THREE years ago, at the crest of the first great wave of post-war prosperity, irreverent Shintoists used to say that an electric, refrigerator, a TV set, and a washing machine had replaced the mirror, the sword, and the jewel of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, as the three sacred treasures of Japan. Today, an electric refrigerator remains on the list, but an automobile and an air conditioner have replaced the commonplace TV set and washing machine. In 1957 only one home in ten had a TV set; today there is a set for every four homes. Washing machines are even more numerous — one housewife in three is now spared the backbreaking task of scrubbing the family laundry. The charcoal-burning hibachi has gone from many kitchens, and the rice pot simmers on an electric ring. A peasant with a two-acre field plows with a rotary hoe.
Internal consumption of textiles is higher than in France or Italy. Food is plentiful and cheap. Exports went over the $300 million mark for the first time in the month of June, and the expectation is that this year they will total more than $3 billion. Last year, even under the retarding influence of the recession, the rate of growth of the economy was 8 per cent; this year the rate is in the vicinity of 10 per cent. Real wages have gone up by more than a third since before World War II. And, while official economists continue to sound their warnings that Japan’s exports are lagging behind West Germany’s in the vital field of capital goods, Japan’s industrialists have few doubts about the future. The economy, they say, has not only broken through but exploded.
Their ebullience is understandable. Located on four islands, smaller in total area than the state of California, poor in all indigenous resources, except water for hydroelectricity, low-grade coal, and the skills and energies of its 92 million people, Japan is a living example to the uncommitted millions of Asia of the material benefits and rich rewards that come from a combination of hard work and free enterprise. Over the short haul and the long, Japan’s record in the past ten years has not been surpassed by any other major industrial power.
Curiously, Japan’s remarkable industrial recovery had little initial impact on its Southeast Asian neighbors. In part this was the result of an inbred Southeast Asian inclination to equate capitalism with colonialism, and in part a hangover of wartime antagonisms, but the effect was to cause many who were looking for a formula for the rapid development of underdeveloped countries to look first to Communist China. Now they are beginning to look to Japan. The Japanese reparations program will put about $70 million a year into Southeast Asia for the next twenty years, and the flow of students and technicians into Japan from Southeast Asia today is matched by the export of Japanese technicians to all parts of free Asia except South Korea.
Few who visit Japan leave it unimpressed. Dr. P. C. Mahalanobis, director of India’s second Five Year Plan, called Japan’s accumulation of capital by the voluntary efforts of its people and industries a “wonder of the world.” Another cause for wonder is the social revolution, which is rapidly changing the customs, clothing, diet, living standards, and even the physical appearance of the Japanese people — they are becoming taller and sturdier, and their life expectancy has increased by twenty years since the mid-thirties.
The emancipation of women
Nowhere is this change more marked than in the role of women. Of the labor force of approximately 44 million, more than 6 million today are women. They not only fill their traditional roles in the field of entertainment and in the textile industry, they are also invading business and the professions. They are the principal customers in the lavishly stocked department stores in the main cities; theirs are the investments, made in unique air-conditioned salons that the stock market conveniently provides in the larger shops, which helped to send the prices of shares to their highest level ever during the summer boom.
Fewer children, labor-saving devices in the home, and the taste of better living standards have accelerated the processes of emancipation that the occupation began. Women no longer regard themselves as married to their husbands’ families, nor do they hesitate to take their domestic and matrimonial problems to the family court. The modern girl who does not yet rebel against the arranged marriage insists at least on the right of the veto. If the processes of emancipation are far from complete, the target of full equality is clearly in sight.
Especially in the larger cities, meat, vegetables, fruit, and bread are rapidly replacing rice and fish as the staple diet; in Tokyo, restaurants serving Western food outnumber those offering Japanese dishes. Sales of sake, the Japanese rice wine, have fallen rapidly, while beer and wine are becoming more and more popular.
Draconian methods of control have now almost destroyed fears of overpopulation. Though there is real concern about the country’s capacity to absorb the results of the 1947-1949 baby boom when it begins to reach the labor market in three years’ time, long-range population forecasts estimate that Japan will actually begin to suffer from a labor shortage after 1965.
The disappearance of infant children from their mothers’ backs and the village streets is almost as striking as the outcrop of TV antennas. From 1947 to 1949 births averaged nearly 2,700,000 a year; from 1956 to 1958 the average was 1,620,000, giving Japan a birth rate of 18 per thousand, compared with 24 in the United States and 28 in Canada.
In the years immediately following the amendment of the Eugenics Protection Law in 1949, induced abortion was almost the only factor in the falling birth rate. More recently, the official circulation of family planning information and the widespread practice of birth control have begun to have effect. Fifty thousand visiting nurses and midwives in eight hundred health centers throughout Japan have been trained in birth control procedures. To the well to do, they give advice; among the indigent, they distribute contraceptives free of charge; and such has been their impact that the Institute of Population Problems now estimates that 60 per cent of couples in urban areas where the wife is under fifty years of age now practice birth control. In rural areas the figure is said to be 40 per cent. Only in fishing villages and among isolated mountain communities has the program failed.
Poverty in the midst of plenty
Despite the smaller families and the general improvement in living standards, life for many Japanese is still not easy. The economy has a duality that must be taken into account in any objective assessment of the scene. The huge, clean, and modern factories outside Tokyo and on the Kansai Plain in the NagoyaOsaka-Kobe complex, complete with free beauty shops for women employees, have to be matched against the poverty that still exists in the cottage industries.
The 1955 census figures (the latest available) are admittedly inadequate in this period of great change, but it is worthy of note that of all employees over the age of fifteen in that year, 37.5 per cent were employed in old-fashioned small enterprises run on a family basis, and that 31 per cent of these employees were actually unpaid family workers.
The Ministry of Labor estimates that the average monthly cash earnings of a Japanese regular worker in 1958 were $60, but this figure does not give a true picture of labor earnings. In the absence of a minimum basic wage, the larger companies often pay ten times as much as the smaller firms and throw in numerous fringe benefits, ranging from beauty treatments for girls to assistance in transportation, accommodation, and food. The unemployment figure of approximately 600,000 is not high, but the number of underemployed on the rural-urban fringe is variously estimated to be from 2.5 to 5 million.
The workers in cottage industries, at one end of the social scale, and the intellectuals, at the other, have had little share in Japan’s prosperity. Approximately 25,000 graduates of the engineering, medical, and science faculties in Japan’s universities find gainful employment each year; for more than 100,000 others, and especially for those who do not attend the top four or five colleges, job hunting is hard and often unrewarding. Larger firms conduct their own entrance examinations, and, almost invariably, only graduates from the top-ranking colleges are accepted as candidates. Even so, as many as 3000 candidates often compete for ten or a dozen vacancies. Suicide and tuberculosis remain the principal causes of death, and suicide is especially high among students.
Successful candidates for government service begin work at about a third the real salary they would have received before the war. Others who can find no jobs commensurate with their training and skills drift into unskilled occupations. Many streetcar conductors and bar hostesses, for example, hold arts degrees.
The Teachers’ Union
From this frustration of the intellectuals comes the most articulate leadership of the extreme left. The Teachers’ Union, with half a million members, is both the most active, and, with the Railways Union, the largest member of Sohyo, the leftwing congress of trade unions — which, in turn, is the chief support for the Marxist wing of the Socialist Party.
Occasional pitched battles between the Police and the Teachers’ Union, strong left-wing tendencies among some university professors and writers, the activities of the students’ organization, Zengakuren (which was expelled from the Communist Party for left-wing adventurism), and a general tendency toward Communist leadership in many unions sometimes appear to endow the extreme left with a following it does not in fact possess. In terms of the total labor force, the unions, with a membership of only about seven million, are small, and Sohyo, especially, has lost prestige by its fondness for taking direct action for political, rather than economic, ends.
Sometimes, as in its opposition to the Police Law revision last year, Sohyo has been in accord with general public opinion; more often, however, it serves principally as the mouthpiece for the Communist Party, which once again is making a bid for the control of organized labor. This is a serious development, but in evaluating its general significance it is important to remember that Party membership is down to 45,000 and that the Communists can no longer count on more than 2 per cent of the national vote.
Link with the United States
As Communist China started on its own road to industrialization it had the good will of most Japanese. No significant body of public opinion in Japan opposed Sino-Japanese trade; on the contrary, there were many who recalled, in eager anticipation of good things to come, that trade with China before the war accounted for 16 per cent of Japan’s imports and exports.
Chinese intransigency has dissipated much of this good will. Today there is both a clear appreciation that Japan’s economic future is closely linked with that of the United States and a sharp, even hostile reaction to Peking’s attempts to use economic relations for political purposes. Moreover, internal developments in China in the past year have dismayed many Japanese. Culturally and historically, they feel that there are strong links between the two peoples, but accounts of life in the communes and the killing of bonzes and the destruction of monasteries in Tibet suggest to the Japanese that their links are with the China of the past, not the present.
Businessmen need to look no further than at their rapidly expanding trade with the United States to distinguish between the substance and the shadow. Between 1954 and 1958, Japan’s exports to the United States increased from $283 million to $680 million, or 26 per cent of its total, while special dollar earnings in offshore procurement and services, though now declining, averaged more than $500 million a year.
The relationship is far from onesided, however. Japan now ranks second only to Canada as the United States’s most important trading partner. U.S. exports to Japan rose from $849 million in 1954 to $1054 million in 1958, and of these about $400 million a year were farm products protected at home by government subsidies.
Economically, then, it is not difficult to point up the interdependence of the two countries. Nor is it difficult to see Japan’s importance in the global strategic picture. There are only four main industrial complexes in the world with a full run of related industries — the West European, the Sino-Soviet, the North American, and the Japanese — and the shift of any one would have a profound effect on the balance of world power. Furthermore, Japan’s four main islands, stretching for 1500 miles off the northeast coast of Asia, form an effective shield against the main concentration of Communist Far Eastern power.
With its industrial facilities and room for deployment, Japan is also the natural cornerstone of the U.S. Far Eastern island defense chain; without the support of our nine Japanese air bases and two fleet facilities, the confined American position in Korea and Okinawa would be untenable. Finally, Japan’s logistical facilities save the United States at least $100 million a year in haulage back to the East Coast.
The Japanese do not all see an identity of strategic interests, however. Japan has always been a lone wolf in world politics, and the concept of a free partnership is both new and difficult. The general abhorrence of war, coupled with the Socialist clamor for neutralism, makes the alliance extremely delicate. The Americans in Japan are well aware of this. Servicemen in the cities are now conspicuous by their absence, and in the revision of the United States-Japan Mutual Security Pact, the United States is being careful to retain only the essentials.