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Why was Malthus wrong about Japan?

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Japan Essay Why was Malthus wrong about Japan? Today Japan is a highly developed first world country with a vast population and a booming economy. The demographic history of Japan and how it reached this renowned economic status has been the focus of much theorising and has engaged the minds of many demographers, economists and historians for centuries. Japan is unique in the way its population has changed and its economy has developed without the stimulus of overseas markets. It does not boast the best physical landscape, being 85 percent mountainous, and it is not well endowed in terms of resources. Despite these negative attributes however, Japan has developed, and to such an extent it can now boast one of the worlds leading economies. Indeed Japan was the only country outside the western world to have developed at a similar rate. In the 18th century a Swedish doctor, P. Thunberg commented on Japan, 'Of all the countries that inhabit the three largest parts of the globe, the Japanese deserved to be ranked first, and to be compared with the Europeans.' (Modern Japan, P. Duus.) It stands to reason therefore that Japan's history merits such a wealth of discussion amongst academics. Part of Japan's success as a country has to be attributed to its longstanding political regime. For centuries Japan was an empire ruled by an emperor based at Kyoto. From the 12th century however Japan was governed by Shogun (military leaders) who oversaw the day-to-day life of the Japanese people. The emperor, in effect, was under house arrest, taking a submissive role being more of a spiritual leader to the people. The year 1600 saw an important event for the political governing of Japan. It was in this year that a battle (Sekigahara) established the supremacy of the Tokugawa family as ruling shoguns. From 1600 to 1868 this family ruled and these 268 years of Japan's history became known as the Tokugawa period. ...read more.


Universal marrying would suggest high levels of fertility but as discussed this was not the case in Tokugawa Japan. The issue of marrying at a later age can account for low levels of fertility, and possible reduced fecundability in women. Other factors can be attributed to fertility levels and many studies have been carried out in this area. T.C Smith, part of a later generation of population historians, conducted a study of a village which he named 'Nakahara,' to give an overall general pattern of what was occurring in Japan at this time. Smith looked at fertility levels of the village and constructed fertility curves to examine the possibility of infanticide. The curves showed low levels of fertility, and were convex suggesting that there was an absence of birth control in the village. This adheres loosely to the standard levels of fertility at the time; although the figures in question were lower (fertility levels were naturally low in Tokugawa Japan, lower than pre-industrial Europe.) Smith believed that the low levels of fertility were due not only to factors such spacing and lactational amenorrhea, as put forward by some of his contemporaries (e.g. Cornell), but also to the practice of infanticide. If Smith's study is consistent with the rest of Japan, then Malthus's theory would be true. However fertility curves alone do not prove beyond doubt that infanticide was occurring. L. Cornell believed the reasons for the low levels of fertility could be explained by factors other than infanticide. She believed the low level of fertility in general in Japan was a result of cultural rather than structural patterns. One of the main reasons put forward for this was the long lactation periods of Japanese mothers. It is biologically proven that the longer the lactation period after birth the harder it is for a couple to conceive their next child. This, Cornell attributes to the observed low fertility levels. ...read more.


From the time of the Tokugawa period to present day, the people of Japan have shown to have been hardworking, which is represented in the level of their economic success today. From the 17th century agriculture was the main employment sector in Japan. During this century agriculture took off at a vast rate and began to keep pace with the growing number of mouths. As the population slowed and productivity continued to increase, the per capita food supply also increased. Small-scale cultivators dominated the agricultural economy in Tokugawa Japan, but this was only the starting point of the economic transitional change in Japan. By the late Tokugawa period, 'proto-industrialsation', a term referring to the production of goods for distant markets was underway. New technologies spread and output of products such as soy sauce, bean paste and vegetable oil was a substantial proportion of all non-agricultural output. Proto-industialisation was concentrated in rural areas, which meant migration to large cities slowed, which in turn would have affected mortality rates, as mortality was consistently higher in these areas. In this case Malthus was also wrong in his assumptions about Japan. The population did not grow in a geometric ratio whilst the subsistence only grew in an arithmetical ratio. In fact quite the opposite occurred during the Tokugawa period in Japan. Overall it seems Malthus was wrong in most of his assumptions about Japan, such as universally low ages of marriage, moral restraint not being practised and widespread infanticide. However he did touch upon factors that operated in Japan as they did in many other countries at that time, such as family limitation and preventative checks affecting population numbers. In fact given the very little first hand knowledge Malthus actually knew about Japan, the only way his speculations could have been correct would have been purely by chance, which as highlighted is the not the case. Malthus was incorrect in his assumptions about the extent to which population-influencing factors occurred in Japan. Never the less he gave many population historians a foothold to further investigate the demographics of historic Japan. ...read more.

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