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Political Economy of Japan - Essay Example

. In terms of liberalism, the main element employed by the Meiji Japanese leaders was the idea of equal opportunity, which allegedly guaranteed that everyone could get awarded according to his/her talent. However, the elite group did not go as far as providing total individual freedom in order to achieve the unified population, which was essential for the process of catching up with the West in terms of industrial capacity as well as people’s living standard. Instead of the western liberal ideas, they invented and employed some social ideas allegedly from the feudal society of Edo-tradition in order for the leaders to keep the power in their hands. This was where many of contemporary understandings of the supposed Japanese tradition were originated (Gluck 1998). The result of this mixture of the imported and historically retrieved concepts of social organization has been most obviously seen in the educational institutions.
In the current educational system in Japan, which Barthes calls the "Empire of Signs", to graduate from one of the best universities directly provides a ticket to obtain a secure, well paid, and lifetime employment. In order to study at one of the best universities in Japan, one has to be trained at one of the best high schools and follow the technique of answering standardised questions, which would be likely to be asked in entrance examinations of the universities. To do so one has to be trained at one of the best junior high schools. Surprisingly this process goes down to the kindergarten level 2 . In fact, this system is prevalent, evidenced, for example, by 40 percent of medical students at Tokyo University, which is known as the most prestigious university, being from the top four private high schools (Lorriman and Kenjo 1994: 47). Many students do not care about the subjects of their study, but do the reputation of the universities, which they graduated from or are studying at. This means that the ranking becomes the most important criteria in selecting universities. Students' concern is not with what they study or what sort of knowledge they can get out of universities, but where they study, how it is socially regarded - crave for better ranks, thus better signifier. As a result, they often apply for several departments in one university (Horio 1997: 75).
The Japanese education system is famous for its notorious competition among students on the basis of the market-like competition among individuals as well as educational institutions for better signifiers. This educational setting forces students to become commodities, parents to be consumers, universities to be competitive businesses, teachers to be instructors, and the curriculum to be a set of bureaucratic requirements. All of them are institutionalised and mechanised to stimulate the consumption of, and demand for, education among consumers. None of them are related to the quality, principle or ethics of education. They are exclusively concerned with their rankings and social status.
Behind the logic of harsh competition among students, there is, as I mentioned above, an imported logic of liberal economics. While students compete each other, their competition will supposedly achieve the most desirable and efficient allocation of resources. More talented students will engage in more difficult and specialised jobs while the rest will work as un-skilled labour. This is supposedly the equilibrium, which maximises the economic welfare of the society as a whole. It is this moment when ...Show more
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Summary

As many theorists have already pointed out, Japan’s economic development has not been simply because of the adaptation and import of the liberal logic from the West. There has been a subtle conflict between the newly imported liberal logic and the local tradition of mercantilism…
Political Economy of Japan
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