By Laith Kalai
Japan: from Atomic bomb victim, to the world's third largest economy, this bizarre miracle of a country was host to one of the world's most merciless earthquakes and tsunamis and suffered a horrifying nuclear aftermath: Will Japan keep fighting?
Having been reduced to ashes in the aftermath of World War II, Japan shocked the world as it became the world's third largest economy. How did such drastic change occur in less than 50 years? What decisions did the Japanese government make to keep a balance between economic growth and economic development? Why is it that Japan currently has the word 'uninhabitable' written in red all over it?
The words you see above translate to willpower, strength, and sacrifice. This is not some cliché tattoo design that guys get on their biceps. It represents important values and ubiquitous traits seen throughout Japan's history mostly evident since 1945.After the Second World War, Japan was utterly devastated. All of its major cities (except Kyoto), its industries, and its transportation networks were damaged beyond imagination. Despite the infrastructural damage, a brutal scarcity of food lasted throughout the years. With that in mind, Japan surprisingly and quickly made its way to the top of the top, achieving the status of a Top 3 world economy.
Very sensitive decisions had to be made after the war, as each action the government had to make had the potential of affecting millions of people. At this point, one should differentiate between the terms 'economic growth' and 'economic development'. Economic growth refers to an increase in national or per capita income and product. For non IB Economics students, it is concerned with increasing the country's wealth. An increase in economic growth reflects an increase in the production of goods and services which also leads to an increase in average income. Economic development, on the other hand, implies more social improvements in the country such as improvements in health, education, and other aspects of human welfare.
Japan's rise as an economic world power is nothing short of spectacular. It isn't merely the economic status it currently maintains that makes it so special; it's also the country's technological break throughs, product quality and the incidence of "Made-in-Japan" products in every corner of the world that manifest Japan's success. Even more impressively, in spite of the massive economic power it has, it seldom got itself involved in political disagreements. To put it in simpler terms: an economic monster took the role of a self-concerned country when it came to world political affairs. Evidence of Japan's sudden rise or restoration as a country in the post-occupation period is the hosting of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, 1964. Another similar fact is that in 1980, Japan became the world's largest car producer, as its annual car production exceeded 10 million units.
The interesting observation about Japan's re-establishment is the fact that under US occupation, the Japanese government valued economic growth much more than economic development. Despite this being the case, economic development came along just fine without any efforts as the Japanese people saw the need to educate, employ and take care of themselves all alone, even with the government’s priorities focusing on the country's wealth and not the human welfare. As their motherland sobbed and bled, they disciplined their way into healing the wounds.
Expected to drastically fall down the well, unemployment rates and literacy rates were the least affected. Japan's postwar education system strongly contributed to the renovation process. The world's top literacy rate and supreme education standards were one of the main reasons for Japan's success at attaining a technologically superior economy. Japanese schools kept encouraging discipline which also helped in constructing a highly effective work force.One could acknowledge the US efforts in rebuilding the country as a democratic state from 1945 to 1952, but however this was only the ignition of the vehicle as it was the Japanese people who hit the pedal and made the vehicle run. About 60% of US bilateral aid was in the form of food and 28% in the form of industrial material and transportation tools.After a lot of work and effort, the economy was able to enjoy foreign trade as it was in a state where it could greatly expand exports to pay for the country's big necessity: imports without plunging into debt like several other developing nations in that period, otherwise known as economic surplus.
Shocking the World
The marvelous acts lie within the Japanese people and how they worked together, being a collectivist culture, to make their own miracles and reach the top. What they have done since the Second World War is a perfect example of what one can make out of a seemingly hopeless situation.
The government didn't need to worry about education, employment, and human welfare in general as they knew that the people would be responsible.
Japan was unfortunately hit by a colossal earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 (richter scale) on Friday, March 11th, 2011. The Japanese National Police Agency confirmed approximately 28,000 casualties and over 125,000 destroyed buildings.
Naoto Kan, the Japanese Prime Minister said "In the 65 years after the end of World War II, this is the toughest and the most difficult crisis for Japan."
A total of twelve nuclear reactors were automatically shut down following the earthquake in March. When nuclear reactors are shut down, cooling is needed to remove any decay heat and to maintain spent fuel pools. However, cooling didn't take place in most reactor shutdowns as it didn't function properly, causing leakages of radioactive waste.At Fukushima I and II, the tsunami waves ploughed through the seawalls and came right down, destroying diesel backup power systems. This led to horrifying problems at Fukushima I, including three explosions and a radioactive leakage. More than 200,000 people were evacuated before and after Japan declared an emergency state.
Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant lost 3 of 4 external power lines and lost cooling functions for as long as 80 minutes. A spill of some liters of radioactive water took place at Onagawa.Officials reported that radiation levels within the plant were as high as 1,000 times the normal levels. They also reported that radiation levels outside the plant were as much as 8 times the normal levels. As a result, a state of emergency was declared at Fukushima II.The discovery of radioactive iodine was detected in several tap water sources, bodies of water, bodies of soil and some food products throughout the country.
Poor, poor Japan
Japan, with a population of approximately 130 million people, is now said to be uninhabitable. Having nuclear power plants well distributed around the country, one can't predict the dangers such a catastrophe poses to human life.
Will Japan and its people give up the fight against nature and flee their country? Will Japan tolerate more chaos than in the past 50 years and keep moving forward? Will we be able to fairly say that willpower, strength and sacrifice will again prevail and save the country from an inevitable and unfortunate downfall? One can't predict. One can only hope that the same remarkable collective work that took place post World War II will take place again and lift the country from its nuclear contaminated tears.
Photo's Courtesy of LIFE Magazine
Notice where the boat Landed Flattened Land