A Modern History of Japan: From Tokugawa Times to the Present

By Andrew Gordon | Go to book overview

15
Political Struggles and Settlements of the
High-Growth Era

The histories of politics and economy in postwar Japan offer a study in contrasts. Across three decades, the economy grew so quickly and consistently that even the United States began to study “the Japanese model” for lessons of success. The political world, in contrast, witnessed numerous sharp struggles. People argued over how to distribute the fruits of economic gain. They fought over the divisive question of Japan's international alignment. From the 1960s into the 1970s, the intensity of political confrontation seen in the previous decade diminished somewhat. But some new issues came to the fore, centered on the costs and dilemmas of affluence. Domestically, the nation confronted the problem of protecting people from pollution, as extraordinary growth incurred extraordinary environmental costs. Internationally, Japan's place in the Cold War struggle between the capitalist and communist worlds became less controversial, while tension over trade imbalances and economic friction within the capitalist world grew more intense. The story of the postwar economy is thus inseparable from the turbulent postwar history of political struggle and settlement.


POLITICAL STRUGGLES

As the occupation ended, the national political map remained divided into two major camps, referred to at the time as “conservative” and “progressive.” They opposed each other bitterly, and their all-out clashes were the most important political events of the 1950s. But these groups were also divided sharply within themselves. One cannot understand the outcome of these political struggles and later settlements without recognizing the major schisms within.

At the head of the conservative forces, with close links to the bureaucratic and business elites, stood the Liberal Party. Its leader,Yoshida Shigeru, was prime minister when the treaty was signed. In the first post-occupation general election, of October 1952, the Liberals won 48 percent of the vote and 52 percent of the Diet seats. But the party was divided internally over both personality and policy. Hatoyama Ichirō led the opposition within the party. Like many of his opponents on the left, he objected especially to Yoshida's willingness to accept “subordinate independence” under American hegemony.

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