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

By Andrew Gordon | Go to book overview

16
Global Power in a Polarized World
Japan in the 1980s

The emergence of Japan as a prosperous, confident, and peaceful nation was a striking development of postwar global history. At home, from the 1970s through the 1980s, some people swelled with pride bordering on arrogance at national achievements. They chafed at the jealous criticism of foreigners. Some spoke nostalgically of the vanishing of older ways of life. They worried that the younger generation had lost the focused commitment of their seniors. Others argued for a greater openness to the world, more tolerance of variety, or more equality in the worlds of men and women. They protested that ordinary Japanese, working long hours and commuting long distances from cramped homes, were not fully sharing the fruits of affluence.

Views from outside mixed attitudes of envy with admiration. In the eyes of some, the image of Japan turned sharply from economic miracle to economic menace. Others looked to a “Japanese model” as an alternative form of capitalism more successful than the Western or American version. In this regard, the decade of the 1980s, in particular, was a remarkable moment of satisfaction and congratulation, unimaginable in the early postwar era and premature in retrospect.


NEW ROLES IN THE WORLD AND NEW TENSIONS

The reversion of Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972 eliminated a major legal remnant of the American occupation. Although U.S. troops and bases remained on the island, the long-awaited return of sovereignty offered the possibility of a new equality in the relationship of the United States to Japan. But two events of the previous year, the so-called “Nixon shocks,” undercut this promise. In July 1971, U.S. president Richard Nixon announced the stunning news of his plan to visit the People's Republic of China (PRC). In short order the United States and the PRC established normal diplomatic relations. Then, in August, Nixon announced that the United States would abandon the gold standard and allow the cost of the dollar to fluctuate against other currencies. The value of the yen rose sharply, reflecting Japanese economic power but also making Japanese exports considerably more expensive.

Both of these announcements had major consequences for Japan. The fact that Nixon made them without consultation or even prior notice angered the Japanese

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