02 Japanese Economic Development. Arquivos.



Source: Japanese Economic Development. Studies on the Contemporary Economy and Economic System of Japan Vol. 01 , P. 29. Prof. Dr. Darcy Carvalho, University of São Paulo, 1972-2014, Yokohama National University Visiting Professor, 1988-89, Sheffield University Visiting Scholar, 1989.


ABSTRACT : This paper proposes a particular chronological dividion for the study of the Japanese evolution from an economic point of view. It suggests the hypothesis that the economic development of Japan, in the past as well as in the present, derives from adequate answers to extremely constraining environmental conditions, both physical and political, as well as social ones. At the Sheffield University. Centre for Japanese Studies. 15 October 1989

'The Japanese Process of Economic Development: A Preliminary Historical-Economic Overview’

A chronological division of the historical existence of any country will always be a matter of controversy among the learned, but it remains, nonetheless, an indispensable device for those just striving to locate and aiming only at evidencing the major trends and turning-points of the Japanese economic, political and social evolution, from a narrow pragmatic perspective.

For our limited purposes,, therefore, the social and economic development of the Japanese people will be simply understood as a gradual process of demographical growth accompanied by a continual improvement of the material well-being of the whole of the population.

The success of such a process implies certainly definite means, policies, and instruments of economic and political organization for the achievement of an increasing control over the internal and international environments of the nation, and the appropriate management of the available resources, for competing ends.

The economic development of Japan, understood in this very broad sense, can be divided, for convenience, into three major periods or phases of an unequal historical duration, presenting each of them highly diverse significance for the history of the outside world.

The first phase of the Japanese historical evolution, which we will label "THE PROTO-HISTORIC PERIOD OF JAPAN', comprises the cultural facts and the social, political and economic institutions of the peoples inhabiting the archipelago, since the most remote eras until the seventh century A.D, which marks the birth of a proto-Japanese state, during the so-called Yamato Age (300 A.D – 600 A.D). Japanese scholars would date this long period from circa 150 B.C. when some evidences of a pre-ceramic culture can already be traced on the Isles, until 660 A.D. a date consuetudinarily accepted in Japan as that of the accession of the Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor, whose actual historicity can be established, problematically at least, from the most anciently standing written records, or from the old and deep-rooted Shinto religious traditions.

After Jimmu, until the present, follows an unbroken line of Japanese emperors who, in their highly sacrerdotal functions stood comparison with the Roman emperors, and even shared with their Western colleagues, until recently, the high status of living deities. The deification of a ruler is not alien to the traditions of, or present usage in, some other Asiatic nations, and certainly not completely foreign to the great monotheistic religions in the West, with their extensive lines of prophets, saints, patriarchs, apostles, popes, rabbis, imams and' other holy persons.

The second phase, 'THE PERIOD OF NATIONAL CONSOLIDATION OF THE JAPANESE PEOPLE', an extremely rich period in both cultural and local political events, extends from the seventh century A.D. to the sixteenth, more precisely from 660 to 1500 A.D.

The consolidation of the Japanese nation, therefore, roughly occurs along some 850 years, during which we can observe the strengthening of the new-born Japanese State, and the gradual spread of its hegemony over the surrounding islands, to the North of Kyushu.

The territorial conquest and occupation of the Japanese Archipelago was not fully achieved though, by the time of the great geographical discoveries of the Europeans, which would be followed shortly by the military and economic inroads, of the Portuguese and Spaniards on America, Asia and Africa, in a frenzied drive of mercantilistic expansion that Japan herself was bound to experience, from 1542 onwards.

From a Japanese stand-point the period of consolidation of their nation can be related to six well defined eras or ages : 1. The Nara Age (710-787 A.D.), 2. The Heian Age (794-1185 A.D.), 3. The Fuj iwara Age (858-1160 A.D.), 4. the Kamakura Age (1185-1333 A.D.), 5. The Ashikaga Age or Muromachi Age (1338-1572) , and 6. The Azuchi-Momoyama Age (1568-1600), which we will consider inside our third phase.

The third phase, or 'THE MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY PERIODS IN THE HISTORY OF JAPAN' runs parallel with the modern history and contemporaneous events of the countries of Europe, and by the same token, with that of the infant nations planted on the soil of the American Continent, by its first discoverers and succeeding conquerors : the Spaniards, the Portuguese, the British, the French and the Dutch.

This third phase, from a Japanese chronological point of view, can be divided into five historical segments of a very unequal duration.

First, a period never named like that by the Japanese, but which could be called the Christian Age (1547-1647), covering the whole of the Azuchi-Momoyama Age, then the Tokugawa or Edo Age (1600-1868), the Meiji Age (1868-1912), the Taisho Age (1912-1926), and finally the Showa Age (1926-1989), just concluded.

In these modern and contemporary periods, a phase comprising almost five centuries of world history, are to be found the seeds of the present material achievements of the Japanese people, the proximate origins of their cultural idiosyncracies, the foundations of their present social behaviour, and also the clues for simpler explanations about the collective processes involved in the economic growth strategies employed by Japan in the last hundred years, in order to overcome her economic underdevelopment, catch up with the Western economies, and finally accomplish the conquest of a distinguished place among the economic giants of the Twentieth century.

This historical period, paradoxically, begins with the rejection and violent eviction of a potentially powerful and disrupting Western presence, represented by the Portuguese commercial interests and the Christian enclaves in Kyushu.

The suppressing of the Christians was immediately followed by a tight closure of the country to the Japanese living abroad and to all foreigners, the Dutch and the Chinese in part excepted, for the ensuing 250 years.

The re-opening of the Isles of Japan to international life under the pressures of the American expanding imperialism in the Pacific, awakened Japan to the helplessness of her position vis-a-vis the technological superiority of her new and self-imposed economic partners.

The realization of their inferiority taught the Japanese the necessity of changing in order to cope with the new challenges confronting them. It led to the adoption of a few long-term state policies that in due time would flourish as a huge but short-lived empire, in the Asia-Pacific region, the prelude and invitation for the country's complete shattering in World War II.

Westernization and modernization, the much coveted goals of the Japanese think-tankers, since the Meiji Revolution, were finally accomplished, after the Pacific War, with the help and commitment of the American Occupation. Japan kept improving, since then, under the umbrella of a strategic and economic association with the U.S. one that guaranteed her gradual reinsertion into the broad arena of the international exchanges, as a highly developed economy, and reliable partner sharing some Western political ideals.

During the last five centuries, a very crucial period for their country, the Japanese changed their methods, policies and instruments, but not the long-term goals and objectives of the nation, readily translatable into a perennial quest for security and economic self-sufficiency. This historical drive to autarky can be seen as an unavoidable recourse to cope with their deep sense of being endowed by Nature with insufficient land and little of other economic resources.

And besides, they learned to represent themselves as a unique people, encircled by a culturally alien international community, generally described as unstable and potentially hostile to them. The Japanese suffer from an incurable delusion of siege.

In the study of 'THE MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY PERIODS IN THE HISTORY OF JAPAN' our objective should be, therefore, to describe briefly the economic development of the Japanese Islands since the beginning of trade relations with Portugal and the introduction of Christianity, that is to say, we should be outlining the main characteristics of this development process from the so-called Christian Century in Japan (1547-1647) until the death of Emperor Showa on January 8th, 1989.

The economic development of the Japanese Isles can be understood, like that of any other nation, as a perennial struggle for security and self-sufficiency.

This effort for national strengthening has been carried out in response to pressing challenges originating in an ever-changing economic and political world environment.

More than the result of autonomous motives, the process .of the Japanese economic development and its strategies may be explained as last resorts undertaken to conciliate Japan's own national objectives with the overwhelming external constraints posed by the menacing protrusion of the Western powers into the. Asian realm, since the occurrence of the Portuguese and Spanish discoveries, five centuries ago.

From the arrival of ; the Christian missionaries, closely associated with the Portuguese expansion into Eastern Asia, until the occupation of the Archipelago by the American troops in the middle of this century, the evolvement of the economic development of Japan presents a striking alternance of periods of acceptance and communion with the West, followed by periods of strife, conflict and rejection.

The ambivalence of the Western attitudes towards Japan has not changed though, along these five centuries of cultural and economic intercourse.

During this long period, there have been three major inroads of the Western nations into Japan's life, followed by painful efforts on the Japanese side to redress the disturbed equilibrium, and also to secure better conditions for the continuance of the country's security in the future.

The arrival of the Lusitanian traders and the century-long contact between -Portugal and Japan brought about a lasting change in the way the Japanese envisaged themselves and their position in the international community.

The rejection of the proposed Christian model and its aftermath, the establishment of an economic autarky, under the Tokugawa shogunate, offer the prototype of a process of self-reconstruction the Japanese would repeat twice more in the course of their modern evolution as an independent island nation.

After the gradual dissolution of the almost three-centuries-long economic autarky, set up by the Tokugawa Regime, Japan opened her ports and embarked on a frenzy of changes, affecting the country's social, cultural and economic framework.

The opening of the Japanese markets under the pressures of the US and other interested Western nations, was perceived as a humiliation imposed on the Japanese nation.

Lacking the necessary means to avoid the commercial advances of the Western powers, and fearing to become an easy prey to their economic interests, the Japanese reaction was quite appropriate to the circumstances.

The Meiji's economic and cultural revolutions, carried out by the same factions that verberated the alleged weakness of the Tokugawa in confronting the external challenges, is a magnificent example of the adaptability of Japan to environmental changes affecting her national security and way of life. The West has never been prepared to grant to the Japanese an adequate status in the concert of nations.

The so-called Japanese imperialism, characterized by an attempt at increasing the nation's availability of resources through territorial expansion, a task facilitated by an unexpected constellation of favourable circumstances, occurring in the context of the European imperial rivalries, may be considered as a natural response to the studied policies of contention, applied against Japan by the West during her critical period of economic take-off, before 1945.

The Pacific War, as the Asian chapter of World War II is called in Japan, and its aftermath, the American occupation, may be considered as the most recent of this five-centuries-long experience of forced accommodations imposed on this island country by materially superior foreign powers.

The profound changes in the social and political spheres of Japanese life, as an imposition of the model and brief American occupation, had the same effects and provoked the same conscious efforts towards adaptation to the unavoidable which had already been observed twice, on an even grander scale, in the past history of Japan.

In this new instance, the price paid by the Japanese was that of accepting a type of security alliance and economic marriage with the US. that practically robbed their country of the possibility of exercising an independent foreign policy. In this respect, Japan is virtually a colony of the US.

To counterbalance this limitation, which derives from her acceptance of the role of a suitable basis for the American Cold War schemes in Eastern Asia, Japan has been skillfully adopting the fostering of her oxvn economic supremacy as the nation's sole aim on the present international stage.

The general uneasiness felt by the developed world in face of the great economic successes of Japan, and the measures actually adopted or suggested as necessary or appropriate to contain Japan's further economic advance, at international meetings, remind us of stories already told, and of games already played in the past against the alleged Japanese expansionism.

The process of the economic development of Japan, therefore, presents the unusual characteristic of being the result of conscious compensating and adaptive responses to a changing world environment, which at times confronted the country with overwhelming challenges, to which she has been forced to acquiesce and from which she has been clever enough to profit beyond measure.

The ambivalence of attitudes prevailing in the West in relation to Japan manifests itself in the fact that, in censuring her new economic internationalism, no allowance is made for the special and co-operative relationship she is expected to keep to the Western developed countries, a damaging one to Japan in the long run.

Pressures on Japan to share the burden of the costs of maintainance of the existing development agencies often disregard the fact that inside Japan the standard of living of the Japanese people is considerably at variance with her external image as an advanced and prosperous country. These contradictions, posed by a rich country with a relatively poor and frugal people, find their explanation in the extremely close links between economy and society in Japan, and in the primacy of groups, factions and corporations over individual human beings. The economic development of Japan should be envisaged also as a description of the flourishing of an extremely cohesive and resilient society, always reluctant to let itself plunge and dissolve into the general mainstream of the world's evolution. The real miracle of Japan consists in her dauntless capacity for survival and in her unbroken fidelity to her own self.

The strong group cohesion exhibited by the Japanese, and their adherence to long-term national goals, seem to be the key explanation to many of the idiosyncracies of the rapid thrust of economic development in modern Japan.

At all stages of her national history this country was seen to exhibit a striking group solidarity, which simplified the acceptance of common patterns of behaviour in the pursuit of collective aims.

Another trait of Japanese society, which facilitated its remarkable development, is its capacity to fully abide by established collective norms.

After the Christian experience which came short of plainly dissolving the traditional fabric of the Japanese social organization, the resumption of the traditional ways, through violent means and relentless repression of the foreign values and beliefs, reestablished the cohesiveness of the national society and facilitated the enforcement of an economic autarky and its cultural isolacionism as the valid goals for Japan in the ensuing 300 years.

This prolonged period has seen the cohesion of the group extended and translated into the idea of a family-state, kept together through the worship of' the nation's ancestors, and the subordination of all Japanese families to the Imperial family, regarded as the original stock of the entire people.

This sense of belonging to a special kin still permeates the minds of the present day Japanese, and it explains many attitudes hard to understand by foreigners who may be unaware of the very peculiar and profound racial nationalism which characterizes the social, economic and political fabric of Japan.

The Japanese endeavours to achieve economic development, for the sake of national independence and security, has always been characterized by a wholehearted pursuit of clearly stated collective long-term goals . The bundle of goals that have been set by the Japanese for themselves in the last hundred and fifty years have not changed and can be suitably translated as a single-minded effort to catch up with, and surpass, the West.

The Meiji Revolution, the imperial expansion towards the islands of the South Pacific or into Mainland Asia, the relentless economic competition with the industrialized nations, in our own time, after World War II, are all merely steps or devices attempted as useful for the achievement of self-sufficiency and economic independence.

Having succeeded materially, Japan is now confronted with the task of maintaining her accomplishments and present economic status.

As these were attained thanks to especially favourable world environmental conditions created by the ideological dichotomy which characterized the second half of the Twentieth century, she faces today new challenges posed by the thaw of the Cold War's artificial barriers, erected against the Socialist Bloc and by the mounting reactions of the developed countries against an already tangible Japanese economic hegemony. Notwithstanding the permanence of some of the favourable conditions that made it possible, Japan's present success may not be maintained in the future.'

The challenge now facing the country is that of harmonizing its powerful economic fabric with the aims and needs of developed and developing nations, upon which she will always depend, both for the import of resources for production and for the export of finished and high-technology goods.

The development of Japan up to the present can be explained as the result of her deep historical involvement with the United States, even more so after the end of the Pacific War.

This relationship on the economic side benefited from, and has been conditioned to, the political strategy of the US. regarding Asia and the Socialist Bloc, in the general framework of the Cold War equilibria.

But the events and the winds of political change blowing upon the Soviet Bloc, the reunification of Europe, and the economic dilemmas facing the US may pose a completely new economic and political environment for the Japanese economy in the following decades.

The basic characteristic of this country, that of being a major but dependent economy in the world, will become more acute, requiring restructuring and readaptation that may permit the successful continuation of this remarkable case of constrained development.

For an up-to-date diagnostic of the present Japanese Economy in its now 26-years-long recession see the OECD overview:







Darcy Carvalho,
30 de mar de 2014 08:28