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Feminist Student Movement in Japan 1945–1975  

Anna Vittinghoff

Contrary to the common notion that depicts Japanese postwar student activism, and leftist activism more broadly, as being predominantly male, female activists within these movements played more than just supporting roles. Upon closer inspection of modern Japanese history, it becomes evident that female students were integral to and contributed in multiple ways to campus-based activism across Japan, ultimately pushing the liberatory discourse beyond schools, colleges, and universities into everyday life in the 1970s. During Japan’s nation-building project of the prewar period, sex-segregated education was a direct expression of the binary division of the site of activity between men and women. However, in the postwar period the introduction of coeducation and the subsequent student movement ultimately formed the hotbed for the women’s liberation movement of the early 1970s and the fundamental challenge it posed to the masculine bias of modern Japanese society. The experiences of female student activists across Japan were an important catalyst for feminist movements of the following decades because they not only highlighted the gendered discrimination of postwar Japanese society but also the necessity of an intersectional analysis of the systems of power at play.

Article

Financial History of Japan in Global Context, 19th and 20th Centuries  

Michael Schiltz

Japan’s experience with modern capitalism and finance is characterized by a remarkable combination of shocks and adaptation. After being steamrolled by Western institutions and financial technologies, the country attempted to retaliate against this intrusion. However, regaining financial sovereignty proved a protracted process of trial and error. In the 1880s and 1890s, under the auspices of Matsukata Masayoshi, Tokyo seemed to get it right. The establishment of the Bank of Japan and related institutions, on the one hand, and the adoption of the gold standard, on the other, appeared designed to lift Japan out of its peripheral status. In reality, however, they mostly served to emphasize its role as an enabler of the British-led international order. Only in the 1930s, during the worldwide Great Depression, would it break with this role, if only to find that its autonomy had been compromised from the very beginning. Japan’s disastrous loss in World War II drove the country into the arms of the newly arisen global hegemon: the United States. In the early 21st-century, Japan remains a linchpin in the still surviving American-led world order and the corollary “dollar standard.”

Article

The Japanese Economy Since World War II  

Simon Bytheway

Japan’s remarkable postwar experience of economic reconstruction, growth, and development explains much of why it is so intensely studied in other countries today. In common with much of the world and particularly the advanced, capitalist economies of Western Europe, Japan prospered during the years of the long postwar boom (1954–1970). Reestablished by the Truman administration as the archetype of an anti-inflationist, export-based economy, Japan’s success is perhaps unsurprising. What is remarkable, however, is that Japanese economic growth and development continued right up until the 1990s, despite being forced to make abrupt “corrections” to the country’s basic monetary settings by the Nixon and Reagan administrations, changes that precipitated an eventual three-fold increase in the international exchange rate of the yen. Against the backdrop of rising petroleum and energy prices (or “oil shocks”), global inflation, systematic financial crises, widespread economic recession, and the vexing phenomena of stagflation in many of the more mature capitalist economies of the West, the Japanese economy thrived. Japan became the world’s second largest economy (in terms of nominal gross domestic product [GDP]) from 1968 until 2010 with a relatively small population (101 million in 1968 and 128 million in 2010). The fall of Japan’s economic standing from second to third place tragically coincided with the triple disaster of March 11, 2011: an earthquake and tsunami that struck along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The triple disaster, in turn, led to the fall of the non–Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Kan and Noda governments, a belated acknowledgement of Japan’s worsening demographic situation (chronic low birthrates with an increasingly elderly population) the re-election of the LDP Abe government, and the return of economic growth ideology in the form of Abenomics and its New Capitalism successor.

Article

Japanese Empire and Pan-Asianism  

Sven Saaler

The Japanese colonial empire was composed of territories adjacent to the Japanese archipelago, ranging from Southern Sakhalin in the north to Taiwan in the south. Unlike most European powers, Japan did not acquire colonial territories that were far away from the metropolis; rather, it did so within the region in which it was located—East Asia. The geographical proximity between the metropolis and its colonial territories influenced not only the structure of the colonial administration, racial hierarchies in the empire, and colonial and metropolitan identities but also the rhetorical strategies that were used to legitimize colonial rule. Although the government generally envisioned a European-style empire, the creation of which would earn Japan the respect of the Great Powers and eventually lead to the recognition of Japanese equality, a significant number of politicians, writers, and activists argued that it was Japan’s mission to unite the Asian people and protect or liberate them from Western colonial rule. These discourses have been summarized under the term “Pan-Asianism,” a movement and an ideology that emerged in the late 19th century and became mainstream by the time World War I began. However, although some advocates of Pan-Asianism were motivated by sincere feelings of solidarity, the expansion of Japanese colonial rule and the escalation of war in China and throughout Asia in the 1930s brought to the fore an increasing number of contradictions and ambiguities. By the time World War II started, Pan-Asianism had become a cloak of Japanese expansionism and an instrument to legitimize the empire, a process that culminated in the Greater East Asia Conference of 1943. The contradictions between Japan’s brutal wars in Asia and the ideology of Asian solidarity continue to haunt that country’s relations with its neighbors, by way of ambiguous historical memories of the empire and war in contemporary Japanese politics and society.

Article

Japanese Empire in Hokkaido  

Philip Seaton

The temporal span of the Japanese Empire is most commonly given as 1895–1945, from the acquisition of Taiwan following Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War to Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. Within this interpretation, the Japanese Empire was largely a reaction to the advances of the Western colonial powers during the 19th century. This “orthodox” narrative of the empire rests on a key assumption: the current borders of the Japanese state demarcate the inherent territory of Japan. But when viewed from Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, a second story of the Japanese Empire emerges. Before 1869 Hokkaido was known to Wajin (ethnic Japanese) as Ezo. While the Japanese considered Ezo to be within their sphere of influence and there was a Japanese zone (Wajinchi) in the southern tip of Ezo from the 16th century, Ezo was a foreign land inhabited by the Ainu people. Hokkaido was only fully incorporated into the Japanese state in 1869 following the Meiji Restoration (1868), after which Japanese settlers colonized the island beyond Wajinchi. The indigenous Ainu people were dispossessed of their land and forced to assimilate. Rather than Taiwan, therefore, the story of the Japanese Empire begins with the colonization of the peripheries of the modern state: Hokkaido, and also Okinawa. Seeing imperial history from the vantage point of Hokkaido sheds light on some of the assumptions and oversights of much writing on Japan’s 19th- and 20th-century history. It reveals how the legacies of empire affect Japanese people today in those spaces where the colonizers and colonized continue to coexist. And it gives insights into how official and popular narratives of empire and war have been formulated at local and national levels in the postwar era.

Article

Surrender of Japan’s Empire: Japanese Historiographical Issue  

Yukiko Koshiro

A process of evolution is apparent in Japanese scholarship on Japan’s respective defeats in the Sino-Japanese War, the Pacific War, and the Soviet-Japanese War in 1945. By tracing scholars’ conflicting interpretations of Japan’s defeat and surrender in these wars, one can demonstrate Japan’s continuing difficulty in achieving an all-inclusive meaning of its unconditional surrender to the Allied powers. Additionally, new areas of study contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the end of Japan’s empire.