From Imperialist Empire to economic power, Japan has a complicated and fascinating history. Join Active Minds as we trace the evolution of the modern Japanese state from its ancient roots to the present. We will cover the impact of Japan's involvement in World War II as well as their economic collapse in the 1990's.

Key Lecture Points

  • Japan originally strengthened as a country and became prosperous through a policy of isolationism. Since 1854, however, Japan has been a dominant player on the world stage, central to such events as the bombing of America in 1941 and participation in the current Iraq War. Japan is now the second-largest technologic and third-largest economic power in the world.
  • Japan has faced continued tensions with China and Russia over past events involving Taiwan and Korea. In addition, Japan has faced criticism over its handling of its subjugation of those countries and its citizens. One of the biggest issues with Korea centers on that of abductions to North Korea of Japanese citizens. In October 2002, five abductees returned to Japan, but soon after, negotiations reached a stalemate over the fate of abductees' families in North Korea.
  • After Allied occupation following World War II, Japan became a world economic power. However, the country faced economic growth that slowed markedly in the 1990s, averaging just 1.7%. This was due largely because of the after-effects of overinvestment and an asset price bubble during the late 1980s that required a protracted period of time for firms to reduce excess debt, capital, and labor. Japan has also been affected by the 2008 global recession - according to the U.S. Department of State, after sustaining several consecutive years of growth earlier this decade, the Japanese economy began to slow in line with global economic conditions, and the country fell into its first recession in roughly six years in 2008 as worldwide demand for its goods tumbled.
  • Japan faces a modern struggle as many of its traditional practices and theories have been questioned by a new generation that is familiar with the West, the Internet, and ideas that contrast with the traditional ideas. As such, the country must find a new direction that balances modern growth while honoring ancient customs.

Exploration Questions

  • Do you think Japan should be viewed on the same level as Nazi Germany, based upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941?
  • How do you feel Japan should handle its current status in the world, both economically and politically? Should the country be more involved in such issues as the war against terror and international humanitarian efforts?

Reflective Questions

  • When you think of Japan, what comes to mind? Is it the traditional, ancient culture, or the more modern events, such as Pearl Harbor?
  • How do you feel about the American bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Inose, Naoki. The Century of Black Ships: Chronicles of War Between Japan and America. Viz Media, 2009. 450 pages. A look at the military history between Japan and the United States.
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  • Hastings, Max. Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45. Knopf Publishing Group, 2008. 656 pages. By the summer of 1944 it was clear that Japan's defeat was inevitable, but how the drive to victory would be achieved remained to be seen. The ensuing drama--that ended in Japan's utter devastation--was acted out across the vast stage of Asia, with massive clashes of naval and air forces, fighting through jungles, and barbarities by an apparently incomprehensible foe. In recounting the saga of this time and place, Max Hastings gives us incisive portraits of the theater's key figures--MacArthur, Nimitz, Mountbatten, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin.
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  • Young, R.J. Japan Rising: The Iwakura Embassy to the USA & Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2009. A look at Japanese foreign policy.
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