How did Japan recover from World War II and rise to become an economic world power? It all could be summed up in one word, determination, but I do not think that will fly as an answer. So let me expand on that. It began with the view that Japan was never going to recover as the entire state was practically dismantled after the war for reparations and to prevent Japan from making any more military products and/or gains. As many businesses could not get paid from the government for services and products during the war, bankruptcy skyrocketed, and the nation fell into economic despair. Yet like with many economic recessions, the pendulum swung the other way with the outbreak of the Korean War.
The Korean War ushered in a new boom in manufacturing and services for the United States. As the money rolled in from the US, Japanese businessmen used it to expand their production and make improvements that would last beyond the current economic situation and beyond the war. This meant new technology needed and used, new products being made, and a new set of skills acquired by the Japanese. These would be put into good use once the Korean War was past and Japan had to regroup to plan for the future once again.
With the war over, Japanese manufacturers turned their attention from military product to the new skills of making “sewing machines, cameras, and binoculars” which when taken with “their existing expertise and knowledge” in addition to “aggressive corporate strategies, corporative labor relations, and the most promising technologies for industrial development” gave Japan the edge it needed to really soar beyond expectations. The world was ready for Japanese products that were now available. There were hiccups during this growth, but the Japanese used it as a way to learn lessons and improve upon their procedures. This led to such amazing growth that various countries, including the United States, expressed concern of the rapid expansion and also a little jealousy. The fact that Japan rose to such heights could be described as a miracle. I prefer to see it as using their resources wisely and determination. (1)
(1) Mark Borthwick, Pacific Century: The Emergence of Modern Pacific Asia, 3rd edition, (Westview Press: New York, 2007), 231 – 245.