A critical feature of Japan’s post-war economic renaissance was the way government and business combined to select overseas market segments suitable for Japanese penetration and, bolstered by the support of a closed domestic market of higher prices, work single-mindedly to enter and dominate them. American and European producers of televisions, video cassette recorders, motor bikes and cameras, to name just a few, wilted at the Japanese onslaught of over-production, rapid model change and low prices.
Yet on the political side, historically the Japanese government has often been incapable of the kind of decision-making and leadership normally associated with national governments. With any subject of importance for Japan internationally, there are always many varied and often conflicting domestic interests that come into play, the international repercussions of which their proponents might not consider.
Decisions are usually made according to local conditions and the self-centred wishes of the group or groups affected, and it isn’t normal for groups to work together to seek commonality of thinking among themselves. Even in an environment such as the Pacific War, there was little joint action between the Army, Navy and Air Force, and quite often secrecy and direct antagonism amongst them. Nor was there any single over-riding person or group that had the power to control all of them jointly.
It’s still the case that domestic interests largely determine the outcome of government decisions, no matter how significant the subject might be for Japan on the world stage. Japanese political leaders usually hold their positions in name only, on a rotating basis, the fact that they are leader not necessarily implying a power base within their party strong enough to support the making of far-reaching decisions. This can lead to an inability to act decisively on the world stage.
Political decisions of any consequence are normally arrived at only after they’ve been agreed on consensus-style by members of each faction, then all factions within the governing party. Unless something has been decided in this manner, even a prime minister might not be in a position to unilaterally make a pronouncement. The umbrella of Japan’s defence agreements with the USA since the 1950s has also meant the country has been able to continue to avoid making decisions of any significance itself, simply falling into line with what it perceives is favoured or supported by the United States.