THE Japanese continue to enjoy record prosperity. Since 1958, Japan has been experiencing a sustained boom, now tapering off. Despite the slackening of Japan’s expansion, the rate of growth of national product continues to be very high — perhaps the highest in the world —— and the Japanese look forward to living on a European standard within the next decade.
With the new prosperity, ancient patterns of consumption arc changing. The Japanese are beginning to eat bread, meat, eggs, and dairy products in preference to the traditional ricecentered diet. “Instant” foods of all descriptions, catering to the new tastes as well as to the desire of the housewife to take it easy, have gained great vogue. Enjoyment of the material pleasures of life has become widespread for the first time in Japanese history.
The shortening of the work week for the average Japanese has given currency to the popular phrase, “leisure boom.” No longer are shops open every day of the year except during the New Year holidays. According to a recent survey, Japanese workers now spend an average of 24 days at work every month, as contrasted with 27 days in 1934. Life expectancy, reflecting the better food and medical care now enjoyed by the Japanese, is higher than it ever has been. Japanese women can now expect to live to be 70: men, 65. In the mid 1930s, the men’s average was 46.9. and that of women was 49.6.
The post-war expansion of industry in Japan has led to an overconcentration of population in the cities, with soaring costs of land, shortages of water, and paralysis of harbor, highway, and railroad traffic. Vast and noisy Tokyo, wrapped in an almost perpetual blanket of smog, the world’s most populous city and the home of one out of ten Japanese, epitomizes the difficulties.
The government is attempting to persuade industry to disperse to other, less developed areas of Japan, and there has been considerable talk of moving governmental offices to a new site outside Tokyo as a further means of relieving some of the congestion. Since earthquakes prevent the construction of any building more than a hundred feet high, a scheme of filling in Tokyo Bay to create space for expansion of the city has also been seriously suggested.
One of the greatest immediate problems is transportation. The public transportation system in Tokyo, with an extensive network of trains, buses, trolleys, and subways, is one of the world’s finest, but it is hopelessly overloaded. In desperation. the Japan National Railways arc calling upon government offices, private companies, and schools to stagger their hours so as to alleviate the crowding.
Five hundred students have been given parttime jobs by the railways as traffic controllers. Their function is to stand on the platform and push passengers into trains, so as to utilize available space to the maximum. And, with some fanfare, a clothing manufacturer recently introduced a new winter overcoat expressly designed for commuters. The “rush-hour coat,” as it is called, has a smooth nylon surface, which the manufacturer boasts makes it easier for the wearer to squeeze on and off trains.
These problems of modern life arc not dissimilar to those faced by any other heavily urbanized industrial nation. In Japan’s case, they are probably solvable as long as the birth rate can be controlled. In 1940, there were 72 million people living in Japan. Today there arc 94 million, and the number continues to grow. Birth control is practiced but is usually ex post facto; abortion is legal and costs less than three dollars. Japanese demographers hope that the population curve will follow a classic pattern and level off at a stable figure, although this would probably not occur until the first decade of the next century.
Tariffs and trade
The post-war era has seen a rise in Japanese foreign trade and a great expansion of the Japanese economy in the field of heavy industry, with substantially increased production of machinery and other capital goods.
Emphasis before the war, at least in the export market, was on light industry, on textiles, and the like. Heavy-industry capacity was largely devoted to the production of armaments. The new diversification is due in part to increased knowledge of sophisticated industrial techniques; in part it is Japan’s response to the need to sell a large share of its products overseas. Textiles, notably cotton and rayon goods, still constitute the major segment of Japan’s exports, but electrical machinery, chemical products, metals, and metal manufactures have growing significance.
Diversification has not allowed the Japanese economy, short on supplies of virtually all the basic raw materials necessary for an industrial power, to become any more independent of foreign sources of supply. And Japan, with its greatly increased foreign commerce, is even more vulnerable now than it was before the war to the shifting currents of the world market. The impending development of regional economic organizations, such as the European Common Market, is frightening to the Japanese, who see themselves excluded and isolated. Japan has no close congenial neighbors with which it could create a similar economic affiliation.
In general, Europe has not welcomed trade with Japan; Europeans have been less ready to forgive and forget World War 11 than have Americans, and post-war economic rivalry has not eased European feelings toward Japan.
Japan’s best customer
The United States buys roughly 30 percent of what Japan has to sell; consequently, the state of the American economy is a subject of great interest to the Japanese. Prime Minister Ikeda was swept back into power in the November, 1960, elections with his promise to double the national income in the next decade. To accomplish this, Japanese economists envision a doubling of exports; Japan must, therefore, expand its present markets and find new ones. It wants to sell more to the United States.
The Kennedy Administration has shown itself to be sympathetic to Japan’s plight. In November, Secretary of State Dean Rusk headed an American delegation, including four other Cabinet members, who met with their Japanese counterparts for three days of talks in the Hakone Mountains southwest of Tokyo.
Nothing new was brought up at the conference, but the informal and convivial atmosphere of the secluded resort was conducive to a frank and friendly exchange of opinions. Japanese goods, particularly textiles, are severe competition for domestic manufactures in the United States. High tariffs are the present means used by the American government to protect these products.
This protectionism is a cause of great anxiety to the Japanese, who point out that Japan buys more from the United States than any other nation except Canada. But Japan faces the embarrassment that, while favoring free trade overseas, it pursues a rigid protectionist policy at home, highly discriminatory toward American automobile manufacturers and Swiss watchmakers, to cite but two cases.
Curiously, the Japanese express no great feeling of exhilaration from the spectacular economic success gained by their nation in the seventeen years since the end of the greatest disaster in Japanese history. The wellpublicized industrialization of China, for example, attracts far more appreciative interest.
In intellectual circles in Japan there is a decided tendency to write off the present “business society" as corrupt and exploitive. This emotional judgment, which was strong in the 1930s also, is bitterly echoed by the ultra-right, which fears that the “immorality” of Japanese capitalism may make the nation more susceptible to Communism. Thus, on both left and right there are the deeply alienated who feel they cannot plunge into the mainstream of Japanese life.
Conservatives have governed Japan since the end of the Occupation, and the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party now controls almost two thirds of the bicameral Diet. The strongly Marxist and neutralist Socialist Party has made steady growth but has been unable to make any spectacular breakthrough in its efforts to achieve a more even balance with its opponents. Neither of the two major parties has any profound commitment to parliamentary democracy, at least as it is understood in the West.
For the purposes of voting in the Diet, each party is generally well disciplined, but behind a thin facade of unity, the infighting and political maneuvering within each arc vicious and unprincipled. All of Japan’s political parties, including even the small Communist one, are rent by factionalism.
The party factionalism is more personal than ideological, but despite the fierce loyalties engendered by the factional organization of Japanese politics, none of Japan’s political leaders enjoys any real measure of personal popularity. None save the late Inejiro Asanuma, chairman of the Socialist Party, who in October, 1960, was stabbed to death by an ultra-right fanatic, has in recent years exerted any genuine magnetism.
By far the most colorful figure in the Japanese political world is now in retirement. Former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida (1946-1947, 1948 1954), elder statesman of the Liberal Democrats, has retreated to his opulent seaside villa in Oiso, south of Tokyo. Yoshida, luxuryloving and Anglophilic, fancies himself the Churchill of Japan; but his sharp tongue reminds one, rather, of Harry Truman.
The wily Nobusuke kishi, who was the least popular of the post-war Prime Ministers, was dethroned after the riots against the United States Japan Security Treaty and the embarrassing cancellation of the proposed visit of President Eisenhower. He lurks in the political background. still a potent figure. The present Prime Minister, Hayato Ikeda, is a highly capable political technician, but his leadership is uninspired, and there is considerable grumbling over the rapid rise of consumer prices, for which ikeda is blamed. His program to double the national income has not captured the public imagination.
The Japanese Socialists
There is a third force in Japanese politics, the Democratic Socialist Party, formed in 1960 by a band of dissidents from the right wing of the Socialist Party. It is predominantly moderate and parliamentarian, offering the Japanese voter an alternative to the extreme political viewpoints of both major parties. A Democratic Socialist government would be far more agreeable to American tastes than a Socialist one. But the Democratic Socialists are another split party. Many of the members favor a foreign policy of nonalignment, and some also oppose rearmament; others support a limited buildup of Japan’s defense forces. Some are not satisfied with the goal of a welfare state, but would like to have instead a full-scale social revolution
Furthermore, the party’s record at the polls has been miserable and makes its future existence doubtful. Reasons for this are the unfamiliarity of the electorate with the party and its program, poor organization at the grass-roots level, and the ineffective leadership of unpopular party chairman Suehire Nishio.
Rounding out the political picture are the ultra-rightists, minute in number, splintered into many tiny groups, but capable of making headline news from time to time.
The tactics of terror used by these fanatics are strikingly reminiscent of those used in the 1930s, but there is one highly significant difference between then and now. In the 1930s the ultra-right, through its manipulation of the army, could capture the nation. Today it has no access to the levers of power.
For the United States, one of the most disturbing aspects of Japanese politics is the fact that the Liberal Democrats are the only party whose foreign policy now is heavily sympathetic toward American aims. The winning of office by the Socialists would be a major disaster for the United States. The foreign policy of the Socialist Party adheres rather closely to the Communist line. Although the party ostensibly favors nonalignment, its sympathies lie more with the Communist bloc than with the free world. American actions receive far more critical comment than do those of the Soviet Union.
More objective voices than that of the Socialist Party occasionally judge the United States very harshly vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. A recent editorial in the Asahi, generally regarded as Japan’s foremost newspaper, likened the United States and the Soviet Union to Germany and Japan prior to World War II. both menacing world peace.
The majority of Japanese still do not accept the realities of the world situation; they feel no sense of involvement. This is beginning to change, but only very slowly. Political apathy and a preoccupation with the problems of daily life obscure awareness of the menace of Sino-Soviet power. The sudden resumption by the Soviet Union of nuclear testing in the autumn caused a notable, although unspectacular, reaction in Japan. Fear and disgust were expressed by most Japanese, and even the ardent apologists for the Communist bloc were momentarily silenced.
But the reaction of the people was not exploited by any large wellorganized political group. The left was embarrassed; the vociferous extreme rightists are too few to stage giant demonstrations. Consequently, those protesting at the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo were infinitesimal in noise and number compared with the snake-dancing thousands who came out last year to protest against the United States Japan Security Treaty.
Barriers to understanding
The shadow of Karl Marx continues to cloud the thinking of most Japanese intellectuals. As a result, their world view is not surprising. In order for the Japanese to sharpen their judgment of international events, very basic ideas will have to be changed.
The Japanese are a very literate people, a nation of readers, but their education suffers under two great handicaps, geographical and linguistic. Few Japanese ever gain any direct experience of the outside world; few ever can travel outside the home islands, even to the mainland of Asia nearby. Those nations in the world most akin to Japan in terms of technological development, the Atlantic powers, are geographically remote.
The second disadvantage is the Japanese language, which, in its written form, is the most intricate in the world. Few foreigners ever master it. The burden of communication, therefore, rests upon the Japanese. English is the most popular foreign language in Japan. But in Japan. English is taught for the most part by people who cannot speak it.
Recently, United States Ambassador Edwin Reischauer, a former Harvard professor keenly interested in educational exchange, proposed that Japan receive a hundred teachers of English from the Peace Corps. Japanese government reaction was initially favorable, but from the public there was vigorous objection on the basis of implied insult; the Peace Corps is intended to assist underdeveloped nations, and Japan is not one of these. And the powerful, strongly leftist Teachers’ Union, ill-disposed toward the American government, immediately denounced the plan.
Japan is eager to be accepted as an equal by the other technologically advanced world powers. No other nation, except possibly the United States, is as nervously concerned with its international reputation. Despite its new prosperity, its economic recovery and growth, and its experience with parliamentary government, Japan has not yet sufficient confidence to assume the important role it is capable of playing in the world today, that of mentor and exemplar to the emerging nations of Asia and Africa.