The Rise of Western Culture and Economy in Japan After World War II Essay

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According to some scholars, a society’s culture determines its economic destiny. Before 1860, Japan had been isolated for over two centuries, and it was not until the aftermath of World War II when Japan was forced to ration food to extreme measures (Hiesinger 39), the Japanese people’s fear of become a Western sub-colony coupled with “their flexible attitude towards cultural variance (Sparke 10),” ushered them into economic and cultural Westernization.

The economic downfall of Japan after World War II caused Japan to put culture second and focus on economic growth, thereby copying Western civilization (Jones 3); the Westernization of Japanese culture and economy soon became apparent in the integration of modern means of production coupled with a traditional aesthetic. Through isolation, a country denies itself the opportunity for monetary growth, thereby stunting its culture by denying influences from other countries.

Meiji leaders studied and adopted a Prussian-style government-directed capitalistic system that gave the government a significant role in determining what is produced, as well as power over the allocation of capital through control of the financial system. The Meiji Restoration was a major force in brining the West to the East and the major influences for design today, even more so than World War II, suggesting that post-war design and Western ideals in Japan grew out of economic reasons.

Cultures fall when they insist on separateness and a segregated market (Jones 6); however, due to the isolationist policy, free trade was considered harmful at the time. After World War II, the Japanese government continued its practice of promoting and protecting particular industries and discouraging foreign and even domestic competition. These policies were achieved first through tariffs and later through informal trade barriers such as environmental or consumer production regulations written in a way that excluded foreign and even domestic firms from entering new or overseas markets.

In this way, by placing its economy in second place, Japan fell prey to substantivism, process in which the economic power is not utilized effectively, nor maximized. Following World War II, the Allied occupation administration hoped to move Japanese politics into something more closely related to Western nations. The concepts of universal suffrage, governmental accountability, and a balance of power among the branches of the government were put into effect in the constitution of 1947, creating a more stable Japanese economy, as well as a mature democratic society.

Universal suffrage was introduced and human rights were guaranteed, and Japan was forbidden from harboring weaponry, keeping an army, or waging war against another country; a distinct line between religion and state was made, and concentrations in land ownership were removed. The Meiji restoration was the beginning of Japan’s transformation from an agrarian country to one of the leading economies in the world, which then led to the so-called lost decade after the Japanese economic bubble burst in the late 1980s and economic recovery in the 1990s.

The Japanese economic pie grew at an annual rate of ten percent from the mid-1950s until the Arab oil shocks of the early ‘70s. From then, the Japanese only managed to maintain a much more modest, but steady, growth until the early 1990s. During the observed period, the size of Japan’s metabolism grew by a factor of 40, and the share of mineral and fossil materials in domestic material consumption (DMC) grew to more than 90%.

The notion of socio-metabolic is a general term used to describe fundamental changes in socioeconomic energy and material use during industrialization. After WWII, Japan’s economic metabolism experienced explosive growth, and a considerable part of per-capita growth in material and energy use occurred during the short span of 20 years, during which Japan developed a solid global industry, built up large physical stocks in buildings and infrastructure, and adopted mass-production and consumption. In the 1970s, growth came to an abrupt halt due to the first oil price shock.

Some Japanese worried about the social costs of seemingly limitless prosperity, especially the effects of affluence on youth and the increasing polarization of incomes in Japan’s famed “middle-class” society, but most simply rode the wave of rising wealth and global influence. After the Korean War, and accelerated by it, the recovery of Japan’s economy flourished. The economic growth resulted in a quick rise of the living standards, and marked major changes in the socioeconomic and cultural areas of Japan, as well as the stabilization of the ruling position of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

While the U. S. did not defend South Korea with the intention of helping the Japanese economy, massive American purchases of goods and services during the war served as a major economic boost to the still-recovering Japanese economy. During the 1980’s economic bubble, Japan’s state-directed banking system made an enormous number of loans to failed companies, some of which to this day do not have the capital to pay back their loans, creating a credit crunch for potentially strong firms who need capital.

As of 2004, a large majority of economists and policy makers agree that Japan has not shown definite signs of economic progress, and have begun to draft what reforms Japan are needed to rectify the problem. Recently, Japan has entered into agricultural free trade agreements with other nations, weakening the excessive power of farmers within the country. However, although the nonperforming loan problem remains substantial, the total amount of bad debt has been reduced.

Furthermore, even though the amount is very low by the standards of developed countries, Japan is increasingly becoming more open to foreign investment. Still, much further reform must occur before the Japanese economy returns to full health. Much of the economic growth and collapse in Japan over the years can be attributed to the rise is Western culture since the closing of World War II. Culture and the economy interrelate as culture changes in response to economic, political, and social forces. Because culture is learned and requires habituation from an early age, it is slow to be changed socioeconomically.

Culture, however, is also fluid, often changing rapidly with changing technologies, and is often made popular by those who stand to gain from it. Cultural changes reflect the socioeconomic happenings of a country, and therefore show a better knowledge of alternative means of communication with the people, often leading to cultural merger, new syntheses in languages, religion, and other domains. A given culture can influence transaction cost – goods bought – and thereby economic outcomes for a given number of years.

Economy shapes culture because it alters monetary constraints and opportunities, and provides knowledge regarding alternative cultures. The rate of cultural change has accelerated in modern times because of the ease of use of the Internet, the decline in such costs, and the global reach of goods – such as movies, music, cars, and even literature – all integral parts of any culture. Cultural recently accelerated in Japan because the modern economy provides individuals with choices and opportunities that were not available in the past.

Since culture is malleable, its impact on economic outcomes is often tangible and readily available. The global economy, however, will not lead to a globally uniform culture as it also enables new cultures to develop and prosper, as seen in the numerous subcultures apparent in modern-day Japan. Very early on, the metabolic transition in Japan was based on imported raw materials rather than on domestic resources. As a result, the Japanese physical economy today depends largely on net imports, which is usually only seen in small countries with very specialized economies.

In order to create a prosperous socioeconomic environment for its people, Japan had to envision itself as part of the West: a vision of the United States as “a very developed country” and the belief that “unless [they] pursued a path toward democracy and modern capitalism, [they] would remain no more than a feudal and backward nation at the edge of the ‘Far’ East. ” (Hiesinger, Fischer 39) After World War II, the United States became a country that Japan looked up to; because the two countries had a very active association with each other, a mixture of old and new ideas began to emerge.

The use of modern technology to advertise new items to a Western-conscious younger generation and, simultaneously, traditional items to more conservative older generation has proven that Japan reflects the “two-tiered structure of [their] cultural heritage (Hiesinger 38). ”

Works Cited

Duiker, William J. The World Since World War II. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth / Cengage, 2005. Ellington, Lucien. “Learning From the Japanese Economy. ” SPICE – Stanford. edu. N. p. , Sept. 2004. Web. 08 Sept. 2012. . Eric L. Jones, Cultures Merging: A Historical and Economic Critique of Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006. vii + 297 pp. “Japanese History: Postwar (Since 1945). ” Japan-Guide. com. N. p. , n. d. Web. 09 Sept. 2012. . Krausmann, F. , S. Gingrich, and R. Nourbakhch-Sabet. 2011. The metabolic transition in Japan: A material flow account for the period 1878 to 2005. Journal of Industrial Ecology. Hiesinger, Kathryn B. and Felice Fischer. Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950. New York: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc. , Publishers, 1994. Print. Sparke, Penny. Modern Japanese Design. Hong Kong: Swallow Publishing Limited, 1987. Print. Thornton, Richard S. , The Graphic Spirit of Japan. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991. Print.

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