Japanese Economic Modenization (1850s-1910s)

Figure 1.--Japan in just a few decades went from an isolated fedual country to an important regional industrial power with modern and growing idustries. This is Yokahama, Japan's largest port, in the 1910s. To the right of the Western boy and his mother (probably British) is a Japanese school boy and his father. Put your cursor on the image for a closeup.

The super-isolated Japan became the first Asian country to introduce Western methods and industrialize. After the Unied States forced Japan to open its ports (1850s), the Tokogawa Shogunate began the industrilization of the country. That process was excelerated by the Mejii Restoration. One of the major steps taken by the Mejii reforers was to end the feudal system. The first sector to industrilize as with the induistrial revvolution in the West was the textile industry, primarily cotton and especially silk. Cotton had to be imported, but silk was produced domesticlly. Traditionally silk was produed at home workshops in rural areas. Modern Japanese textiles plants dominated the domestic marke and had begu to competey with British textiles in China and India (1890s) Japanese shippers had begun competing with European lines to carry goods in the Pacific and had begun to open European routes. The textile mills employed mainly employed women, about half of whom were teenagers. Their fathers incouraged this to increase family income. Japan largely skipped over theearly water power phase that Britain went thrug and early mills oprated on steam power. This created ademand for coal, onentural resource Japan had. The Mejii Government intervened massively in the economy. The government often introduced new industries seen as important, especially industries needed for producing military weapons and supplies. The Goverment would not operate these new industries over a long period. Once a factory had achieved some success, it was sold to private operators, not uncommonly at attractiove prices. Thus the Japanese Government was financing the creation of a capitalist economy. Many developing countries maintain high-import duties on foreign goods to promote the development of domestic industries. Japan did not do this. Thus Japanese industries while supported by the sate developed in a competitive environment and became highly efficient. It also meant that the companies could compete on the world market. Even before World War I, Japanese products had begun to compete with Western goods in China and other Asian markets. The relationship between industry and military power was clear. The country, however, took to economic moderization much quicker than to political and social modernization. Ths is all well reported by historians and economists. What isnot well reported is that Japanese economic progress was generated by capitalism. Perhaps because of the horendous atrocities of the Japanese military during World War I, this has been obscured. As a result, the new countries appearing with decolonization chose to try to rapidly develop modern economies through socialist polices. The reult in China and the former Europen colonies in Africa and Asia was economic failure. Only with the Asian Tigers and then China and India did the power of capitalim and the failure of socialism begin to be more widely understood.


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Created: 5:23 AM 11/26/2012
Last updated: 3:50 AM 7/26/2017