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An excerpt from the transcript of a lecture:

And after that MacArthur stayed in Japan for six years working with the Emperor Hirohito and the new Japanese government, building its government and rebuilding the country. And as we know, Japan was a phoenix destroyed by the war and now, 70 years later, one of the most economically powerful countries in the world.

I can't understand what the word phoenix means in this context.

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The word seems incorrectly positioned in the sentence. Japan was a 'phoenix' after the war. This extract suggests it was a phoenix when it was destroyed. – WS2 Apr 8 '14 at 8:08
I think the sentence is correct... Japan is compared to the Phoenix , first distorted than reborn. – Josh61 Apr 8 '14 at 9:06
@Josh61 It had never previously occurred to me that a phoenix could be a phoenix at the point it was dead, and before it rose from its own ashes. – WS2 Apr 8 '14 at 21:04
up vote 11 down vote accepted

A phoenix is a mythological bird that dies as it reaches old age (literally by burning up, or, if you want, spontaneously combusting) and is reborn (young and beautiful once again) of its own ashes. It is a creature associated with a whole slew of related concepts: long life, rebirth, resurrection, regeneration...

In the context of the sentence you quoted,

Japan was a phoenix destroyed by the war and now, 70 years later, [is] one of the most economically powerful countries in the world.

the author is saying that the country was destroyed in the war, but rebuilt itself to its previous strength (or beyond it) — quite possibly in a spectacular, unexpected way. Note that often the new phoenix is considered a different creature from its predecessor (its "parent") — similarly, post-war Japan is different (though obviously related) from pre-war and wartime Japan.

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A phoenix is a mythological creature: a bird which is reborn after dying. It's usually associated with fire and the sun and its death often involves burning down to ashes.

The usage is a metaphor suggesting that Japan was burned down to nothing, and then reborn as strong as ever in the same way as a phoenix.

The sun association was probably not invoked to intentionally be the "rising sun" of Japan, although I might be wrong. In modern thinking, the phoenix is associated more with fire in general than with the sun.

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Phoenix is a bird in Greek mythology, a bird that burns and is reborn again. Read Wikipedia's article on Phoenix (mythology).

Wikipedia: Phoenix

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The use of Phoenix suggests the idea that Japan was able to reconstruct itself after the war.. Like the Phoenix which was able to rise from its ashes.

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