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

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pnrjulius eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

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