The phoenix-like emergence of Japan from the ashes and rubble of the 1945 defeat to become one of the world’s most powerful industrial economies by the 1980s has often been casually characterized as a ‘miracle’. Yet, as with other aspects of contemporary Japan, both the origins and the nature of that ‘miracle’ are highly contested. For some scholars, Japan’s success represents the triumph of market forces: they see Japan as engaged in a process of convergence, becoming more and more like the West. Other interpretations stress the special circumstances of Japan’s economic rise, notably the external agency of the United States — with its technical assistance and know-how — and the fortuitous outbreak of the Cold War (and especially the Korean conflict) which provided the Americans with a compelling rationale to bolster the Japanese economy. Revisionists, led by Chalmers Johnson, emphasize the degree to which Japan’s accelerated post-war industrialization was a state-led process, coordinated by key agencies such as the Ministry for International Trade and Industry. Johnson describes Japan as a ‘developmental state’ a view opposed by mainstream American scholars, who are generally uncomfortable with statist explanations for ideological reasons.
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