Japan’s strong economic growth from the 1950s to the 1990s took place on corporate terms in a largely patriarchal society. The “Japanese model” meant for employees of medium-sized and large companies usually lifetime employment, with salary development after year of employment and long working days. The family’s social insurance and usually the accommodation was linked to the company. The man was a family carer while the woman took care of home and children and was responsible for the family finances. The wage differences were small, the population was homogeneous and most of the Japanese considered themselves to be middle class.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Japanese labor market has changed and become more heterogeneous and flexible. At the same time, wage differences have increased sharply. Lifestyle changes have meant that more and more people, especially young people, oppose that the demands of working life totally control the life of the individual and the family. However, for the full-time employees of larger employers, the Japanese model described above still largely applies. Of the employed persons in 2007, 56% were men and 44% were women.
Japan has had low unemployment since the 1950s. However, the labor market is divided between those with full-time employment and other workers (referred to as non-regular labor in Japan). The group “working poor”, consisting of short-term and part-time workers with varying degrees of job security, has grown. A majority of these are women. The development is driven by the companies’ increased demands for flexibility.
This has meant that income inequality and the proportion of poor people in the population have increased. Japan certainly lacks dilapidated urban areas and ethnic discrimination and has low crime rates, but hidden poverty is not insignificant. The worst is the situation for single mothers.
The Japanese unions are company-based and the union ombudsmen are employed by the companies, not by the members. Almost 23% of employees are unionized and women make up a small part. Only permanent employees can be members of the union. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of JPN and acronym for Japan.
Women’s problems in establishing themselves in the labor market are due, among other things. on the fact that public childcare is insufficient and that most men are reluctant to take their part in household work. In recent years, however, more and more Japanese have chosen professional careers rather than family. This, together with delayed marriages, has resulted in such low birth rates that Japan’s population has declined since 2007.
Lack of equality also characterizes public life in general. In 2011, 11% of Parliament’s members were women and in local parishes the proportion is even lower. In business, men dominate almost totally, and few women have senior positions. However, the number of women self-employed has increased significantly.
Traditionally, the family and company have formed the individual’s social protection network. However, their role has been eroded, while at the same time the state has not sufficiently assumed responsibility, which has resulted in increased inequality between different groups in Japanese society. All old people receive a basic pension from the age of 65, and those who have been full-time employees also receive supplementary pension that is paid from the age of 60. Unemployment insurance and occupational injury insurance are also available for full-time employees. In recent years, non-regular workers with long periods of employment also have access to these insurance policies. Others lack insurance coverage, and with low wages many often cannot pay premiums to independent insurance companies. Similar conditions apply to health insurance. A permanent employee has health insurance that covers everyone in the family.
In 2015, just over 26% of Japanese people were 65 years and older. The average life expectancy of the entire population has been the highest in the world since the 1980s. In 2015, it was 80 years for men and 87 years for women. It is considered to be a consequence of both the well-developed health care and the traditional, healthy diet. However, lifestyle diseases are becoming more common in Japan as well. Cardiovascular disease and cancer accounted for close to one-third of deaths at the end of the 1990s. In recent years, the large number of elderly people has become a serious financial challenge for the Japanese welfare system.
Japan has a well-developed healthcare system that is well-equipped with high-tech equipment, and at all deliveries there are trained personnel. Nearly 80% of hospitals and 94% of clinics are operated privately.
Japan’s history after 1945
Japan’s history after 1945 was long marked by World War II. In 1936, Japan signed the anti-Communist pact with Germany and Italy, and went to war against China the following year. In 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and ended up at war with the United States and its allies. The country capitulated on August 14, 1945, after nuclear bombs had destroyed Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) and US forces landed in Japan.
In the years 1945–1952, Japan was not allowed to pursue its own foreign policy. Japan was imposed a pacifist constitution in 1947; Re-arming was prohibited. The United States’ attitude to Japan changed with the communist takeover of China in 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. In 1951, a peace treaty was signed in which Japan renounced all possessions and demands in China, and in 1952 Japan regained full sovereignty.
The Japanese industry was rebuilt a few years after the war and there was a strong rise in living standards. In the mid-1990s, a downturn occurred, partly due to stagnation in exports; Since 2000, there has been a gradual economic improvement.
In 2011, Japan’s most powerful earthquake occurred in historical times; this triggered the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which was one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents.
Japan during US occupation (1945–1952)
The Allies’ policy was to demilitarize and democratize Japan under the indirect rule of the US occupying power. An international war crimes court was established in 1946; 28 of the nation’s leaders and about 4200 others were convicted. General Hideki Tōjō was among the six out of 28 sentenced to death. Ultranational organizations were banned and all state support for the Shinto religion stopped, as part of a policy of separating church and state. Emperor Hirohito declared on January 1, 1946 that he was not a deity.
During the occupation (1945–1952), Japan was not allowed to pursue its own foreign policy; it was run by the United States. The armed forces were discontinued. Japan was mandated by a pacifist constitution (1947) which prohibits the maintenance of “land, sea and air forces”. Developments in China and the Cold War soon led to changes. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, US General Douglas MacArthur initiated the establishment of a police reserve, a disguised army, which in 1954 was transformed into a so-called “self-defense force.”
The Constitution further stated that Japan should have a parliamentary political system according to American pattern. The political development during the occupation was dominated by two conservative parties based on the wartime parties. The exception was Tetsu Katayama’s short-lived Social Democratic government in 1947-1948, which was based on an alliance between the Socialist Party and the Democrats. The workers were granted organizational and strike rights. Family groups such as Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Sumitomo were dissolved and anti-monopoly laws were introduced.
Japan had to let go of all the war conquests and also in areas that had always been considered Japanese, including several islands in the Kurilene group in the north. Only in 1951 did the defeated Japan make peace in San Francisco with the United States and its West Allies. The Soviet Union, China and many of the countries occupied by Japan during the war did not participate in the peace conference. The same year, a Japanese-American security pact was signed that gave the United States the right to have troops in the Japanese islands.