A brief analysis of how reconstruction after World War II contributed to Japan’s contemporary health status. Then, summarize one significant political feature and one legal feature of Japan’s...

 A brief analysis of how reconstruction after World War II contributed to Japan’s contemporary health status. Then, summarize one significant political feature and one legal feature of Japan’s contemporary health care system that contributes to Japan’s population health status. Offer two reasons (historical, political, legal, and/or cultural) for the disparity between the Japanese and American populations in health achievement. Finally, suggest two lessons other countries can learn from the Japanese experience to improve their own health status.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In analyzing Post War Japan's Reconstruction period, one must focus on how General MacArthur envisioned what Japan should be in the wake of what was. In carving out the policy of reconstruction in Japan, MacArthur was deliberate in his focus on social welfare and ensuring that all of Japan's citizens had a chance to experience postwar prosperity.  MacArthur sought to "blast apart the concentrations of wealth and power claimed by Japan’s wartime elites, dismantle the structures through which they worked their supposedly evil ways, and encourage the growth of new constituencies."  MacArthur understood that Japan had experienced a consolidation of wealth in the hands of the few.  MacArthur understood that public ownership of commodities like health care and education was essential to the enfranchisement of the newly emerging Japanese society.  MacArthur's target was to eliminate the "concentration of economic control enabled the zaibatsu to continue a semi-feudal relationship with employees, to suppress wages, and to hinder the development of independent political ideologies."  Macarthur wanted to engage in the "demilitarization of Japanese society, democratization of the political process, and decentralization of wealth and power."  As a result, Macathur's vision was one that would move Japan farther on the liberal spectrum and ensure a bourgeoning middle class.

When Japan adopted a new post- war constitution, it made for specific mention of health care as a right for all of its citizens.  According to article 11, “the people shall not be prevented from enjoying any of the fundamental human rights."  Article 14 "declares that all of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin."  Article 25 "gives all people a “right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living. In all spheres of life, the State shall use its endeavors for the promotion and extension of social welfare and security, and of public health."  The enshrinement of health care as a government sanctioned right ensured that it would not be a commodity that would be privately owned and held by corporate interests.  Ensuring that health care is public and secured by the government ensures that all citizens receive it, viewing it as an inalienable right.

One significant political feature from this reconstruction of Japanese society following World War II was to ensure that the consolidation of wealth did not remain in the hands of the few.  Democratizing wealth to ensure that more people were in economic positions of power helped to facilitate a condition where the very wealthy did not enjoy the best of health care coverage and amenities.  MacArthur's vision that sought to widen the base of wealth and entitlement possession helped to minimize economic inequality in modern Japanese society.  When examining some of the challenges in the modern setting, developing a political consciousness that is mindful of avoiding the extreme consolidation of wealth and economic autonomy in the hands of the few is one lesson that Japan could teach other nations to ensure that health care and other public entities remains in the hands of the people.

One legal element that ensured the widened access to health care in post war Japan was to enshrine health care as a basic right in the Japanese Constitution. In placing health care as a right in the constitution, health care was not something that became hostage to business interests.  In many parts of the world, health care is viewed as a commodity that businesses use as a means to generate profit.  When health care is a legal entitlement for all members of society, something that is expressed as a constitutional reality, then there is a very good chance that health achievement will be something enjoyed by more people in a social setting.  The Japanese realized early on that one's health status should not be a privilege of wealth.  The direction it took both legally and politically after World War II helped to develop a health care system that ensures coverage and entitlement for more people with a higher level of quality than many other nations around the world.

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