Jeffrey Kingston. Japan in Transformation, 1952 – 2000. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2001. 230 pp.
Over the past fifty years Japan has seen significant changes in all aspects of its society and the way it interacts with the outside world. For example, despite suffering a defeat in World War II, Japan soon became one of Asia’s greatest economic powers. In Japan in Transformation, 1952 - 2000, Jeffrey Kingston focuses on various aspects of change in Japanese society and politics in the period after World War II. These include the effect of the US occupation, analysis of postwar politics, the economic boom, changes in demographics, the treatment of women, and foreign policy and security issues. Throughout the book, the author tries and often succeeds to explain many of these changes as part of the legacy of the occupation. All in all, Jeffrey Kingston gives a thorough economic, politic and social analysis of this crucial period in Japanese history.
Kingston begins with a brief introduction of the American occupation of Japan following World War II from 1945-1952. He notes that the principal focus of the US occupying forces was to demilitarize Japan and convert it into a democracy. Japanese troops have been demobilized and “in the first two years of the Occupation purges of thousands of officers, bureaucrats and industrialists blamed for the war were a further hedge again a revanchist threat.” (9). A policy of democratization was also important. “By spreading power within the government and among all citizens, including voting rights for women, and by supporting a robust press and unions, the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP) was attempting to inoculate Japan from the scourge of militarism,” points out Kingston (10). Yet, the author agrees that despite half a century of what may seem to have been positive changes, the Japanese themselves are still having different opinions of the US Occupation. For instance, “conservative Japanese frequently trace many of Japan’s current social problems back to the Occupation … they see women’s legal equality, the end of the patriarchal ie system, educational reforms, the new Emperor system, demilitarization, etc., and a vague process of Americanization as harmful to the Japanese social fabric.” (16)
A section of the book is devoted to the rapid economic growth of Japan in the 1950s and 1960s. This boom is especially amazing since after the heavy bombing of World War II, “adequate housing was in short supply, food was scarce and these problems were aggravated by the return of some 7 million Japanese troops and civilians scattered around Asia.” (36) Kingston lists several favorable factors responsible for the economic recovery that followed, including advanced technological and industrial knowledge gain prior to the war, access to the US market, a high rate of savings among Japanese people, and low...