20th Century Japan
The economic model the Americans had implemented in Japan was one geared towards capitalising on Japan's plentiful labour by making it the "workshop of Asia", producing relatively low value-added items like textiles, pottery and toys for export while importing high-technology goods from countries such as the US.
The Japanese government then decided to replace the static and somewhat self-serving model left by the Americans with a dynamic development plan which would allow Japan to forge ahead with its Meiji-era goal of becoming a "first-class" country with a fully industrialised, state-of-the-art economy. This was made clear when the government's New Long-Range Economic Plan was published in December 1957.
By the mid-sixties, Japan had a certified "economic miracle". Japan's GDP was at that point the third largest in the world, lagging only behind the Soviet Union and the United States, and Japanese steel, ships and electronics were world leaders. The heady atmosphere of the post-war boom swept the nation.
National Pride and Cultural Revival
In 1961, the Shinkansen ("New Trunk Line"), more commonly known as the Bullet Train, was ceremoniously unveiled, providing a high-speed link between the metropolitan cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. There was nothing like it in the world and the proud Japanese were quick to point that out. The gleaming, modern technological marvel was a symbol of the times, embodying the efficient, industrial, optimistic mood which had swept the nation. The Japanese could no longer rejoice in their empire, and the once-celebrated exploits of their army and navy were now seen as the source of their ruination. But each notch upward in GDP or in international market share for ships or transistor radios could and did give a boost to national pride.
Barely ten days later the Tokyo Olympics opened. With its new stadiums, vast swimming pools and a whole network of thruways ready for the occasion, Tokyo exploded in an enthusiastic feast of hospitality for the world's athletes and their accompanying fans. It was a great public display in the glare of world-wide attention to wipe out the remaining shame of defeat in a brutal war.
By this time, Japan was also in the midst of a great post-war cultural and literary revival. Beginning after the Occupation broke the fetters of militarist censorship, a flood of impressive books began to distil the suppressed national experience of the thirties and forties. Bookstores and movie houses became increasingly crowded, although Japanese film audiences did continue to favour Hollywood productions over local masterpieces.
In the sixties and even right up to the present, most employees were in for the long-term. As Sony's chairman, Morita Akio, once said: "In Japan, when we hire a research and development men, we hire him for the long pull. He is with us probably for the rest of his life. We have the benefit of his skill, his knowledge and experience, and it is stored up for us."
Indeed, most Japanese workers were fiercely loyal to their parent companies and saw themselves as having a stake in the company. They had (and to a large extent, still do) had a strong co-operative spirit by which bright talents were content to work with those less bright and were happy to share their knowledge.
By this time, the long-standing demand of industrial workers for full membership of the enterprise was accepted, and virtually all the distinctions in dress, on-the-job facilities and mode of wage or bonus payment between blue- and white-collar workers had been eliminated. Two thirds of industrial workers still worked in firms with less than 300 employees but women now made up about 40 percent of the work force.
Because workers now felt that their own futures depended on the future viability of the enterprise itself, overall productivity increased. The number of man-days lost to strikes in Japan declined from an annual average of well over 6 million and in the early 1950s to less than 3 million in the late 1960s. After a brief increase during the early 1970s, the number fell to less than 1 million by the 1970s and even less thereafter.
Positive Effects of Rapid Economic Growth
During the 1950s and 1960s, high rates of economic growth had been broadly popular within Japan. In addition to the psychological gratification gained from an ever-expanding GDP, there had been more tangible benefits for the people as well. Per capita disposable income had risen from the equivalent of $421 in 1960 top $1,676 in 1970. After struggling with day-to-day survival in the immediate post-war years, most Japanese households had now managed to acquire the "three electric treasures": a refrigerator, a washing machine and a black and white television set. Increasing numbers were also in a position to acquire the "three Cs": colour television set, car and room cooler.
Rates of infant mortality were among the very lowest in the world and rates of longevity were among the very highest. Owing to improved levels of nutrition, boys of 14 years of age were on average 2.5 inches taller than their 1940 counterparts and girls were 1.25 inches taller (although both suffered more form tooth decay and acne). Their families were increasingly able to afford more schooling for then than the nine years of elementary and middle school made compulsory under the reformed post-war education system.