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Because when Japan was occupied by the Allies after WWII in 1945, the Japanese civilian industry supported the US Military stationed there. If a US warship, tank, or aircraft broke down, it did not make any sense to send it all the way back to the United States to fix it. Just fix it there in Japan.
Five years later, in 1950, the Korean War broke out just across from Japan. The US immediately entered the conflict. Now the US military demanded ASAP (As Soon As Possible) new tanks, new jeeps (1/4 tons), new army trucks, artillery, aircraft, boats, ships, ammunition, etc. The Japanese industry built those products.
After the Korean War, those military vehicles turned into today's automobiles, motorcycles, TVs, microwaves, cell phones, and computers.

Now, what is Japan's potential military might? Can Japan be a military superpower again? This is one question that rarely is asked when one looks at the Asian landscape, mostly because China has caught most of the headlines.

Japan arguably has the second-best navy in the Pacific and a very modern force. Japan's rate of ship construction has held its own with China, and this is with Japan arguably holding back.

Japan's air force is super-modern, and is built around the F-15J (a variant of the F-15C) and the F-2 (a stealthier version of the F-16 with four additional hard-points). Currently, 130 F-2s are authorized (49 are presently in service), but the figure could likely go higher as the 92 F-4EJ Kai Phantoms are retired as well. Japan has a huge advantage, in airborne early warning aircraft, over China, having operated E-2s since the 1980s. China might have four A-50 Mainstay aircraft in service as of 2005, but this is a huge if, and they are trailing Japan by 15 years in learning how to use them.

Japan also holds a significant lead in technology (for instance, the Civic and Prius hybrids that are on the road today were designed in Japan), and its shipbuilding program continues. Japan is also keeping its military strength at this level by spending one percent of its GDP on defense. China spends about 1.7 percent of its GDP. As one can see, Japan has the potential to be a superpower. But what is holding it back?

The major military obstacle is the fact that Japan does not have power projection capabilities. This could be changing. One of the proposals for new warships includes 13,500-ton helicopter-carrying destroyers that look like a small aircraft carrier. Japan also was reportedly considering purchasing Tomahawk cruise missiles in 2003. Capable of being launched from ships with a vertical-launch systems and from submarines, this could be another means of providing Japan a power-projection capability.

Japan also faces a major political/legal obstacle. Since the 1945 surrender in WWII, Japan has taken a low key approach to military matters, choosing a strictly defensive posture. Japan also has a very strict “no nuclear weapons” policy. That said, Japan reprocesses plutonium for its many nuclear power plants, which gives it the ability to make nuclear weapons if it needs to, and it does have a strong space-launch capability (many ICBMs have become the means to launch satellites and other vehicles into space). Japan could have a working nuclear weapons capability in one year should they decide to.

The underlying truth is that at this time, Japan is arguably the strongest power in East Asia – and it is at this point with one hand tied behind its back. Should Japan be pushed to the point where it feels it needs to use all the military power it is capable of generating, it could readily become a superpower in military terms. Its tradition is of a highly-trained, professional force that can be a fierce adversary would be there. The only reason Japan is not a superpower is because it has chosen not to pursue that course.

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Q: How did Japan become a superpower after World War 2?
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