The purpose of this chapter is to analyse and assess the part played by the agricultural sector in the process whereby Japan became an industrial country in the period up to World War II. Although the industrial sector had not by this stage ‘caught up’ with the developed countries of the time and it was only as a result of the post-World War II economic miracle that Japanese industry came to equal and, in many notable cases, surpass in scale and technological capabilities the industries of the developed West, the economy had nonetheless clearly ceased to be a non-industrial one by the time it was placed on a war footing in the late 1930s. Hence, if we are to use the Japanese case as a standard against which to compare agriculture’s role in the industrialisation of Taiwan and Korea, we must go back to the time of Japan’s first steps towards modern industrial growth in the later decades of the nineteenth century and consider a process which, whilst long drawn out in comparison to its equivalents elsewhere in East Asia, represented a rapid transformation when compared to prior experience of industrialisation in Europe and North America. As Chapter 4 will suggest, by the inter-war period the symptoms of the agricultural adjustment problem were already beginning to appear within Japan’s political economy, implying that agriculture’s transformation from the nation’s dominant economic and social force into a problem sector of an industrial economy was nearing completion. The first part of this chapter will trace the dimensions of this shift within pre-war Japan’s macro economy.
If Japan had thus become an industrial country by the time of World War II, what part had agriculture played in the process? As Chapter 1 outlined, views on the role agriculture can play as development proceeds have themselves changed and developed over time and in what follows, Japan’s case is considered in the light of the approaches which have emerged from analysis of the experience of developing countries in recent years. Much of the earlier work on agriculture’s contribution to Japan’s development was conducted within the framework of the two-sector or dual-economy model