Life in Modern Japan & the Pacific

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  • 0:01 Japan and the Pacific in WWII
  • 1:25 Modern Japanese…
  • 3:15 Modern Japan in the World
  • 4:15 The Modern Pacific
  • 5:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore modern Japan and the Pacific, including the current economies, cultures and politics of the region. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Japan and the Pacific in WWII

Konnichiwa! That means 'hello,' in Japanese. Ushi wa kusa o taberu. That means 'the cow eats grass.' Ok, that phrase is a little less useful. But hey, modern Japan is a vibrant and exciting place, so you never know when it will come in handy!

The modern history of Japan and the Pacific really begins in World War II, which lasted from 1939-1945. Japan was considered a major aggressor after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and was defeated with the use of atomic weapons in 1945. After the end of the war, the United States occupied Japan to restructure it as a democratic nation. Japan was forbidden from having a military, so the United States protected the country as it rebuilt, and Japan was able to completely focus on economic and social development. Japan created a new industrial economy that rose so quickly it was called the 'Japanese economic miracle.'

To this day, Japan is one of the leading economic powers in the world. Along with the rest of the Pacific Islands, it has seen relentless growth since 1945. Other Pacific Islands, from Polynesia to Indonesia to the Philippines, have also seen lots of economic growth as the post-war global economy led to new ports, airports and tourist destinations across the region.

Modern Japanese Government and People

Historically, Japan was an empire that was strictly ruled by the imperial family. After the end of World War II, Japan was reorganized into a new style of democratic government called a constitutional monarchy, in which an elected prime minister and elected legislators control the government, but a monarch is still in power. The monarch is generally the ceremonial leader of the nation with limited actual powers. This means that Japan still has an emperor; his name is Akihito. In fact, Japan boasts the oldest continuing monarchy in the world. The current emperor can trace his lineage back 2,600 years to the semi-mythical founder of Japan, Emperor Jimmu.

While the Emperor is the symbol of Japan, the government is more concretely directed by the prime minister, an official elected by the legislature, named Shinzo Abe. He has powers much like those of a president, and his power is held in check by the legislature, consisting of a House of Representatives and a House of Councilors.

Japan's government presides over a nation of 127 million people. There are a lot of people who live in Japan. Many of them live in major cities like Tokyo, Yokohama or Osaka. Around 90% of Japanese people practice either the native Shinto religion or the Asian religion Buddhism.

Japanese culture is recognized worldwide for its graceful respect of both tradition and a modern global identity. Traditional Japanese architecture, art, theater, literature and sports, including Sumo wrestling, hold an important place in Japan. Still, the nation embraces international cultural influences, like baseball, and is a leading producer in multinational cultural art forms like anime.

Modern Japan in the World

Due largely to extremely successful industrial and social reforms after WWII, Japan has become a highly influential member of the global economy. As both the fifth largest exporter and fifth largest importer, Japan is important as a producer and consumer of global products. Overall, Japan has the world's 3rd-largest economy and has distinguished itself as a leader in automobile and information technologies.

Amongst the things that made Japan's economic miracle so miraculous was its ability to quickly industrialize without major sacrifices to human rights. Granted, there were rough patches, but overall, the Japanese government maintained a concern for the well-being of its people. Today, Japan has the second longest life expectancy in the world at 83 years old. Due to a culture of health and a very efficient universal health care system, it also has the 3rd-lowest infant mortality rate in the world.

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