Compare and contrast the reasons for Britain and Japan's industrialization.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Britain underwent industrialization before any other country. There were many reasons for this, which included the following:

  • an abundance of natural resources, including coal fields and fast-moving rivers for infrastructure and water power.
  • a financial system that facilitated the accumulation and investment of capital.
  • large pools of labor due to...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Britain underwent industrialization before any other country. There were many reasons for this, which included the following:

  • an abundance of natural resources, including coal fields and fast-moving rivers for infrastructure and water power.
  • a financial system that facilitated the accumulation and investment of capital.
  • large pools of labor due to the enclosure of common lands, which made small-scale agriculture less sustainable and produced food on a larger scale.
  • colonies around the world that served as suppliers of national resources and outlets for manufactured goods.

For these reasons, Britain was the world's leading industrial power by the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, by the late nineteenth century, other nations had industrialized, including in Europe and the United States. It was out of a desire to retain economic, political, and cultural independence that Japanese leaders deliberately sought to industrialize. This was a major difference in the process of industrialization, as was the fact that Japanese industrialists initially depended on British capital for projects that included railroads and mines. Early industry included textiles, like in Britain, but Japanese mills spun and weaved silk instead of the woolens and cotton that were the main commodities of the early Industrial Revolution in Britain. Japan industrialized in what is sometimes known as the "second Industrial Revolution," which featured heavy industry. After the Meiji Restoration, a political event that ushered modernizers into Japanese government, traditionally-minded Japanese elites were driven from positions of authority. As in Britain, these leaders actively promoted industrialization, creating pro-business policies, and pushing the economy toward Western-style capitalism. The pace of industrialization in Japan was, like in Britain, remarkable. By the end of the nineteenth century, Imperial Japan was a modern industrial power.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are similarities and differences between Great Britain’s reasons for industrialization and Japan’s reasons for industrialization. Great Britain industrialized for several reasons. One reason was that Great Britain was increasing its trade overseas. It had acquired many colonies and the people in these colonies demanded British products. Great Britain also had an ample supply of capital available to invest in the development of industries. Great Britain also had social and political stability; these conditions facilitated the growth of industries. People were willing to take risks because they believed the social and political climates were stable. Great Britain also had ample supplies of coal. Additionally, the coal mines and the iron mines were close to each other.

Japan also had reasons for industrialization. One factor was the American arrival in Japan in 1853. When the Americans forced Japan to begin trading with the United States and other countries, the Japanese realized that they were behind other western powers. During its period of relatively closed borders, Japan had developed a system of roads and waterways, had created a good educational system, and developed a highly urbanized civilization. These factors helped Japan industrialize and spread this industrialization to the rural areas.

The Meiji government also helped spur industrialization. The government built up its army and navy. It made educational reforms and created a national bank. Improvements to the transportation system were also made. For example, a railroad system was developed.

Both countries developed a wide array of industries. These industries, including the technological and the automobile industries, helped each country expand its trade and allow its economy to grow.

While both countries industrialized, each country had its own unique factors that facilitated industrialization.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The most important contrast is that Britain industrialized long before Japan.

Britain was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, investing heavily in coal power and iron production as early as the 1760s.

Japan did not seriously industrialize until a century later, in the Meiji Restoration starting in the late 1860s.

For Britain, industrialization was a fundamentally new innovation; they were applying the most recent discoveries in science to create new modes of production and dramatically expand economic output.

For Japan, industrialization was a defensive action; they saw that Europe and the United States were overtaking them technologically, economically, and militarily, and redoubled their efforts to catch up.

The triggering event for Japan's industrialization was actually an act of quite literal gunboat diplomacy by the United States; in 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry brought a small fleet into Tokyo Bay and demanded that Japan open itself to trade with the US. Before that, Japan had been fiercely isolationist, a policy known as sakoku. But once they began to trade with the US, they realized how far behind they were and how much they were missing out on in terms of technology and prosperity. Another important consideration, of course, was the fear that US military technology would allow Japan to be easily conquered. (Ultimately, they were unable to prevent that outcome, only delaying it until 1945.)

Still, the actual pattern of industrialization between the two countries was quite similar: Expansion of trade, development of coal and steel as vital inputs to production, improvement of agricultural technology to dramatically increase food output and free up laborers to work in factories. Even the progression of different industries was quite similar, starting in low-tech manufacturing such as textiles, going through capital-intensive manufacturing such as steel and trains, and ultimately culminating centuries later with high-tech manufacturing such as computers and automobiles. Today both the United Kingdom and Japan are world leaders in electronics manufacturing.

The demographic pattern during industrialization was also quite similar: Britain's small population expanded greatly; Japan's already large population grew enormous. Economic output grew even faster, resulting in a rapidly rising standard of living; but this wealth was not distributed evenly, so inequality rose as the rich became richer must faster than the poor became less poor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team