Capitalism came to Japan in the last decade of the nineteenth century on the heels of the Industrial Revolution elsewhere in the world. Originally, industrialization in Japan was sponsored by the government, primarily the construction of railroads and iron foundries, ship yards, mines, and factories for production of silk, chemicals and cotton textiles. This was done with the help of foreign experts hired by the Japanese government to modernize the nation's industry. As soon as the government was satisfied that these industries could operate without government support, they were sold to private entrepreneurs who operated them for profit. They soon developed huge industrial empires, very similar to those of the "captains of industry" in American industry. Their industrial empires were known as zaibatsu,meaning "wealthy clique." Each zaibatsu was typically owned by a single family rather than the trusts and cartels that developed in the U.S.
Capitalization was largely urban in Japan. Workers, as in other parts of the world were often poor and forced to work long hours for high wages. The entire nation was originally taxed by the Japanese government to fund industrialization, often at rates as high as 50%. The government was so concerned with industrial development that it ignored the plight of poor rural people who lived on the brink of starvation after several years of crop failures. Many of those people left the countryside to work in factories as was the case in America and Europe. The only rural manifestation of capitalism in Japan was the numbers of people who moved to cities searching for work.