Modern Japan: A History in Documents

By James L. Huffman | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
Japan as a
World Power:
After 1970

Contemporary periods always plague historians trying to create a cohesive narrative. Full of conflicting currents, they are too recent for a consensus to emerge about the [big picture.] It seems safe nonetheless to say that two features dominated the last third of Japan's twentieth century. On the one hand, there were the sharp, roller-coaster ups and downs of the economy characterized by inflation and economic turbulence followed by a long period of abundance, and followed again by economic troubles. On the other hand, there was the consistent vitality of life for most Japanese. Personal living standards remained among the highest in the world, even during the economic downturns of the 1990s. Japanese cities were accessible and safe. Public transportation was efficient and reliable. The country's popular culture exported video games and animated films, internationally known as anime, to the rest of the world. Japan also continued to set standards for efficiency and innovation in areas as varied as computer software and automobile manufacturing. From the late 1980s, the Japanese government gave more foreign aid than any other country in the world. And its Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, popularly known as JET, set benchmarks for internationalization-in-action by bringing in thousands of foreigners each year to teach English.

The 1970s began with the country in a tailspin, as the troubles of the late 1960s seemed to intensify with each passing month. The environmental problems continued, even after the Diet began passing antipollution legislation. The worldwide energy crisis that occurred when oil prices quadrupled in 1973 hit Japan particularly hard, because oil accounted for three-fourths of its energy and had to be almost

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