Tradition and Modernization of Japan

  • Michio Nagai (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


In the 1960s Japan often was cited as a successful case of economic development; some even spoke of the Japanese case as a “miracle”. To me, Japan certainly has not at all been a miracle; if Japan is miraculous, most other nations are almost equally so. It is important, however, to point out that Japan is somewhat unique among today’s nations. She is a nation outside the Western world. Though one of the highly industrialized nations of the contemporary world, only a century ago she was a backward nation. Because of this combination of successful rapid industrialization and a non-Western background, she presents a unique, though by no means miraculous, case. Before talking about the modernization of Japan, it is necessary to sketch her history briefly, for present day Japan emerged only after centuries of development. Japanese society is influenced by four major cultures. Western culture first exerted somewhat weak influences on Japan during the sixteenth century, then became a topic for more serious study and incorporation into the daily life of people much later, in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Much earlier, during the period between the seventh and ninth centuries, strong cultural influences began entering Japan from the Asian Continent. Among them, the two most important were Chinese Confucianism and Indian Buddhism. In addition to these three major world cultures, the indigenous Japanese culture, which existed before Japan developed close contact with the Continent, put down roots that survive even today.