After the defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army in 1945, the Japanese people rejected any talk of expansion of the military and turned the entire focus on the nation on building a peaceful economy that would serve to bring Japan back to affluence as well as lend economic support to new and expanding economies in Asia and elsewhere. The Japanese people have given generously to the United Nations, have donated to the needy in Latin America, Africa and Asia and have participated in international sporting events – all peace time uses of their energy. In short, Japan has avoided conflict and focused on economic expansion since 1945.
In Article 9 of its Constitution, Japan, with the support of the United States, abandoned its militaristic past and embraced pacifism as its people gave an oath that the country would not engage in any military conflicts overseas. Even peace keeping operations and collective defense were off limits. However, as Japan stuck to its values of peace at any cost, there was a Communist Revolution in 1949 in China, and in 1950 the Korean Conflict that lasted 3 years.
Still protecting its Constitution and values, Japan allowed US and other forces to use bases on Japanese islands while avoiding any direct participation in said conflicts. But as the rise of power in China and the more recent threats – the past 20 years – from North Korea, Japan has been forced and with the support of the United States to rearm itself for protection.
Japan currently spends 45.4 billion dollars each year, about 1.0% of its GDP on military, placing it #8 in the world just behind the United Kingdom with 47.2 billion and ahead of Germany with 44.3 billion dollars.
The Japanese people have made it clear, they do not intend to build any offensive capabilities, they only want to address the growing threats from China and the North Korean regime, both making open threats in recent years.
Japan has spelled out the terms of its Constitution by saying that it rejects war as a means of solving international problems while denying its own belligerency. Despite many academics claiming that Japan can construct an atomic weapon in under two months, the country has rejected any investment in such projects. Still, despite the 1% cap on military spending that was implemented in 1956, the JSDF or Japanese Self-Defense Forces, are one of the best armed forces in the world. A series of historical events have pushed Japan into a position in which it must move from the passive role to a more active role in global peace keeping challenges – the US has been pushing Japan down this path.
In 2004 Japan read the Constitution and has changed its interpretation of the wording. And note that the massive size of its economy allows it to arm itself well to meet the challenges of a more assertive Chinese military that is building aircraft carries. Japan is now purchasing anti-ballistic missile defense capabilities from the US as well as building its own carrier force with US jump-jets. This allows Japan to project its power in the South China Sea, a direct challenge to China.