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Economic transformation of Japan

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The first opening of Japan in 1854 caused a significant political, economic and social change within Japan that are still visible to this day. The forced opening, lead by the American Commodore Matthew Perry, was a tipping point for the collapse in the Bakufu system and a key factor that lead to Japan undergoing rapid change. Political change was imminent as discontent amongst the people had grown and the collapse of the Bakufu system was impending. There was a rapid transformation of Japan’s economy from a closed feudalistic, agricultural system to a developing, industrial one. The opening of Japan gave cause for the Meiji transformation as Japan desired to maintain its independence and establish itself as a major power in Asia. A xenophilic approach was taken by the new leaders of Japan in fear of being colonised. This immensely affected Japan as western culture became more integrated into Japanese culture, clothing, technology, education, and other various aspects of daily life. The Meiji transformation led to the beginning of capitalism, industrialism, secularism and the formation of ‘nation state’. One of the more important consequences that came as a result of the Meiji transformation is the radical social changes the country underwent. During the Meiji transformation, there were more immediate political and economic changes rather than immediate cultural and social changes. The immediate political and economic changes that occurred as a result of the first opening had momentous effects on the cultural and social changes within Japan in the long run. The lifting of economic class restrictions enabled people to pursue better means of work which in turn created competition within the working industry. Competition for better jobs meant that education became more highly regarded and a more available aspect of Japanese life. Current worldviews and principles that the Japanese people contain have developed from the Meiji transformation. The forced opening created a ripple effect where the results of the pragmatic changes the country faced following 1854 can still be seen, deeply interwoven in today’s Japan. Therefore the major social changes Japan underwent as a result of the forced opening had a significant impact on the nation that can still be visible to this day.

Japan’s forced opening caused economic and political changes that led to the formation of a lopsided dependence on its economic relationship with America that subsequently in the second opening of Japan in 1945. The bilateral economic relationship can be defined by the direct economic interactions between the two nations from the first forced opening of Japan in 1854 to the beginning of World War Two. Both nations were in different points in their economic development, where America was undergoing its first industrial revolution whilst Tokugawa Japan, on the other hand, featured a highly isolated, self-sufficient agrarian economy that was unable to realize gains from international trade and mass production. Japan became immensely dependent on trade partners as the nation entered its own industrial revolution. Soon America had become Japan’s leading supplier of fossil fuels, steel as well as iron ore and the country’s largest single export market (Miller 2007). As Japan continued to increase militarization and industrialization as vicious cycle became established through the dependency on resources and market export. Initially, the first opening of Japan generated a spiralling dependence which in turn contributed to Japan’s already great distrust and fear of the economic relationship with America. Growing fear of dependence on trade and loans triggered the formation of largely destabilized internal conflicts. These additional conflicts allowed a country that was already undergoing an extremely rapid political, economic and social evolution to easily form an extremist movement. Through this Japan’s militarism and motivation in going to war was visibly ignited by the commencement of the established bilateral economic relationship with America. The political and economic volatility Japan experienced as a result of the first opening contributed immensely in stimulating an imperialistic attitude. This attitude soon manifested into the formation of militarism whilst driving Japan to embark on an unrestrained military conquest of Asia, subsequently provoking America.

3) The second opening of Japan led to American occupation which subsequently reified a series of reforms that contributed to a transformation in internal power relations and traditional values amongst the Japanese people. The transformation of traditional values and mindset amongst the people came as a result of the defeat in Japan’s totalitarian regime and imperial military. A set of ideals had been established by General Douglas MacArthur, the implementer of the American Occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952, through a broad sense within the Japanese people for the sake of establishing less regimented mindsets amongst the people of Japan. In order to make the regimental systematic rigidity irrelevant, America believed that the emancipation of the Japanese government’s control over the thoughts and beliefs of the nation was necessary. The removal of pre-existing systematic restraints and the establishment of the freedom of religion resulted in diminishing government power and influence that has lead to a significant change in today’s Japan. Having experienced the disastrous devastations of war and surrender caused by the military-led totalitarian regime gave cause to the transformation in values amongst the people and made it easier to accept the new Peace Constitution of 1946. Japanese people’s change in values and mindset can be seen in their seemingly avid support for democracy as written by John Dower (1999, 67).

4) The second opening of Japan has immensely affected today’s Japan through the establishment of a democracy that transformed the people of Japan into independent autonomous individuals. Japan’s position in the world during the end of the feudal period in 1868 and the post-war period was dependent upon the Japanese people. This is due to the people’s support and cooperation being crucial whilst their opinions being insignificant during Japan’s first attempt to reposition itself as a world power. This can be attributed to Japan’s post-feudal government seeking the approval of local leaders rather than popular sovereignty. Following WWII and the establishment of popular sovereignty under the Peace Constitution of 1946, not only did Japan need the support and cooperation of the nation to rebuild the country, it also needed the approval of the majority of the people in order to regain a ‘normal nation’ status. Japan’s ability to regain it’s ‘normal nation’’ state was blocked by the Peace Constitution’s renunciation of war clause, Chapter 2 Article 9, with the lack of majority approval by the public to amend the article. Despite the successful changes in Japan’s economic, social and political system and the renewed desire to join the UN Security Council, the wording of Article 9 remained unchanged as result of a split in both the government and public opinion regarding the revision of Article 9. As a result, unlike the post feudalism era where modernization and public cooperation were the key factors to Japan’s world position, the central factor of the post-WWII era’s journey towards a ‘normal nation’ status is the people’s decision to approve or oppose the amendment of Article 9. With the post-war change in traditional values and mindset amongst the people, democracy assisted in transforming the people from encompassing ultra-nationalism, collectivism and the ideology of the wartime to becoming independent autonomous individuals. The establishment of democracy has had a significant impact on today’s Japan which can be seen through the public’s opposition to the amendment of Article 9. With democracy, the government’s power and influence has decreased, allowing the people of Japan to become individuals that are able to make their own decisions.

Japan’s long history of hereditary autocracy and lack of democratic rights of the people and loss of trust in the government has had a significant influence on the opinions of Japanese people that have shaped Japan into the country it is today

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