[This speech was delivered by Futoshi Matsumoto, Special Coordinator for Syria of the Government of Japan and Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of Japan in Syria in a gathering with a dozens of Syrian experts present on 9 January 2018.]
The Year 2018 and one hundred and fifty years from the Meiji Restoration
As we have just entered into 2018, let me share with you some reflections of mine over recent Japanese history at the outset of your visit to Japan. As it was decided recently that the current Emperor will retire next year, ending his reign of thirty years, this new year certainly inspires us to look beyond our modern history. Let me try my best.
The year 2018 is memorable because it marks one hundred and fifty years since the Meiji Restoration of 1868. It was the start of Japan’s modernization. The year of 1868 was a true “al-Nahda” (Restoration in Arabic) for modern Japan, preceding Syria at least by fifty years, if you consider British and Arab advancement to Damascus in 1918 as the beginning of al-Nahda for the Syrians. The basic slogan by the Meiji Government was “increase wealth and strengthen military power”. This policy led Japan to rapid modernization.
Japan’s Rise in the Early Twentieth Century
Japan rapidly developed, having won the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1985 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, to become one of five major countries (US, UK, France, Italy, and Japan), to occupy a permanent seat at the Council in the League of Nations right after World War I.
Japan was also a signatory to various treaties such as the Treaty of Versailles (1919), San Remo (1920), Sevres (1920) and Lausanne (1923).
Ever since, Japan has gradually become a “de facto Asian colonial power”, eventually colonizing the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, and a part of north eastern China called “Manchuria” and so forth.
Embracing Defeat after World War II
However, Japan’s hubris was completely shattered as it entered World War II, making an alliance with Germany and Italy as part of the tripartite axis. Particularly the war between Japan and the United States, since 7 December 1941, led Japan to a complete defeat on 15 August 1945.
Over three million Japanese lives were lost during the prolonged war. In the year of 1941, the Japanese population was around seventy-two million people, the casualty rate exceeded over four percent of the total population.
If we suppose the number of deaths in the current Syrian Crisis to be around five-hundred thousand out of a population of twenty-two million five-hundred thousand the death ratio is over two percent at maximum.
Additionally, with two atomic bombs, over one-hundred and forty thousand vanished in Hiroshima and more than seventy thousand evaporated in Nagasaki in the summer of 1945. Even Russia annexed the northern territories of Japan right after the date of Japan’s unconditional surrender on 15 August 1945.
The economic aspects of the war’s damage were simply huge and not calculated, even officially. According to Embracing Defeat written by John Dower, General MacArthur’s Supreme Command for the Allied Powers (SCAP) bureaucracy calculated early in 1946 that Japan had “lost one third of its total wealth and from one third to one half of its total potential income.”
Sixty-six major cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had been heavily bombed, destroying forty percent of these urban areas overall and rendering around thirty percent of their populations homeless. In Tokyo, the largest metropolis, sixty-five percent of all residences were destroyed.
The calamity of the war put an end to any imperialistic mindset of the Japanese nation. It was full period to the prewar notion of war and peace. The peaceful nature of the new Japanese constitution was well accepted by the Japanese then, although it was originally written by the United States. That is a principal reason why we would recommend to you to write your own constitution, by yourselves.
Three Factors for Japan’s Recovery
There may be three basic factors for Japan’s quick recovery:
After World War II, Japan’s survival was largely due to generous and massive economic assistance from the United States as well as the Japanese-US solid security arrangement in the cold war setting. The Korean War in 1950 further enhanced Japan’s quick economic recovery. These factors put together made Japan focused solely on economic development in the post-war recovery. For instance, Japanese industrial production had fallen in 1946 to twenty-seven-point-six percent of the prewar level but regained this prewar level in 1951 and reached three hundred and fifty percent in 1960.
First, the United States’ generous assistance: the Government Appropriation for Relief in Occupied Area Fund (GARIOA) and the Economic Rehabilitation in Occupied Areas (EROA) funds played a crucial role in the recovery of Japan’s economy. They were a part of the US military fund for the occupied area. The total assistance amounted to about one point eight billion US dollars. In the current value, it equals over one hundred and twenty billion US dollars.
From 1953 until 1966, starting immediately after the recovery of Japanese sovereignty, Japan received a massive loan from the World Bank, amounting to over eight hundred and sixty million US dollars, equivalent to the current value of about sixty billion US dollars. The loan was spent on building major infrastructures indispensable for Japan’s economic growth such as highways, bullet trains, and dams. To one’s surprise, Japan fully payed back this World Bank loan in 1990.
The foreign support to Japan during the post-war period made us firmly believe in the philosophy of “supporting those who help themselves”.
Japan’s Successful Economic Policy
The second reason for Japan to be able to recover from war trauma swiftly was the successful economic reform by the government. One of the major economic reforms was to adopt the “Priority Production System”. This refers to the new policy that provided priority to the production of major raw materials including steel, coal, and cotton.
Moreover, to stimulate the production, the Japanese government launched new recruitment of laborers, especially female laborers. By enhancing the recruitment of female laborers and others under explicitly detailed regulations issued by the Ministry of Labor, Japan managed to recover from the destruction.
The Korean War as an External Factor
The third factor was the outbreak of the Korean War. The United States eventually participated in the war, providing an opportunity for the Japanese economy. As the Korean Peninsula is distant from US territory, the logistics soon became a significant problem.
As one of the major supporters of the United States in Asia, Japan stood out, providing ample supply to the logistics, and also gaining greatly for producing firearms. The order of mass firearms from the United States greatly stimulated the Japanese economy, enabling Japan to recover from the wartime destruction and providing Japan the basis for the upcoming high level of economic growth increasing.
To summarize, solid security assurance provided by the United States, coupled together with massive foreign assistance either from the United States or the World Bank, and Japan’s capable economic reform on its own were the key drivers for Japan’s recovery from the ruins of World War II. In the case of Syria, you are the ones to provide the answer.