home and abroad. This led the Japanese to put great faith in their military, a faith that would be destroyed after the Japanese defeat in World War II.
military in politics
At the end of World War II, the defeated nation lay in ruins and national morale was crushed. However, with the help of their US conquerors, who stepped in to turn Japan into a democratic ally, the Japanese began the mammoth task of reconstructing their nation and society.
World War II Japan
An American reconstruction
With the American Occupation formally over, the Japanese began anew their headlong rush to turn their country into a "first class" nation with a fully industrialised economy. National pride was restored when Japan experienced its decades long Economic Miracle, which brought many material benefits to ordinary Japanese.
The post-war economic miracle
1970 -- 1980
With conspicuous detriments brought about by solely concentrating on economic growth, namely environmental degradation and inadequate welfare spending by the government, the Japanese were no longer willing to sacrifice quality of life for economic gains. Feeling dissatisfied and threatened by poor infrastructure, practically non-existent welfare provisions and life-endangering pollution, the people demanded that the government change course. And so the ruling administration embraced environmentalism and the idea of a clean, knowledge-based economy. At the same time, welfare spending was also gradually raised to Western European levels.
Rising public awareness
1980 to the Present
Japan is now a highly efficient, developed country, a world leader in finance and manufacturing. However, the country now grapples with the twin problems of having the fastest ageing population in the world as well as increasingly bored, dissatisfied and rebellious youth. At the same time, Japanese pop culture is being eagerly absorbed by youth everywhere. Japanese fashion (both street and haute couture), comics, drama serials and computer games now have an international following. The Japanese have also developed a fondness for Western things and only the recent economic woes of the country have stemmed the consumption of western culture somewhat. The same economic crises have also left a slightly uncertain mood amongst the Japanese on the future path of their society.