The Emergence and Crisis of the Japanese State of Harmony
Japan’s historical experience of governance provides many unique insights into the modernization process of the past 500 years. Japan, owing to its isolation, relatively fractured geography, and the consequent diffi culty of imposing an eff ective centralized state on the Chinese pattern over a large area, developed a kind of landlordism that resembled aristocratic feudalism in the European sense.1 In outline at least the emergence of a centralizing state in the 1600s and 1700s under the Tokugawa shoguns after a period of particularly extreme warlord-dominated anarchy resembles the contemporaneous emergence of national monarchies, some constitutional others absolutist, in Europe. The remarkable success of the Tokugawa shoguns in demilitarizing Japanese society, creating a stable basis for agrarian and urban economic expansion upon which Japan’s industrial revolution would build, and isolationism towards the outside world, laid the foundations for the modern Japanese Empire that emerged in the late 1800s. The modernization of the state and economy in the late 1800s and early 1900s, its rapid accumulation of military power and concomitant power projection in East Asia, meant that Japan was one of a handful of non-European states to enter the twentieth century with its sovereignty intact and the only one to be recognized as a Great Power by predatory Western states. Japan’s growing militarism and economic clout, however, led Japanese elites to completely reverse their long-standing policy of isolationism and drew Japan into the ﬁ fteen-year war of 1931-45, which reached its climax in the USJapan struggle for mastery over the Paciﬁ c (1941-45). Remarkably, defeat in World War II did not displace the Japanese elite. Rather, while militarism was shunned, Japan re-emerged as a constitutional monarchy with a dominant party political system that relied heavily on the civil service elite to formulate and implement policies. This new consensus had crystallized by 1955 with the emergence of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as a wide-ranging conservative alliance enjoying the support of the civil service, the royal court and the United States of America. This consensus proved enduring and continued almost uninterrupted (with a brief hiatus in 1993)
until 2010 when the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan formed a government after years of LDP failure to tackle Japan’s burgeoning domestic debt and stagnant economy.