Japan. During the year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government continued their efforts to turn the Japanese economy upwards again. Japan is plagued with huge government debt (albeit mainly to domestic lenders) and extremely low inflation, which sometimes translates into deflation. The latter has pushed down wages, with lower purchasing power and less private consumption as a result.
In April, the country’s central bank promised to double the amount of money circulating in the overall economy, raising inflation to 2%. On April 1, VAT was increased from 5 to 8%, which contributed to increased inflation, and in May an inflation rate of just over 3% was reached. In November, however, statistics were presented that showed that Japan’s economy had continued to shrink, something that the VAT increase was believed to have contributed to.
According to Countryaah.com, Japan population in 2020 is estimated at 126,476,472. The issue of whether or not nuclear power in Japan remained unresolved during the year. Following the 2011 Fukushima accident, the country’s nuclear power plant was shut down and a government decision was made to gradually phase out nuclear power in the country. Prime Minister Abe has also said he wants to reduce dependence on nuclear power. But the Abe government believes that nuclear power is necessary in the short term and wants to launch the reactors that meet new safety requirements. According to an opinion poll in January, the prime minister has a majority of the country’s residents opposed to this issue.
In July, the country’s Nuclear Inspectorate granted its preliminary permit to restart two nuclear reactors on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. In early November, the local governor approved the plans, which opened for a restart at the end of the year.
In 2014, Abe took controversial steps in foreign and defense policy. In July, the government adopted a new interpretation of the Constitution regarding Japan’s ability to resort to violence against foreign power. According to the previous interpretation, Japan is only allowed to defend itself if the country is attacked. But Abe, who was supported by a group of advisers in a report in May, wants Japan to be able to cooperate with allied countries and together with them to intervene militarily to defend a state from outside attacks. By making a new interpretation that enables this kind of “collective self-defense”, the government avoided the problem of changing the constitution itself, something that there are strong forces against in Japan.
The course change was welcomed by the US but brought harsh criticism from the Chinese side. Already in April, US President Barack Obama confirmed on a visit to Japan that the security pact between the two countries also applies to the Senkaku Islands, which in Chinese are called the Diaoyu Islands, and which both China and Japan claim. China reacted critically to this statement as well as to the wording in the annual Japanese Defense Policy White Paper which described China’s actions in the East China Sea as “risky”.
However, Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in a meeting at APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in Beijing in November. A few days earlier, Japan and China announced that they would hold talks on the disputed archipelago and that they had taken measures to prevent the aggravation of the conflict.
China’s increased demand in the region also contributed to India and Japan approaching each other. In September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan and then agreed with Abe on increased military cooperation and continued negotiations on the sale of military amphibious aircraft from Japan to India.
The decision to move the US air base at Okinawa to a newly built base on the northern part of the island, which was taken at the end of 2013 and which then provoked strong protests, remained an infected issue. Many islanders oppose the US presence. In January, in the city of Nago on northern Okinawa, a mayor who promised to do everything to stop the relocation of the military base was re-elected, and the candidate who won the local governorship election in November is also negatively positioned for the US air base.
In September, Prime Minister Abe carried out his first government transformation since the election victory in December 2012. Abe appointed five new female ministers as a step towards his stated goal of more women in leadership positions. However, of the total seven female ministers, two resigned in October.
In November, Abe disbanded Parliament’s lower house and announced new elections until December 14, two years in advance. The prime minister justified his decision by saying he wanted to confirm that he supported his policies among voters.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by Abe lost marginally and again became by far the largest party with 291 out of 475 seats in the lower house. LDP’s coalition partner Komeito got 35 seats. The Democratic Party (DPJ) became second largest with 73 seats, ten more than in the last election. The turnout was low, only 52%.
Japan in the decades after the occupation
On April 28, 1952, Japan regained its full sovereignty. At the same time, Japan became part of the US global security system as a bastion against communism. In December 1956, Japan joined the United Nations following a Japanese-Soviet joint declaration the same year that the state of war between the two countries had ceased. Territorial disputes over the four southernmost of the Kuriles, north of Hokkaido, were postponed to a final peace agreement. 60 years after the end of the war, a peace agreement with Moscow had not yet come to fruition.
The Korean War of 1950–1953 saw a strong upswing in Japanese industry. Then followed an economic reorganization. The ban on using the old zaibatsu names had already been lifted and cartels were again allowed to some extent. The old political parties came alive and new ones were formed. A temporary reunion of the divided socialists in 1955 also gave rise to a bourgeois rally. The two major Conservative parties, the Democrats and Liberals, joined the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has since dominated Japanese politics in close cooperation with the major industrial groups and the state bureaucracy. The LDP is not an ordinary political party, but a kind of coalition of political clans or factions grouped around each leadership figure. It has protected private business operations, economic growth and cooperation with the United States.
By the mid-1960s, Japan had paid its war reparations following peace agreements with a number of Asian countries, and had risen from the ruins of the war. The Tokyo Summer Olympics 1964 became the symbol of the rebuilt and economically ever stronger Japan. In the same year, the world’s fastest railway was put into operation between Tokyo and Osaka. Aided by the country’s strong economic growth, its close ties to the business community and a divided opposition, the LDP appeared to be unshakable by the government. Finance expert Hayato Ikeda declared in his resignation as prime minister in 1960 that national income would double over the next decade, which was considered over-optimistic. By the late 1960s, national income had more than quadrupled. In 1964, Japan joinedOECD and thus opened the door to a more open economy.
In 1974, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was forced out of power due to land speculation and other fraud. Two years later, he was indicted for being bribed by US aircraft manufacturer Lockheed. The LDP was also previously riddled with corruption cases, but the Lockheed case was the biggest and would plague the party for many years.
Reformists Koizumi (2001–2006)
In April 2001, Junichiro Koizumi was elected new LDP leader, thus becoming Japan’s 9th prime minister in ten years. As the “man of change”, he initially enjoyed a rare popularity with his unprecedented leadership style and bold reform proposals, among other things, he wanted to fight the “iron triangle of self-interest” between politicians, major finance and bureaucracy. His first reform effort was to appoint five female ministers, more than in any previous government. Foremost among these was the outspoken Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, who soon resigned. Few of the reform promises were followed up, and Japan entered a new recession.
In November 2003, the electoral wind blew heavily for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which increased the mandate to 177, while the LDP dropped somewhat to 244. For almost 50 years, the LDP had dominated Japanese politics with a form of one-party rule – just below for an 11-month period in 1993-1994, the party was completely out of government offices. The 2003 elections indicated that Japan is moving closer to a two-party system with LDP and DPJ in the center-left position as major players.
In August 2005, Koizumi wrote a new election after the House of Commons rejected his plan for the gradual privatization of the powerful post office, a core point of his economic reform program. 37 LDP representatives voted against the prime minister. After dominating Japanese politics with almost uninterrupted government since 1955, the LDP was now thrown into full disintegration. The election campaign in 2005 became a settlement between conservative and neoliberal forces within the LDP, and ended with a bracket victory for the latter.
Ever since Koizumi became prime minister in 2001, his liberal reform agenda has met with the backlash of conservative LDP factions. He still managed to keep his political fanfare: splitting the Japanese post office – one of the world’s largest financial institutions – into separate units for postal management, postal savings bank, insurance and finance. These units would then be gradually privatized in the years leading up to 2016. The core of the post-war is the use of operating profits, which allegedly favor some LDP factions. Many of Koizumi’s politician colleagues have relied on the postal service to gather votes. The profits have largely been used to finance popular, but also very expensive infrastructure and construction projects in the districts.