Postwar Japan as History

Postwar Japan as History

Postwar Japan as History

Postwar Japan as History


Japan's catapult to world economic power has inspired many studies by social scientists, but few have looked at the 45 years of postwar Japan through the lens of history. The contributors to this book seek to offer such a view. As they examine three related themes of postwar history, the authors describe an ongoing historical process marked by unexpected changes, such as Japan's extraordinary economic growth, and unanticipated continuities, such as the endurance of conservative rule. A provocative set of interpretative essays by eminent scholars, this book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of twentieth-century Japan and the dilemmas facing Japan today.


The distance between 1945 and the present day, measured simply in years, now exceeds that between the turn of the century and the end of World War II. Yet for understandable reasons historians have ventured few systematic analyses of the postwar years. Perhaps most important, the absence of a “natural” boundary such as a revolution or a catastrophic war makes us slow to map the terrain of the recent past. In the late 1980s a belief that the time had come to attempt such analysis prompted the series of conferences that resulted in this book.

On a conceptual level the contributors shared a belief that the postwar era in some sense had ended as Japan became a dominant global economic power in the 1980s, although we recognized the difficulty of defining the condition called “postwar” Japan or declaring it to have ended. As early as 1955, as recently as 1990, and numerous times in between, Japan’s postwar era has been deemed “finished,” yet in this volume Bruce Cumings argues that Japan’s subordinate position in a postwar international system had not ended even by 1990. One goal of this book is thus to clarify the varied senses in which people have defined the postwar era and marked its boundaries.

Our sense of urgency also stemmed in part from a practical motive. In teaching courses on modern Japanese history, society, and politics we were frustrated by the lack of historically focused English-language studies of the postwar decades for use in the classroom. Thus, we have sought to produce a coherent set of interpretive essays for students of modern Japan.

The essays in this book have two other major goals, reviewed in more detail in the conclusion. One is to delineate several contexts for consideration of postwar history. The volume seeks to place the history of postwar Japan in broader historical, international, and comparative contexts. We wish to locate the postwar experience in the broad sweep of the twentieth century, identifying longer trends that have shaped postwar changes, so most essays begin with consideration of the prewar and wartime years. We wish to place Japan in a global context of Amer-

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