Government and Zaibatsu – Road to Ruin
Ah, expectations and experiments don’t mix well together. This formula is something that dominated the young Meiji Japanese government in its first years, making it prone to various balks and pits. Many people in power at the time had no idea how to modernize a state, since they were essentially low-ranking samurai and merchants that were not well versed in governing and managing the state in transition.
So the modernization had all the characteristics of an improvised process that matured and gained stability through trial and error. It was a long and grueling venture, that required both patience and talent, like bug extermination in video games. There were people that stood up, but the biggest achievement was the actual process of implementation of various examples and framework borrowed from different western countries. These “adjustments” were:
- The system of education resembled the one in France
- The Imperial Japanese Navy was basically the carbon copy of the British Navy
- The constitution and the civil law followed the Germany’s example.
- The army resembled the French one.
- Communication and railroad transport system followed the British example.
- Universities were modeled after the universities in the USA.
This was a grand achievement to be sure, but certain questions were raised. Are these implementations something that is in accordance with Japanese needs and her spirit or does it overrule it and replace something that is vital to the turbulent society that is undergoing intensive modernization. It is certain that a big number of people needed to adjust, since meat became a new commodity at the time as well as suits. System needed the update.
Now, the leading actor steps on the stage – Meiji government. This young institution had a whole lot of issues to deal with: political instability, social turmoil, civil war and stagnated economy. The implementation of various procedures and laws was mandatory, but there was something more important: capital. The state needed funding, but there was a little power base to build upon – the merchant class in Japan was undeveloped and few in number, so they couldn’t amass enough capital to fund projects warranted by the state. To counter this setback, the government chose to sell all of its factories and firms to the local merchants that became big capitalists overnight. Those businessmen were the back bone of Japan’s finance and in exchange for privileges and protection, they funded the public works and projects.
Thus, zaibatsu were born, the friendly industrial conglomerates. Today’s companies like Mitsubishi, Nissan, Suzuki and others can trace their lineage all the way to them – these enterprises were engaged in a variety of fields and production. They were also insurance and banking firms, that as the country advanced, started performing even international trade.
The projects in the Meiji era were large in number: the Tokyo-Yokohama railroad, numerous mines and factories were erected , all geared towards the advancement of the state. Like I said, most factories were sold that were under government ownership, but there were some that remained – the factories dealing with military supplies and assets. All others were sold. To further stimulate the private enterprises, government started rolling out subventions to private firms and those monetary gifts totaled almost 75% of government expenses. The government knew what it wanted: Japan needed heavy industry, mining and shipbuilding to facilitate Japan’s growth, so no expense was too big or problematic.
However, the development of the zaibatsu under the protection of the state, allowed politics to flow into the relationship – all links with other countries directly benefited the zaibatsu, especially the USA and the imperial ventures into China. This rise of capitalists under the patronage of the state resulted in the third power party, besides the government and the military. The zaibatsu split in time and the ones who embraced the military got the blessing and lived on with given monopolies over the certain industry spheres.
The puppet state of Manchukuo represents the perfect example of utter military dominance – the government of Tokyo had little influence and military-friendly zaibatsu were stationed there, exploiting the Chinese materials and natural resources, producing all the supplies for the military. The government fell through various threats and assassinations; at first it was crippled and had to operate through various conduits not to antagonize the military and in the later stage, the fight was an open one that led to the WWII. Wow, we really made a jump in time…..
The road to the horror of the WWII was obvious as soon as Japan started mimicking the Western powers in policies, worldview and economy, but still the infantile Japan’s arrogance and narrow-minded disposition towards the outside world were the portents of downfall. Japan cared little about the impression that it left after its actions: the war with China and meddling in its internal affairs, war with Russia and oppressive economic behavior left bad vestige in the eyes of the world and Japan done little to reduce the effects of the “Yellow Peril” that was coiled in the West. In time, Japan criticized the Western colonization and imperialism, yet Japan never admitted that it is performing the same thing in China, Korea, Manchuria and elsewhere, instigating bad relationships with Russia and later the USSR and in time losing the trust from USA and Great Britain. Japan isolated herself thanks to its childish behavior that was focused on seeing what she wanted to see, not the reality that grew darker and grim, ultimately enveloping Japan in the internal civil conflicts and then WWII. This shows that the reason for Japan’s catastrophe in 1945. started with the Meiji leaders that failed to comprehend what composes a modern state, but then again, there were not so many bright examples to follow. Japan’s self-confidence and dignity was replaced with arrogance and blindness.What about the zaibatsu after the war?
Their fate was pretty much sealed when the occupation started. The allied forces saw zaibatsu as the main culprits and stagers for the rise of militarism that plunged the country in the war. All zaibatsu were subjected to throughout investigations and screening. The famous three measures had been taken to dismantle the zaibatsu:
- First measure included the expropriation of all holding companies, disbanding the main holding companies and reselling the seized stocks to individuals not to the founder families and their managers.
- Second was the purge of the zaibatsu managers and the managerial system.
- Third measure pertains the forced liquidation of all material assets, especially those of the bigger companies.
These measures were perceived as controversial in the USA, the first two were not implemented, but the third one was completely carried out. This doesn’t mean that there were no purges in the economic and political sector – in January, 1946, a decree that forbids various activists, bureaucrats and political parties to assume higher positions that are anywhere near the important state organs. This decree affected 200.000 people, out of which 185.000 were essentially military personnel. This decree had a positive impact too, mostly on the society – the young, fresh men were brought to various stations and they helped to restore the country.
This is the jump that Japan made by his desire to imitate, but in the meantime the attitude changed – the arrogance and the complex of superiority surfaced leading to horrific killings and devastation, but then again, when did you see a nation that learned from its errors?