The Japanese Economy
After World War II, Japan made a rapid and impressive economic recovery. Many factors contributed to the country’s success. Instead of concentrating on producing inexpensive textiles sold to other Asian countries, Japan began to produce advanced technology for a world market. Japan’s workforce was skilled and highly motivated. The government also cooperated and supported industry.
By 1960 Japan had become the fifth-largest among the world’s market economies; by 1968 it was second only to the United States. Also by the middle of the decade, Japan was exporting more goods to the United States than it was importing. While a brief depression took place mid-decade, between 1965 and 1970, the economy saw an average growth of over eleven percent per year.
Society and Wealth
The distribution of individual income moved toward greater equality in the 1960s. Post-war land and labor reforms and the dissolution of the zaibatm (a Japanese conglomerate or cartel) all worked to bring this greater equality in income distribution. During this period, Japan, among all the advanced industrialized nations, became the country with the most equal income distribution. Indeed, nearly ninety percent of Japanese felt that they enjoyed a middle-class standard of living. Along with this rise of middle-class consciousness came a rise in school and university enrollment, personal savings, desire for home ownership, and the purchase of consumer goods, such as televisions.
The Japanese population did see some downsides to the economic growth. The Japanese worked longer hours than workers holding similar jobs in Western countries. The cost of living in Japan was also much higher than it was in other industrialized nations.
Rapid industrialization and population growth emerged as a major issue in Japan in the 1960s. In the early 1960s, many rural residents began to migrate to the cities. Urban areas grew overcrowded. Space and housing were scarce, and prices began to rise dramatically in the 1960s. In the six largest cities, the price index for urban land increased more than twenty times between 1955 and 1970.
As thousands of people flocked to the cities, rural municipalities sought ways to increase their tax base and revenue. To this effect, they encouraged industries, through monetary incentives, to move into their areas. Rural Japan thus underwent a period of industrialization. Pollution became commonplace, and the government took no measures to prevent it. By the mid-1960s, citizens had begun to form grassroots organizations to put a stop to potentially deadly polluting of the environment.
The U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty
The United States organized the reconstruction of the Japanese government after Japan’s surrender in World War II and maintained military troops there as provided by the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty. In 1960, however, Japan and the United States sought to revise the treaty. Some of the terms were changed, and the objective of economic cooperation between the two countries was added. Political leftists were opposed to the treaty on the grounds that Japan, which would continue to allow the United States to maintain military bases in Japan, would be forced to follow whatever military action the United States might want to take in Asia. The administration of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, however, supported the amended treaty in order to appease American wishes. In his desire to ratify the treaty when U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower visited the following month, Japan’s prime minister pushed the treaty through without consulting the opposition parties. Tens of thousands of students and workers joined in protest, and rioting broke out in the streets. Eisenhower cancelled his visit because his security could not be assured. The prime minister flew to Washington, where the treaty was ratified. Upon his return, Kishi resigned.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Yukio Mishima, Published by Gale Group, 2001.