Traditionally, Japanese capital traded in order to acquire products which could not be obtained domestically. The historic task of the state, especially MITI and its predecessor, was to encourage the development of export industries in order to earn the required foreign exchange, from which Japan suffered a continuous and chronic shortage throughout its transition from feudalism to advanced capitalism. Japanese capital has thus seen trade, particularly exporting, as a kind of patriotic duty which happily also solved a very basic problem, that of marketing its output. Today, a more illuminating window through which to view Japan’s trade is the latter’s relationship with foreign investment, since with the rise in the 1980s of the consumer goods industries to the heights of international competitiveness, especially in the production of cars and electronics goods, the traditional problem of trade deficits and their solutions through export promotion has given way to a new problem which has towered over all policy-making and discussion in Japan: the chronic trade surplus with the US resulting from the need to export the cars and electrical goods which the domestic market could not absorb. Having inherited a bureaucracy and production system that knew only how to promote exports and curtail imports, the attempts by recent Japanese governments to do the opposite have made very little impact on the current problem, which in almost all respects is the mirror opposite to the traditional one.
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