David Lan Pham

Decisive Factors of Japanese growth and emegence


Japan is an archipelago in Northeast Asia. Like the Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese, the Japanese are yellow- skinned people. Chinese, Koreans and Japanese live in the temperate regions. Therefore their complexion is brighter than that of the Vietnamese living in the tropical regions.

Unlike Vietnam and Korea, Japan wasn’t under Chinese rule although it was influenced by Chinese culture under the Tang (618 - 906). Chang-an, present Sian, was the Capital of Lights in the Far East one time. In the 6th century the Korean monks taught Buddhism in Japan. Buddhism developed harmoniously with Shintoism which was Japanese traditional religion. The Japanese characters, kana, came into existence in the Heian era (794 - 1185). In this period the role of Nara declined before Heian-kyo, present Kyoto, where the Japanese Tennos resided until 1868. Meiji Tenno moved to Edo he renamed Tokyo which became the capital of Japan. The new name of the capital marked the new era of reforms a l’occidentale.

In the 19th century only Japan, Siam (Thailand), and Turkey maintained their independence facing intermittent threats from Western empires. After 30 years of reforms Japan became the only industrialized country in Asia by the end of the 19th century. It defeated China and forced the latter to sign the treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. In 1904 Japan defeated the Russian troops in Manchuria. In 1905 the Russian fleet was destroyed by the Japanese Navy under Togo at Tsushima. Russia signed the treaty of Portsmouth and ceded Southern Sakhalin island to Japan. In 1910 Japan established its protectorate in the Korean peninsula. Japan was one of the Big Five after the end of World War I without sending troops to the European battlefields. It took control of Shantung in China and other German possessions in the Pacific Ocean. In World War II Japan occupied some parts of China, all Southeast Asian countries, and threatened Australia. On December 07, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States declared war on Japan. It sided with democratic countries to fight Germany, Italy and Japan. On August 06 and 09, 1945 the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered unconditionally to the United States on August 14.

Japan was a Power of the Big Five (United Kingdom, United Sates, France, Italy, Japan) after World War I. It became a war loser in 1945. Many Japanese cities were destroyed by the American raids. Japanese economy was ruined due to continual wars of expansion in China, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific Ocean. It underwent sufferings and bitterness as a war loser. A few years after the defeat Japanese economy was restored and stabilized. Japan developed its industries while heavy industries were banned. It succeeded in turning war time industries into peace time industries. Fifteen years after the end of World War II Japanese shipbuilding surpassed British shipbuilding. Japanese electronics was well known in the world. From the 1980s on Japanese cars conquered the world. Detroit is no longer the world’s capital of automobiles. Japanese economy ranked second in the world after the United States’.


What are the decisive factors of Japanese growth and emergence?

1. Geographical Factor

Japan is an archipelago composed of 3,000 islands. It has no common border with China. It wasn’t ruled by this large and most populous country in the past. In the 13th century the Mongolians conquered China. In the attempt of attacking Japan their warships were sunk twice by the typhoons. The Japanese thanked the typhoons they call kami-kaze for saving their islands from the Mongolian invasion.

The Japanese are islanders, who are used to isolation. They endure hardship to struggle against rocky and wooded mountains and the immensity of the ocean surrounding them. They are required to have initiatives, bravery and adventures in the struggle for survival. For lack of weapons they think of martial arts. They must love one another, help one another and unite one another to confront severe weather, natural disasters, and strangers attacking and plundering their villages.

2. Studies and Creation

The Japanese are studious and creative. They learned Mahayan Buddism from the Chinese through the Korean monks. But Japanese Buddhism is some kind of ‘Prostestant’ Mahayana Buddhism. Zen (Dhyana: meditation) is popularized. It was taught in Japan in the 12th century. At that time Thien (Dhyana) was introduced into Viet Nam under the Ly dynasty. Zen makes the Japanese patient, calm, enduring, relaxed, optimistic facing permanent challenges such as earthquakes, volcanic eruption, typhoons, tsunamis and the wrestling for life in a populous and narrow country in which 85% of its area are occupied by forests and mountains. Zen helps the Japanese turn their country into a paradise full of flagrant flowers and rare herbs. They love their country and wish to live there to contribute to its embellishment although they face thorny challenges every day. The Japanese love trees and herbs. This love reflects their respect toward talented people and their preference for their people’s collective strength.

The Japanese Buddhist monks learned art of drinking tea from the Chinese Buddhist monks. They turned this art into Chanoya with many complicated rites. Even the bourgeois intellectuals spend their life time learning Chanoya without saying they are tea masters.

Buddhism had its influential development without eclipsing traditional Shintoism.

The Japanese kana was the simplified Chinese characters.

The Constitution of 1889 wasn’t written by the Constituent Assembly but by the Japanese legal experts directed by Ito. The Japanese adapted to the democratic activities after the end of World War II by respecting the Constitution of 1946 strictly. This Constitution was written by a group of American lawyers. It is effective in our days.

The Japanese learned many things from the Americans especially their business management. They tried their best to surpass all the countries they learned from by inventing their own ways which are simpler, more convenient and effective. At present the Americans have to recognize the strength and efficiency of Japanese management.

3. Discipline and Respect to Leaders

Influenced by Shintoism the Japanese believe unconditionally that their Supreme Leader is a descendant of Amaterasu (Goddess of the Sun). In the past he wasn’t considered a simple and human King or Emperor. He was called Tenno or Mikaido. In the 7th century the Tang reached the height of its strength and its cultural and economic prosperity Regent Shotuku (574 - 622) called China the Land of the Setting Sun, and Japan the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Japanese respect and love their Tenno from their minds and hearts. Therefore, all the Japanese Emperors from Zimmu Tenno (600 B.C.) to Akihito have belonged to the same dynasty. This clean course of history wasn’t found anywhere in the world.

From 1185 to 1867 the Japanese Emperors lost their power. Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa from 1603 to 1867. The real power was in the Shoguns’ hands. The Tennos were powerless but they weren’t overthrown by the Shoguns. In 1867 Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa resigned. The shogunal regime ended. Prince Mitsu Hito came to the throne at the age of 15. That was Meiji Tenno, who won support from the aristocrats, samurais in Southern Japan, and the Japanese people to begin Japanese modernization.

Prince Yoshihito Shinno came to the throne in 1912. It was Taisho Tenno. The Tenno was in bad health due to meningitis since his birth. The courtiers took care of all the national affairs. They were loyal to their Tenno and devoted to their country without thinking of coup d’etat or usurpation. Under the reign of Taisho Tenno (1912 - 1926) Japan was one of the Big Five (France, United Kingdom, United States, Italy, Japan) after World War I. The treaty of Versailles (1919) gave Shantung and German possessions in the Pacific Ocean to Japan.

The Japanese heightened bushido’s discipline. The samurais were brave, courageous, devoted to their military career, and loyal to their leaders. The samurais’ discipline and ethics linked Japan to Germany under Bismarck and Adolf Hitler. The Japanese Constitution of 1889 had many similarities to the German Constitution of 1871. It was replaced by the Constitution of 1946 written by the American lawyers to democratize Japanese political activities and to belittle the Emperor’s power. The Japanese Emperor has his symbolic and ceremonial role in the democratic parliamentary regime. In reality, the Emperor has absolute power in the Japanese people’s hearts and minds.

4. Timely Response to the New Situations

It isn’t right to jump to the conclusion that the Japanese are Conservative or Progressive. The Japanese Westernized their country by combining the OLD and the NEW harmoniously.

They maintain the monarchy and respect their Emperor.

Shintoism is still influential in Japanese society. The Japanese preserve and maintain the old temples as their traditional cultural heritages. The statue of Great Buddha in Kamakura was erected in the 12th century. It remains there. It is made of bronze, 11.4 m high, and weighs 122 tons. The statue of the Great Buddha showed Japanese metallurgic maturity and fine art of molding 817 years ago (1192 - 2009). The Buddhist Temples in the Nara era (710 - 749) with the world’s biggest wooden statues remain intact. The huge Shinto Gates and Temples made of cypress wood recognized by UNESCO as the world’s cultural heritages seem to be unchanged in a rainy country permanently threatened by disasters.

The Japanese celebrate their wedding ceremonies according to the Shinto rites. They used to make prayers at the Shinto Temples or to look for the soothsayers to ask for advice. They believe in sacred trees. Thanks to this belief they keep many secular trees from 500 to 1,000 years of age.

The Japanese celebrate the New Year on January 1st instead of the traditional Lunar New Year. They consume more wheat than rice to save time and money. They turned to Western Medicine in forgetting Oriental Medicine. The Japanese soldiers put on military uniforms instead of the samurais’ hakamas. Japanese men and women wear Western clothes. Japanese ladies wear kimonos during traditional ceremonies.

The Shogunal regime was built on military exploits. Facing the American cannon thunders on Perry’s orders in 1853 the Shogun was reluctant to sign a series of unequal treaties with the Western countries. Siam was in the similar situation when signing many unequal treaties with European countries. These unequal treaties kept Japan and Siam independent. None of the Western countries could turn Japan or Siam into its colony. The signing of the unequal treaties became Japanese calculated politico-economic concession to save independence.

Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa’s resignation was a patriotic act. The Shogunal regime lost its ground facing the industrial revolution. Renouncing power existing in Japan in 250 years wasn’t smooth and easy. In 1868 the Boshin War (Boshin: Mau Thin: Year of the Dragon) erupted. The Shogun’ s troops were easily crushed by the Emperor’s troops. But Yoshinobu Tokugawa didn’t face trial. In 1902 he was considered a prince.

In 1853 Shogun Yoshinobu couldn’t use swords, bows, spears to resist the cannon thunders from the American warships. In 1945 the Japanese troops couldn’t oppose American atomic bombs. Those Generals or government officials mentioning the unconditional surrender should be assassinated. Only Emperor Hirohito was safe when announcing the unconditional surrender to the Americans. The Japanese people obeyed him.

Their duty was to reconstruct the country and to restore post-bellum economy.

The Americans felt more and less irritated after using the atomic bombs to end the war. The atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and killed 200,000 inhabitants.

The Cold War between the Free World headed by the United States and the Communist World headed by the Soviet Union heightened the important role of Japan. Instead of giving severe punishments to Japan, the United States helped it stabilize its economy. The Korean war (1950 - 1953) was advantageous to the economic restoration of Japan which is closed to the Korean peninsula. Japanese economic restoration was a miracle thanks to:

- Assiduity and Love of Jobs

Life is hard in Japan. The Japanese cope with various kinds of disasters: earthquakes, tsunami, volcanic eruption, typhoons. The Japanese farmers take care of their rice fields like the gardeners in their gardens. Streets and roads in Japan are narrow. The drivers must be clever and cold-tempered in order to avoid accidents, rude words, and deafening noise. These things are rarely found in Japan. Japan makes cars and exports them. The Japanese drive small and square cars to save fuel and parking space. Most Japanese go to work by bus or by train.

Japan is 373,430km2. Its population is 120 million inhabitants. It is an honor to get a job. All the workers are assiduous and love their jobs no matter they are lucrative or not. A leaf sweeper is in charge of a large space around the gate of Meiji Tenno Shrine. He sweeps every leaf with joy and patience. An employee working for a hotel cleans every leaf of scindapsus (1). Everyone looks assiduous and enthusiastic when accomplishing his/her duty.

- Improvement of the Products Quality

Between two World Wars (1919 - 1939) Japanese products were quantitatively huge but qualitatively bad. The dumping of Japanese watches threatened Swiss expensive and luxurious ones.

After World War II Japan improved the quality of its products to restore the consumers’ trust in the good quality of Japanese products. Japanese radio sets, T.V. sets, refrigerators, motorcycles helped developing countries enjoy comforts at the reasonable price. Japanese watches, cameras, camcorders, cell phones and automobiles are seen everywhere in the world. People love their good quality and their reasonable price as well. They give up their prejudice against Japanese cheap and bad products between two World Wars. Japanese post-bellum products are durable, comfortable and inexpensive. They respond to local aesthetics, and to the popular habits. For example, the Vietnamese are right- handed. They don’t like dark color. The power steering must be on the left side of the car. Contrarily to the Vietnamese, the Thai are left-handed, and like dark color. The power steering must be on the right side of the car.

- Politeness, Cleanliness, Hospitability, Honesty and Punctiality

These are the strong points Japan enjoys. Foreign businessmen and tourists come to Japan feel happy to see clean streets, bus stations, train stations, rest rooms etc. They are also attracted by Japanese clothing. Most Japanese drive small cars. None of the vehicles is rusted. The car owners are required to tune up and to paint their cars if necessary every two years. People are allowed to buy cars only when they have parking lots.

Foreign and Japanese tourists are warmly welcome everywhere they come, at the hotels, on the trains, on the busses etc. On the train the controller bows down before doing his duty. A lady bows down before selling refreshment.

Tourists don’t worry about bad people stealing their money or deceiving them for being unfamiliar with the city streets and with the Yen. A small number of Japanese aren’t good at English. But their honesty, hospitability and punctuality impress the tourists keeping nice memories when they come to Japan and after they leave it.

These above earmarks are useful to the Japanese development of business and touristic industry. They are the fruit of popular education embellished by the Japanese people’s self-consciousness, self- respect and desire of contributions to their country’s prosperity.

Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835- 1901) had great contributions to the development of Western education in Japan before Meiji Tenno’ s Westernization. He founded Keio-Gijuku that is present Keio University. The Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc School in Ha Noi was founded in 1907 in imitation of Keio-Gijuku. Venerable Thich Thien An received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Keio University. At present Japan has many internationally famous Universities compared to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Sorbonne Universities. Japan has 15 Nobel prize laureates in the field of chemistry, physics, literature.


Meiji Tenno

Phan Boi Chau

Japanese post-bellum economy is more prosperous than its own between two World Wars. Germany, Italy and Japanese lost the war. But they restored their economy quickly. The economic restoration of Japan was a miracle. Japan is 1/28 the area of the United States. Its economy ranks second after the United States only. The reign of Emperor Hirohito (Showa) was marked by military strength in war time and by economic prosperity in peace time. Japan after World War II was successful to erase the bad images of Japanese soldiers during World War II from the minds of the world’s peoples to accelerate trade with the outside world. In 1989, Emperor Hirohito died. Delegates from the Communist and non-Communist countries attended his funeral.

At this, suddenly tears flow from my eyes. The image of the soul of the Journey to the East Movement appears in my mind. Viet Nam Vong Quoc Su (History of the Downfall of Vietnam), Hai Ngoai Huyet Le Thu (Letter Written in Blood and Tears from Overseas), Luu Cau Huyet Le Tan Thu (New Book of Blood Tears from Ryu Kyu), Nguc Trung Thu (Letter in Prison)… wander in my mind. One hundred and four years ago, silently Phan Boi Chau set foot on the land of Meiji Tenno in the hope of learning something necessary to the country’s liberation and modernization. From the foreign land the Vietnamese Bird wished to return to its nest on the Southern branch with impatience. Phan Boi Chau returned to ‘the nest on the Southern branch’ as a political prisoner sentenced to death by the Ha Noi Tribunal (1925). He wasn’t executed by the French colonialists but he was under surveillance at Ben Ngu, Hue, where he died in 1940 in poverty.

I would like to use this article to pay respect to Meiji Tenno, and to Phan Boi Chau (1867 - 1940), who renounced happy life in exchange for thorny and stormy life just because of his thirst for Vietnam’ s independence and brilliant future.


David Lan Pham, F.A.B.I.


(1) Climbing plant (Day trau ba): Latin name: Scindapsus aureus, Family: Arecaceae.

Cái Đình - 2018