At the beginning of the nineties, a widespread stereotype in the West presented Japan as an ‘economic-political dwarf giant’. In reality, Japan was no longer a ‘political dwarf’: it now produced more than 15 % of the world’s gross product, conditioned any agreement on international economic concertation, was the largest net creditor in the world (it owned 40 % of US public debt) and the largest donor country. While there is no doubt that, on the political-military level, since the end of the Second World War, Japan has played and continued to play a low-profile political role, far below the extraordinary economic potential it had for some time, it is also true that The stereotype mentioned above reflected the inadequacy of traditional analytical categories: in the post-war period the political role of the country drew strength and tools from the economic sphere rather than from the diplomatic and military one.
To define the role of Japan in this historical phase, the notion of ‘civil power’ is perhaps more appropriate: a power that combined a highly competitive economy in the international arena with an abstentionist political culture in foreign policy, with a passive military position. and, in matters of security, a condition of dependence on a strong ally like the United States. With the end of bipolarism, Japan seemed called to assume a more active role in the international community, albeit in a more difficult situation than in the past: to the traditional constraints of internal politics (the profound and widespread internalization of pacifism, moreover imposed by the occupiers Americans with the clause of art.9 of the Constitution) and foreign (in the first place, the persistent hostility of the neighboring Asian countries, where the terrible memory of the ferocious Japanese colonial and militarist past had not completely subsided) were joined by the new difficulties deriving from the crisis of the political system and economic difficulties in which Japan was embroiled on the eve of the new millennium. Despite repeated and confused internal party modifications, at the turn of the century the Japanese political world appeared to be scarcely renewed. Neither the electoral reform of 1994, which favored large political groups, nor the attempts to limit the enormous power of the bureaucracy had given the desired results. The only notable change was that from 1993 the political opposition no longer took place between a hegemonic conservative party and the Socialist Party supported by small centrist parties, but between a large conservative party – the old Liberal Democratic Party which had emerged unscathed from the storm, thanks also to the unexpected support of the Socialists – and three conservative or center parties. This troubled political phase presented surprising analogies with that which preceded the formation of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1955, when it took ten years to create a stable party system, capable of running the country for about forty years.
In short, at the end of the Nineties, the traditional and peculiar Japanese political-social model seemed to be undergoing a profound crisis. Despite their traditional strength and solidity, the system of organization of production (the so-called Toyotism), and more generally the ‘communitarian’ form of Japanese capitalism, in the face of the changed internal and international situation, showed strong limits and inadequacies: the shareholders demanded a reform of the business model capable of offering greater power of control and direction, businesses demanded a reduction in the power of the ministerial and financial bureaucracy in the methods of financing investments, and more generally public opinion asked for a limitation of bureaucratic hegemony over the country’s political life.
According to THEDRESSWIZARD.COM, a serious economic recession was triggered by the bursting of the speculative ‘bubble’, that is the unprecedented expansion of the securities and real estate market which, during the 1980s, was also used to cope with the potentially devastating effects of the continuous appreciation of the yen against the dollar since the Plaza accords of 1985, in which the devaluation of the dollar was agreed between the five most industrialized countries. In 1997, for the first time since 1974, GDP had recorded a decrease of 0, 8 % – trend reversal confirmed in subsequent years – while serious problems hit the financial system (many institutions had found themselves burdened with bad loans), and the production system – based on life-long employment, career advancement based on seniority of service and on the company union – was beginning to feel the effects of the more general crisis of the traditional value system: all this contributed to weakening ancient certainties internally and to tarnish abroad the image of a country considered a model of efficiency and of order.