• Japan;
  • Developing countries;
  • Development

‘Economic and Policy Lessons from Japan to Developing Countries’ is a comprehensive and interesting study of Japan's own development background and experiences and how those experiences can be utilised as useful ‘lessons’ for developing countries. The book, which includes the works of no less than fifteen Japanese academics, is a welcoming analysis of the Japanese efforts for economic and social progress of the last 60 years. Nevertheless, its usefulness regarding policies in the vast and diverse world of ‘developing countries’ is questionable.

The book is divided in four main parts. In the first part, five authors are analysing Japan's economic development during the postwar period. Shimomura (p.19-40) offers a detailed and interesting account of Japan's macroeconomic choices for economic growth in the first two decades after the war. Following the Second World War, large emphasis was placed on such issues as reconstruction, management of inflation, strict fiscal discipline, the support of small domestic firms and the production recovery of strategic sectors (coal and steel industries) The previous resulted to rapid growth of the Japanese economy during the 1950s and 1960s. The rapid growth was partly financed by the support of the government to the industry for international competitiveness through indirect means (tax measures and finance schemes). In the same line of argument, Osada (p. 41–61) also highlights the strong, indirect support of the Japanese administrations of the period and in a thorough analysis suggests that it was the strong backing of the central administration to ‘infant’ Japanese companies which initially protected them from international competition.

The next three sections of the first part of the book continue with interesting and knowledgeable insights on more specific experiences of Japan's modern history: the large-scale land reform the country underwent in order for Japan to avoid famine and for the industry to be more productive and efficient (Yoshida, p. 62–76), the rapid economic growth which enabled the establishment and expansion of Japan's international development cooperation programme (Sato, p. 77–97) and the egalitarian development paradigm and redistribution economic policies the country adopted during the decades following the postwar period (Nogami, p. 98–115). The chapters represent detailed accounts of some of the success stories of Japan during the last 60 years and the challenges those policies faced during their design and implementation processes.

In the second part of the book, the authors are studying aspects of Japan's human and social development histories. Sato (p. 119–133) highlights that although Japan's cultural background was part of the wider East Asian civilization, the country was the first to successfully adopt the Western modernization paradigm by retaining its cultural characteristics. The introduction of Western technology and administration in combination with the cooperative action and the individual work ethic of the Japanese communities enabled the country to promote its exogenous driven modernization with stark elements of the Japanese culture. Similarly, Mizumo (p. 134–142) studies the Rural Livelihood Improvement Programme (R-LIP) to present how a distinctive domestic rural development model was proved successful in the case of Japan. Together with an emphasis on high productivity, the programme stressed the importance of group-oriented initiatives and placed rural people at the centre of the activities in the communities. Equally, Kuroda (p. 143–158) and Aoyama (p.159-178) present the successful development of education and the growth of the public health services in Japan. Kuroda shows how the country has effectively managed to develop a successful basic and secondary universal education system; the effectiveness of which was replicated in such crucial areas as the teaching of science and mathematics. Ayoma analyses how Japan achieved universal health insurance in 1961 with the establishment and expansion of modern public health centres and medical services in urban and rural areas and regular efforts towards the eradication of infectious diseases.

The third part of the book is analysing the role of Japan in a globalized environment, through structural reforms and the gradual opening of its economy, the Official Development Assistance Policy, the Japanese environmental approach and the disaster mechanisms of the country. Nishikawa (p. 181–198) highlights the positive and challenging aspects of the gradual opening of the Japanese economy to international competition and of the process of ‘catching-up’ with Western industrial countries. The Japanese development model was based on an effective coalition among politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen which efficiently allocated the limited resources of the country but also was involved in allegations of corruption and bad financing that led the Japanese economy to stagnation in the 1990s. Hayashi (p. 199–216) and Imura (p. 217–235) are further discussing the gradual integration of the country to international affairs through Japan's expansion of Official Development Assistance Programme and the evolution of Japan's environmental policy. Japan's expansion of its ODA programme gradually incorporated fundamental elements of the international development agendas (e.g. environmental and security issues) but also managed to retain a large part of its own understanding of development (notion of ‘self-help’ and importance of aid visibility).Similarly, in environmental terms, Japan's discourse and policies have now moved from pollution control measures towards the wider improvement of the quality of the environment. Through the transformation of its economy, Japan shifted from an energy-demand industrial economy to addressing global environmental issues. Equally, Toyoda (p. 236–252) highlights Japan's record of disaster management and the combination of its tradition and modern mechanisms that the country has developed, especially after the catastrophic impact of the Kobe earthquake in 1995.

In the last section of the book, two authors are investigating the new stakeholders and concerns of Japan's international presence. Sato (p. 255–268) shows how the introduction of the concept of ‘human security’ in Japan's development discourse, during the first half of the new millennium, shows that the country is currently focusing more on actively participating in security and peace-building operations. In parallel, NGOs and civil society in the country are becoming stronger (Shigeta, p. 269–287). In a brief but detailed account, the author describes the process under which Japanese NGOs became more active in international cooperation during the last few decades and how the country's civil society can share its experiences in developing countries and promote a ‘symbiotic society’ to its development partners.

‘Economic and Policy Lessons from Japan to Developing Countries’ is a useful book for students and researchers who want to have a sound and convincing introduction on specialist issues regarding the Japanese socioeconomic trajectories of the last 60 years. The authors present with clarity and knowledge their thematic areas and effectively analyse a good number of the country's ‘success stories’ without omitting to equally highlight the challenges Japan met during its own development process. However, a strong link between Japan's own experiences and the ‘lessons’ that can be drawn from those experiences to developing countries is certainly unclear and difficult to suggest (an element often admitted by the authors themselves). Although a certain confidence for the potential of a poor country (as Japan was in 1945) can justifiably be drawn by the Japanese experiences of the last 50 years, it is difficult to see how similar policies can be implemented in today's ‘developing world’. For instance, how can Japanese infrastructure development experience of the 1950s be proved useful in such diverse contexts as, for example, the rural communities of modern Bolivia and the postconflict realities of urban Liberia? Or is the modernist model, which was applied in an Asian country six decades ago, the most effective and efficient approach to combat, for instance, food shortages in Somalia or establish an export-oriented economy in Ghana? These are complex questions that require high-level, sectoral, expertise in both Japan and the developing countries in question. The fact that the ‘lessons’ from the Japanese experiences are usually covering the last one or two pages of every chapter does not help the reader clarify where and how those lessons could be applicable. A more focused book, with specific examples for sectors and countries, would certainly be a more useful exercise for policy practitioners.