History of Japan

TOWARD A NEW CENTURY, 1953-87

Political Developments

Political parties had begun to revive almost immediately after the occupation began. Left-wing organizations, such as the Japan Socialist Party and the Japan Communist Party, quickly reestablished themselves, as did various conservative parties. The old Seiyokai and Rikken Minseito came back as, respectively, the Liberal Party (Nihon Jiyuto) and the Japan Progressive Party (Nihon Shimpoto). The first postwar elections were held in 1946 (women were given the franchise for the first time), and the Liberal Party's vice president, Yoshida Shigeru (1878-1967), became prime minister. For the 1947 elections, anti-Yoshida forces left the Liberal Party and joined forces with the Progressive Party to establish the new Democratic Party (Minshuto). This divisiveness in conservative ranks gave a plurality to the Japan Socialist Party, which was allowed to form a cabinet, which lasted less than a year. Thereafter, the socialist party steadily declined in its electoral successes. After a short period of Democratic Party administration, Yoshida returned in late 1948 and continued to serve as prime minister until 1954.

Even before Japan regained full sovereignty, the government had rehabilitated nearly 80,000 people who had been purged, many of whom returned to their former political and government positions. A debate over limitations on military spending and the sovereignty of the emperor ensued, contributing to the great reduction in the Liberal Party's majority in the first postoccupation elections (October 1952). After several reorganizations of the armed forces, in 1954 the Self-Defense Forces were established under a civilian director. Cold War realities and the hot war in nearby Korea also contributed significantly to the United States-influenced economic redevelopment, the suppression of communism, and the discouragement of organized labor in Japan during this period.

Continual fragmentation of parties and a succession of minority governments led conservative forces to merge the Liberal Party (Jiyuto) with the Japan Democratic Party (Nihon Minshuto), an offshoot of the earlier Democratic Party, to form the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyu-Minshuto; LDP) in November 1955. This party continuously held power from 1955 through 1993, when it was replaced by a new minority government. LDP leadership was drawn from the elite who had seen Japan through the defeat and occupation; it attracted former bureaucrats, local politicians, businessmen, journalists, other professionals, farmers, and university graduates. In October 1955, socialist groups reunited under the Japan Socialist Party, which emerged as the second most powerful political force. It was followed closely in popularity by the Komeito (Clean Government Party), founded in 1964 as the political arm of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), a lay organization of the Buddhist sect Nichiren Shoshu. The Komeito emphasized traditional Japanese beliefs and attracted urban laborers, former rural residents, and many women. Like the Japan Socialist Party, it favored the gradual modification and dissolution of the JapanUnited States Mutual Security Assistance Pact.

Foreign Affairs

Japan's biggest postwar political crisis took place in 1960 over the revision of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact. As the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was concluded, which renewed the United States role as military protector of Japan, massive street protests and political upheaval occurred, and the cabinet resigned a month after the Diet's ratification of the treaty. Thereafter, political turmoil subsided. Japanese views of the United States, after years of mass protests over nuclear armaments and the mutual defense pact, improved by 1972, with the reversion of United States-occupied Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty and the winding down of the Second Indochina War (1954-75).

Japan had reestablished relations with the Republic of China after World War II, and cordial relations were maintained with the nationalist government when it was exiled to Taiwan, a policy that won Japan the enmity of the People's Republic of China, which was established in 1949. After the general warming of relations between China and Western countries, especially the United States, which shocked Japan with its sudden rapprochement with Beijing in 1971, Tokyo established relations with Beijing in 1972. Close cooperation in the economic sphere followed.

Japan's relations with the Soviet Union continued to be problematic long after the war. The main object of dispute was the Soviet occupation of what Japan calls its Northern Territories, the two most southerly islands in the Kurils (Etorofu and Kunashiri) and Shikotan and the Habomai Islands (northeast of Hokkaido), which were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II.

Economic Achievements and the Liberal Democratic Party

Throughout the postwar period, Japan's economy continued to boom, with results far outstripping expectations. Japan rapidly caught up with the West in foreign trade, gross national product, and general quality of life. These achievements were underscored by the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and the Osaka International Exposition (Expo '70) world's fair in 1970.

The high economic growth and political tranquillity of the midto late 1960s were tempered by the quadrupling of oil prices by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973. Almost completely dependent on imports for petroleum, Japan experienced its first recession since World War II.

Despite its wealth and central position in the world economy, Japan has had little or no influence in global politics for much of the postwar period. Under the prime ministership of Tanaka Kakuei (1972-74), Japan took a stronger but still low-key stance by steadily increasing its defense spending and easing trade frictions with the United States. Tanaka's administration was also characterized by high-level talks with United States, Soviet, and Chinese leaders, if with mixed results. His visits to Indonesia and Thailand prompted riots, a manifestation of long-standing antiJapanese sentiments. Tanaka was forced to resign in 1974 because of his alleged connection to financial scandals and, in the face of charges of involvement in the Lockheed bribery scandal, he was arrested and jailed briefly in 1976.

By the late 1970s, the Komeito and the Democratic Socialist Party had come to accept the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, and the Democratic Socialist Party even came to support a small defense buildup. The Japan Socialist Party, too, was forced to abandon its once strict antimilitary stance. The United States kept up pressure on Japan to increase its defense spending above 1 percent of its GNP, engendering much debate in the Diet, with most opposition coming not from minority parties or public opinion but from budget-conscious officials in the Ministry of Finance.

The fractious politics of the LDP hindered consensus in the Diet in the late 1970s. The sudden death of Prime Minister Ohira Masayoshi just before the June 1980 elections, however, brought out a sympathy vote for the party and gave the new prime minister, Suzuki Zenko, a working majority. Suzuki was soon swept up in a controversy over the publication of a textbook that appeared to many of Japan's former enemies as a whitewash of Japanese aggression in World War II. This incident, and serious fiscal problems, caused the Suzuki cabinet, composed of numerous LDP factions, to fall.

Nakasone Yasuhiro, a conservative backed by the still-powerful Tanaka and Suzuki factions who once served as director general of the Defense Agency, became prime minister in November 1982. Several cordial visits between Nakasone and United States president Ronald Reagan were aimed at improving relations between their countries. Nakasone's more strident position on Japanese defense issues made him popular with some United States officials but not, generally, in Japan or among Asian neighbors. Although his characterization of Japan as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier," his noting the "common destiny" of Japan and the United States, and his calling for revisions to Article 9 of the Constitution (which renounced war as the sovereign right of the nation), among other prorearmament statements, produced negative reactions at home and abroad, a gradual acceptance emerged of the Self-Defense Forces and the mutual security treaty with the United States in the mid-1980s.

Another serious problem was Japan's growing trade surplus, which reached record heights during Nakasone's first term. The United States pressured Japan to remedy the imbalance, demanding that Tokyo raise the value of the yen and open its markets further to facilitate more imports from the United States. Because the Japanese government aids and protects its key industries, it was accused of creating an unfair competitive advantage. Tokyo agreed to try to resolve these problems but generally defended its industrial policies and made concessions on its trade restrictions very reluctantly.

In November 1984, Nakasone was chosen for a second term as LDP president. His cabinet received an unusually high rating, a 50 percent favorable response in polling during his first term, while opposition parties reached a new low in popular support. As he moved into his second term, Nakasone thus held a strong position in the Diet and the nation. Despite being found guilty of bribery in 1983, Tanaka in the early to mid-1980s remained a power behind the scenes through his control of the party's informal apparatus, and he continued as an influential adviser to the more internationally minded Nakasone. The end of Nakasone's tenure as prime minister in October 1987 (his second two-year term had been extended for one year) was a momentous point in modern Japanese history. Just fifteen months before Nakasone's retirement, the LDP unexpectedly had won its largest majority ever in the House of Representatives by securing 304 out of the 512 seats. Despite the solid conservative majority, the government was faced with growing crises. Land prices were rapidly increasing, inflation increased at the highest rate since 1975, unemployment reached a record high at 3.2 percent, bankruptcies were rife, and there was political rancor over LDP-proposed tax reform. In the summer of 1987, economic indicators showed signs of recovery, but on October 20, 1987, the same day Nakasone officially named his successor, Takeshita Noboru, the Tokyo Stock Market crashed. Japan's economy and its political system had reached a watershed in their postwar development that would continue to play out into the 1990s.

Japan History Contents

SOURCE: Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress