Industrialization in other countries: Japan

Industrialization in other countries: Japan

  • After 1854, the Tokugawa shogunate (the last feudal Japanese military government) first opened the country to Western commerce and influence. When Tokugawa shogunate was overthrown and Meiji government was founded in 1868, Japanese Westernization and Industrialization began completely.

Tokugawa Shogunate Era

The Final Decades of the Tokugawa Shogunate:

  • During the first half of the nineteenth century, the shogunate continued to combine a central bureaucracy with semi-feudal alliances between regional daimyos and samurai. The government encountered financial problems because taxation was based on agriculture, while the economy was becoming more commercialized. Reform spurts met revenue gaps until the 1840s, when an unsuccessful effort weakened the government and hampered responses to Western pressure.
  • Japanese intellectual and cultural life continued to expand under the Tokugawa. Neo-Confucianism kept its hold among the elite at the expense of Buddhism. The upper classes became more secular, with variety among Confucian schools preventing the intellectual sterility common in China. Education expanded beyond the upper classes and led to the highest literacy rate outside of the West.
  • Even though Confucianism was dominant, there were many intellectual rivals. A national studies group venerated Japanese traditions, including the position of the emperor and Shinto religion. Another group pursued an interest in Western scientific progress.
  • The Japanese economy continued to develop as internal commerce expanded and manufacturing spread into the countryside. By the 1850s, economic growth was slowing as technological limitations hindered agricultural growth and population increased. Rural riots reflected peasant distress and helped to weaken the shogunate.

The Challenge to Isolation:

  • In 1853, an American naval squadron commanded by Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to the West. Later negotiations won the right to station a consul and open ports for commerce. European nations quickly secured equal rights. The shogunate bureaucrats had yielded to Western naval superiority. Other Japanese favored the ending of isolation. They were opposed by conservative daimyos. All sides appealed to the emperor.
  • The shogunate had depended on the policy of isolation and proved unable to withstand the stresses caused by foreign intervention. Internal disorder resulted in the 1860s and ended in 1868 with the defeat of the shogunate and the proclamation of rule by Emperor Mutsuhito, called Meiji.

Why Japan and not China?

  • Japan and China, despite both being part of the same civilization orbit, responded very differently to Western pressures. Both nations had chosen isolation from outside influences from about 1600 to the middle of the nineteenth century, and thus fell behind the West. China had the capability to react to the challenge, but did not act. Japan, with knowledge of the benefits of imitation, acted differently.
  • Japan’s limited population pressure, in contrast to Chinese population growth, also assisted its response. In political affairs China, by the middle of the nineteenth century, was suffering a dynastic crisis; Japan maintained political and economic vigor.
  • Japan had early advantage due to the achievements of Tokugawa Japan (1600-1868) during a long period of “closed country” between the mid-seventeenth century and the 1850s : A high level of urbanization; well developed road networks; the channeling of river water flow with embankments and the extensive elaboration of irrigation ditches that supported and encouraged the refinement of rice cultivation based upon improving seed varieties, fertilizers and planting methods especially in the Southwest with its relatively long growing season; the development of proto-industrial (craft) production by merchant houses in the major cities like Osaka and Edo (now called Tokyo) and its diffusion to rural areas after 1700; and the promotion of education and population control among both the military elite (the samurai) and the well-to-do peasantry in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
  • Readiness to emulate the West: As a result of these domestic advances, Japan was well positioned to take up the Western challenge. It harnessed its infrastructure, its high level of literacy, and its proto-industrial distribution networks to the task of emulating Western organizational forms and Western techniques in energy production, first and foremost enlisting inorganic energy sources like coal and the other fossil fuels to generate steam power. Having intensively developed the organic economy depending upon natural energy flows like wind, water and fire, Japanese were quite prepared to master inorganic production after the Black Ships of the Americans forced Japan to open up.
  • Japan’s response to outside pressure was more direct and successful than that of China. The Japanese adapted to the challenge of industrial change and internal market reform. Many institutions had to be altered and much societal change resulted.

Meiji Era

Political Change in the Meiji State:

  • The Meiji government abolished feudalism; the daimyos were replaced by nationally appointed prefects in 1871. The new centralized administration expanded state power to carry out economic and social change.
  • Samurai officials were sent to Europe and the United States to study their economies, technologies, and political systems. In 1871, a group of Japanese politicians known as the Iwakura Mission toured Europe and the USA to learn western ways. The result was a deliberate state-led industrialization policy to enable Japan to quickly catch up.
  • Between 1873 and 1876, the government abolished the samurai class (member of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan) and its state stipends. Most samurai became impoverished, and revolt resulted in 1877. The reformed army, based on national conscription, quickly triumphed. Samurai continued to exist; many sought opportunities in commerce and politics.
  • By 1889, the political reconstruction was complete. Political parties had formed on regional levels. The Meiji created a new conservative nobility from former nobles and Meiji leaders; they sat in a British-style House of Peers.
  • The bureaucracy was reorganized, expanded, and opened to those taking civil service examinations.
  • The constitution of 1889 gave major authority to the emperor and lesser power to the lower house of the Diet. High property qualifications limited the right to vote to about 5% of the male population. The system gave power to an oligarchy of wealthy businessmen and former nobles that controlled political currents into the twentieth century. Japan had imitated the West but had retained its own identity.

Twin Policies:

  • After the Tokugawa government collapsed in 1868, a new Meiji government committed to the twin policies of wealthy country and strong military. It  took up the challenge of renegotiating its treaties with the Western powers. It created infrastructure that facilitated industrialization.
  • It built a modern navy and army that could keep the Western powers at bay and establish a protective buffer zone in North East Asia that eventually formed the basis for a burgeoning Japanese empire in Asia and the Pacific.

Central government reforms in education, finance and transportation:

  • Throwing away the confederation style government of the Tokugawa era, the new leaders of the new Meiji government fashioned a unitary state with powerful ministries consolidating authority in the capital, Tokyo (Earlier name: Yedo or Edo).
  • The freshly minted Ministry of Education promoted compulsory primary schooling for the masses and elite university education aimed at deepening engineering and scientific knowledge.
  • The Ministry of Finance created the Bank of Japan in 1882, laying the foundations for a private banking system backed up a lender of last resort. The Bank of Japan used taxes to fund model steel and textile factories.
  • The government began building a steam railroad trunk line girding the four major islands, encouraging private companies to participate in the project. In particular, the national government committed itself to constructing a Tokaido line connecting the Tokyo/Yokohama region to the Osaka/Kobe conurbation along the Pacific coastline of the main island of Honshu, and to creating deepwater harbors at Yokohama and Kobe that could accommodate deep-hulled steamships.
  • Not surprisingly, the merchants in Osaka, the merchant capital of Tokugawa Japan, already well versed in proto-industrial production, turned to harnessing steam and coal, investing heavily in integrated spinning and weaving steam-driven textile mills during the 1880s.

Diffusion of best-practice agriculture:

  • At the same time, the abolition of the three hundred or so feudal fiefs that were the backbone of confederation style-Tokugawa rule and their consolidation into politically weak prefectures, under a strong national government that virtually monopolized taxation authority, gave a strong push to the diffusion of best practice agricultural technique.
  • The nationwide diffusion of seed varieties developed in the Southwest fiefs of Tokugawa Japan spearheaded a substantial improvement in agricultural productivity. Simultaneously, expansion of agriculture (using traditional Japanese technology) and manufacturing (using imported Western technology) resulted.

Balanced growth:

  • Growth at the close of the nineteenth century was balanced in the sense that traditional and modern technology using sectors grew at roughly equal rates, and labor — especially young girls recruited out of farm households to labor in the steam using textile mills — flowed back and forth between rural and urban Japan at wages that were roughly equal in industrial and agricultural pursuits.

Japan’s Industrial Revolution

  • Japanese reform went beyond social and political reforms. The industrial revolution began about 1870 as Meiji period leaders decided to catch up with the West. As we have seen earlier, the government built railroads, improved roads, and inaugurated a land reform program to prepare the country for further development. It inaugurated a new Western-based education system for all young people, sent thousands of students to the United States and Europe, and hired more than 3,000 Westerners to teach modern science, mathematics, technology, and foreign languages in Japan.
  • Modern industry first appeared in textiles, including cotton and especially silk, which was based in home workshops in rural areas
  • A Western-style army and navy were created. New banks were established to fund trade and provide investment capital. Railways and steam vessels improved national communications. Many old restrictions on commerce, such as guilds and internal tariffs, were removed. Land reform cleared the way for individual ownership and stimulated production.
  • Government initiative dominated manufacturing because of lack of capital and unfamiliar technology. A ministry of industry was created in 1870 to establish overall economic policy and operate certain industries. Model factories were created to provide industrial experience, and an expanded education system offered technical training. Private enterprise was involved in the growing economy, especially in textiles. Entrepreneurs came from all social ranks.
  • By the 1890s, huge industrial combines had been formed. Thus, by 1900, Japan was fully engaged in an industrial revolution. Its success in managing foreign influences was a major accomplishment, but Japan before World War I was still behind the West. It depended on Western imports—of equipment and coal –and on world economic conditions. Successful exports required inexpensive labor. Labor organization efforts were repressed.

Japan’s Industrial Growth During World Wars:

  • Rapid growth and structural change characterized Japan’s two periods of economic development since 1868. In the first period, the economy grew only moderately at first and relied heavily on traditional agriculture to finance modern industrial infrastructure. When the Russo-Japanese War began in 1904, 65% of employment and 38% of the gross domestic product (GDP) was still based on agriculture but modern industry had begun to expand substantially.
  • During World War I, Japan used the absence of the war-torn European competitors on the world market to advance its economy, generating a trade surplus for the first time since the isolation in the Edo period. By the late 1920s, manufacturing and mining contributed 23% of GDP, compared with 21% for all of agriculture. Transportation and communications had developed to sustain heavy industrial development.
  • In the 1930s, the Japanese economy suffered less from the Great Depression than most industrialized nations, expanding at the rapid rate of 5% of GDP per year. Manufacturing and mining came to account for more than 30% of GDP, more than twice the value for the agricultural sector. Most industrial growth, however, was geared toward expanding the nation’s military power.
  • Before World War II, Japan built an extensive empire that included Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria, and parts of northern China. The Japanese regarded this sphere of influence as a political and economic necessity, preventing foreign states from strangling Japan by blocking its access to raw materials and crucial sea-lanes, as Japan possessed very few natural and mining resources of its own, although it imported large amounts of coal from Korea, Manchukuo, and some regions of occupied China. Japan’s large military force was regarded as essential to the empire’s defense.
  • Beginning in 1937 with significant land seizures in China, and to a greater extent after 1941, when annexations and invasions across Southeast Asia and the Pacific created the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Japanese government sought to acquire and develop critical natural resources in order to secure economic independence. Among the natural resources Japan seized and developed were: coal in China, sugarcane in the Philippines, petroleum from the Dutch East Indies and Burma, and tin and bauxite from the Dutch East Indies and Malaya.
  • During the early stages of Japan’s expansion, the Japanese economy expanded considerably. Steel production rose from 6.4 million tonnes to 8.8 million tonnes over the same time period. In 1941 Japanese aircraft industries had the capacity to manufacture 10,000 aircraft per year. Much of this economic expansion benefited the “zaibatsu”, large industrial conglomerates.
  • Over the course of the Pacific War, the economies of Japan and its occupied territories all suffered severely. Inflation was rampant; Japanese heavy industry, forced to devote nearly all its production to meeting military needs, was unable to meet the commercial requirements of Japan (which had previously relied on trade with Western countries for their manufactured goods). Local industries were unable to produce at high enough levels to avoid severe shortfalls. Furthermore, maritime trade, upon which the Empire depended greatly, was sharply curtailed by damage to the Japanese merchant fleet over the course of the war.
  • By the end of the war, what remained of the Japanese Empire was wracked by shortages, inflation, and currency devaluation. Transport was nearly impossible, and industrial production in Japan’s shattered cities ground to a halt. The destruction wrought by the war eventually brought the Japanese economy to a virtual standstill.

Effects of Japanese Industrial Revolution:

Social and Cultural Effects of Industrialization

  • Industrialization and other changes went along with a massive population increase that supplied cheap labor but strained resources and stability. In the cultural sphere, the government introduced a universal education system stressing science, technology, and loyalty to the nation. The scientific approach enhanced the earlier secular bent of elite culture. Western fashions in dress and personal care were adopted, along with the calendar and metric system. Christianity, however, gained few converts.
  • In family life, the birth rate dropped as population growth forced movement from the land and factory labor made children less useful. Family instability showed in a high divorce rate. The traditional view of the inferiority of women in the household continued; formality of manners and diet were maintained. Shintoism (The ancient indigenous religion of Japan; characterized by a veneration of nature spirits and of ancestors) found new believers.

International Impact of Industrialization:

  • The changes in Japan’s economic power influenced foreign policy. By the 1890s, they joined the imperialist nations. The change gave displaced samurai a role and provided nationalist stimulation for the populace.
  • Japan’s need for raw materials helped pressure expansion. China and Japan fought over Korea in 1894-1895; Japan’s quick victory demonstrated the presence of a new Asian power.
  • A 1902 alliance with Britain made it an equal partner in the great power diplomatic system. Rivalry with Russia brought war in 1904 and another Japanese victory. Korea was annexed in 1910.
  • The rise of Japan changed the world diplomatic picture by the early twentieth century. Japan was not yet a major world power, but Westerners thought about a “Yellow Peril” as they watched its new strength.

The Strain of Modernization

  • Japanese success had its costs, among them poor living standards in crowded cities and arguments between generations over Westernization.
  • The emergence of political parties caused disputes with the emperor and his ministers, leading to frequent elections and political assassinations.
  • Many intellectuals worried about the loss of identity in a changing world; others were concerned at lack of economic opportunities for the enlarged educated class. To counter the malaise, officials urged loyalty to the emperor as a center of national identity.
  • Japanese nationalism built on traditions of superiority and cohesion, deference to rulers, and the tensions from change. Its strength was a main factor in preventing the revolutions occurring in other industrializing nations. No other nation outside the West matched Japan’s achievements.

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  1. Adithya Kiran says:



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