Japan is now about to become the third industrial power in the world. It is already the second largest car producing country. In 1955 it’s gross national product was slightly less than half Britain’s. This year it will be almost 20 per cent greater. Japan is the only capitalist country in which us capital dominates neither the oil, steels, automobiles or electronics industries. How many western socialists are aware of the sudden emergence of this new centre within the capitalist world? Yet the economic statistics do not mean a simple repetition of western social patterns.
In one year at the height of the post-war pinball craze, the Japanese blew a sum equivalent to 25 per cent of the national budget at the pachinko machines. In this same year, 1954, as in every year since the war, they also displayed a higher propensity to save than any other industrialized country. Economic statistics which disclose a social background somewhat unlike that underlying the Atlantic capitalist systems. The point may seem obvious, but it needs to be made, because in the West Japan, when not simply a subject for folklore, is usually evoked as a pure economic phenomenon.
This evocation may take one of two forms. The first hypothesizes Japan’s industrial revolution as a model for present-day under-developed countries.footnote1 The second idolizes Japan’s recent growth as a model for Britain’s sluggish capitalists.footnote2 Neither of these approaches, let it be said, is particularly revealing in itself, but since they are the ones most commonly adopted, they have a certain usefulness as a way into understanding some of the essentials of the contemporary Japanese scene. They are also indicative of the remoteness of Japan from western European political discussion.
This would hardly be worth arguing had it not established itself as a recurrent argument. In its most sophisticated form, as in Baran, it takes the form of attempting to see what allowed Japan alone of all the lands of Asia to develop into an advanced capitalist country and then inquire whether the similarities between her condition and those of other countries outweigh the dissimilarities. Yet even though Baran’s precise purpose in scrutinizing Japan and India is to draw lessons from the two third world pole-countries, he is at a loss to indicate any useful lessons at all. Similarly, the crudest neo-capitalist approach, as exemplified in Consider Japan, after setting out purposively with the statement: ‘Obviously, it [Japan] must be regarded as a harbinger of future possibilities for the rest of Asia and Africa’ flops five pages later with the conclusion that, ‘it is awfully difficult to turn the experience recounted in these las t few paragraphs into a moral for the development of other countries’ . . . ‘Goodness knows how such a policy could be implemented on a world-wide scale.’
Rather than waste effort distorting Japan’s development into nonexistent parallels, the most useful thing is to indicate briefly some of the main characteristics of Japan’s growth—and the advantages she enjoyed. The first advantage was one of time and space. Even in the middle of the 19th century there was much more room in the world for independent growth than there has been in the middle of the 20th century. footnote3 Imperialism was as keen then as now to carve up the world,
The whole question of how to date and scan Japan’s economic development is one of great complexity, often closely linked with variant interpretations of the Meiji Revolution. The nature of the Revolution has been the subject of vigorous discussion among Japanese historians, which has had considerable political consequences, unfortunately too complex to go into here.footnote4 However there can be no doubt of the importance of the Meiji Revolution in determining the country’s future development. Leaving aside economic arguments for the moment, a line can fairly be drawn at the year 1868.
Meiji policy is best seen as a response to the irruption of the outside world. The problem facing the new rulers was how to ensure independence