Miraculous Recovery after The Disaster – Success Stories: Japan
This article is about the miraculous recovery of a country after an ecological and infrastructural disaster, the Second World War. Specifically, Japan. We have some knowledge about their industry, innovation and infrastructure. But it has not always been the case, as Japan used to be very isolated, they only opened their gates in the late 19th century. More so after the Second World War. They still have an abundance of history and geography as well. We would suppose that they were the pioneers of trade and openness, because of their location, and they are required to stay relevant. However, it has not always been the case. They were very isolated, they did not want to trade with anyone in the world. Moreover, they were not open to foreigners. Japan always had been very aggressive within, we all know from history books who samurais were. In the medieval times, Japan had been in wars with the Mongols (who used to have an extensive empire, a Khaganate spreading from Korea to Kiev, Ukraine). This is when a wind storm destroyed the Mongol fleet, which became known as “kamikaze”. This means “divine wind”. At that time, the Japanese society was very feudal and this tradition is even tangible today. Just think of the shoguns or the daimyos! The Europeans first appeared in the 16th century, when Jesuit missionaries (including Francis Xavier) and Portuguese traders arrived and started spreading Christianity as well as firearms (Japan is a Shintoist country, a religion native to Japan, which practices Buddhism too). They could not remain there for a long time because Japan consisted of warring states, and only those who used European technology could remain on the scene. This is when the Edo period began (lasting until 1868), which was full of political tensions. This is when Tokyo became the capital of Japan. In 1639, the “sakoku”, the isolationist policy started to come into effect, which meant breaking any relations with the West. The only link with the West was with the Dutch, controlled in an enclave in Nagasaki called Dejima. The Dutch brought many customs to Japan, for example, drinking beer. Nowadays, a Japanese brand called Asahi is one of the most renowned brands in the world. Also, chocolate was introduced by the Dutch. The Japanese are lovers of chocolate too. This dichotomy started two ways of studying: “rangaku” (studies of Western knowledge) and “kokugaku” (studies of Japanese knowledge).
What does this imply? Japan is a success story on Quality Education, not just Industry.
This isolationism somewhat loosened in the second half of the 19th century, when the ports of Japan had to be opened up by the Kanagawa Treaty. This is when the Meiji era started, and its influence lasts even today as the state became centralized under the Emperor, and the Shogunate fell. The country stepped up Westernization and quickly became an industrial power. Their military traditions made them a superpower. The population doubled in the next 60 years from 35 to 70 million people. Europe did not want to get into conflicts with Japan. They were more focused on China. Japan defeated China and Imperial Russia. Japan gained control over the southern half of Sakhalin and Taiwan. Later on, they joined the Allies in the First World War. They captured the German possessions near Shandong and advanced into China. Japan expanded the Empire further, they captured Korea, and in 1931, they founded the puppet state of Manchuria. The early 20th century was still full of political tensions, the system was a very fragile democracy, there were many coup attempts in the Great Depression. This gave a new rise of aggression and hostility. Following the international condemnation of invading China, the government announced they would quit the League of Nations. Japan became part of the Axis by signing the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936. They started the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. They captured the capital and Nanjing in the same year and conducted an enormous massacre there. At least 300,000 people were killed with incredible hostility. Three years later, Japan occupied Indochina and Singapore, therefore engaging the British Empire and the United States in the Second World War in the Pacific. The U.S. imposed an oil embargo on Japan. The response was a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. president decided to step into the Second World War to restrain Japan. The British Empire and the U.S. could defeat them, but with enormous effort. The war cost Japan their colonies, but they refused to give in, only after the infamous atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did they capitulate. They signed an unconditional surrender agreement on August 15th, 1945. The atomic bombs killed around 300,000 people, and the radiation decimated the local population further over the next few months. Much of their industry and infrastructure was destroyed by the bombings, too. How could Japan recover from such devastation?
Following the end of the Second World War, all income was spent on Education. That is why Japan is a success story of the potential of Quality Education; because without education, we cannot talk about industry or innovation at all. Compulsory education was introduced in 1872 to comply with Western standards. But it consisted of militaristic materials as well, besides being very nationalistic. The U.S. had a plan after the Second World War to somehow pacify aggressive Japan. Therefore the nationalist and anti-American materials were blackened out, besides removing other aggressive content from the curriculum. This resulted in a two-digit increase in the size of the economy because Japanese students were very well-educated.
Besides that, I have to add, Japan was the first country abroad to adopt the Hungarian Kodály method in music teaching. There is a common stereotype that Japanese people are not able to pronounce the letter “l”, therefore they are not able to sing either. This is not true. They can sing very well, thanks to the Kodály method. Because of this, there are many Japanese conductors, who reached their career peak in the late 20th and early 21st century. Let me mention a couple of examples, such as Seiji Ozawa, Yoichi Sugiyama and Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi. Kobayashi had gained a lot of fame in Hungary by being the conductor of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra for ten years. What is this, if not Quality Education? The Kodály method teaches us to be proud to go to school. Why is this not the case in Hungary, where it originated?
Let me mention the automotive industry. We all know how famous Japanese brands are for their reliability. Everyone knows Honda, Toyota, Suzuki, Nissan, Mazda, and the list goes on. They produce cars with extreme reliability besides sporting futuristic looks. When the new generation of Honda Civic (starting in 2006) appeared in Hungary, everyone thought, “wow, this is a spaceship”. Same reaction with the Toyota Prius (a hybrid car, Japan is a pioneer of these). Everyone wanted one. Because they look “insane”. Remember the sporty sound of a Honda when revving the engine? Just watch the video at the end of this article. These cars (and motorbikes) are designed for “the infinite run”. They will run like a bullet until the world ends.
Let me mention another industry: electronics and computers. Everyone knows Canon, Casio (my watch is one), Citizen, Fujitsu or Sony. Durable, top-quality and technologically sophisticated brands. I have been wearing my watch for 12 years. It had next to no serious issues. So where do experts come from? Yes, the quality education system.
So, after such a serious disaster, you can do miracles by investing in education. Educate your community. Japan showed then – they could do it. However, sticking to their feudalistic and militarist traditions also helped them remain disciplined.
Due to its location, Japan is very prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, as it lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Therefore, infrastructural planning is crucial to minimize damages caused by them. They started to build earthquake-proof apartments and buildings throughout the whole country, especially after the deadly Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of 1995. The technology was invented in New Zealand (which is also prone to volcanic activities and quakes), called rubber-bearing. Then Japan tested it to perfection (see Nakata 2009). This technology was used in hospitals. After the Miyagi earthquake of 2008, this technology helped a lot to minimize death tolls by accommodating rescuers in hospitals and easing evacuation. However, this technology was not yet available in Fukushima, and the earthquake in Tohoku (2011) caused an incident just as significant as Chernobyl. After that, Japan’s government decided to slowly decommission nuclear power stations around the country, to some extent. As a replacement, for example, Japan decided it would place 80 floating wind farms offshore near Fukushima to replace nuclear energy.
Let me mention transportation in Japan. We all know that roads in Japan are in excellent condition. The public transportation system is top-class. We all know of the Shinkansen, the bullet train. Why was it pioneering? It is not grinding the railroad, to some extent. It almost floats on it, being able to reach speeds over 300 km/h. It even adds to the level of comfort and safety. Moreover, it is noiseless, so it is not disturbing anyone, just flying through the provinces of Japan with extreme speed and comfort. What is more, it is operated with military precision. What does it mean? It is never late. So, dear Hungary and other countries where trains are always late, this is an example of a responsible operation! They know how to operate public transportation in the Far East because they learned over the years! Wake up, for heaven’s sake! Make an effort to reach these levels. Stop making excuses why you are not able to reach them. Make your fellows proud to be part of a nation, a team, or a company. As I stated earlier, they made students proud to study at school. Music is a great tool for that, not just cramming dry facts. Then they make employees proud to work in the workplace. Because they know that the future depends on well-educated people. Without this, they would never be as up to date, as they are right now in Infrastructure, Innovation and Industry.
– Gergely Lázár
The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of #WAYSWF.