Post WWII Japan


The occupation of Japan was, from start to finish, an
American operation. General Douglans MacArthur, sole
supreme commander of the Allied Power was in charge. The
Americans had insufficient men to make a military
government of Japan possible; so t hey decided to act
through the existing Japanese gobernment. General Mac
Arthur became, except in name, dictator of Japan. He
imposed his will on Japan. Demilitarization was speedily
carried out, demobilization of the former imperial forces
was complet ed by early 1946. Japan was extensively fire
bomded during the second world war. The stench of sewer
gas, rotting garbage, and the acrid smell of ashes and
scorched debris pervaded the air. The Japanese people had
to live in the damp, and col d of the concrete buildings,
because they were the only ones left. Little remained of
the vulnerable wooden frame, tile roof dwelling lived in by
most Japanese. When the first signs of winter set in, the
occupation forces immediately took over all the s
team-heated buildings. The Japanese were out in the cold in
the first post war winter fuel was very hard to find, a
family was considered lucky if they had a small barely
glowing charcoal brazier to huddle around. That next summer
in random spots new ho uses were built, each house was
standardized at 216 square feet, and required 2400 board
feet of material in order to be built. A master plan for a
modernistic city had been drafted, but it was cast aside
because of the lack of time before the next winte r. The
thousands of people who lived in railroad stations and
public parks needed housing. All the Japanese heard was
democracy from the Americans. All they cared about was
food. General MacAruther asked the government to send food,
when they refus ed he sent another telegram that said,
"Send me food, or send me bullets." American troops were
forbidden to eat local food, as to keep from cutting from
cutting into the sparse local supply. No food was was
brought in expressly for the Japanese durning the first six
months after the American presence there. Herbert Hoover,
serving as chairman of a special presidential advisory
committee, recommended minimum imports to Japan of 870,000
tons of food to be distributed in different urban areas. Fi
sh, the source of so much of the protein in the Japanese
diet, were no longer available in adequate quantities
because the fishing fleet, particularly the large vessels,
had been badly decimated by the war and because the
U.S.S.R. closed off the fishing g rounds in the north. The
most important aspect of the democratization policy was the
adoption of a new constitution and its supporting
legislation. When the Japanese government proved too
confused or too reluctant to come up with a constitutional
reform that satisfied MacArthur, he had his own staff draft
a new constitution in February 1946. This, with only minor
changes, was then adopted by the Japanese government in the
form of an imperial amendment to the 1889 constitution and
went into effect on May 3, 1947. The new Constitution was a
perfection of the British parliamentary form of government
that the Japanese had been moving toward in the 1920s.
Supreme political power was assigned to the Diet. Cabinets
were made responsible to the Diet by having the prime
minister elected by the lower house. The House of Peers was
replaced by an elected House of Councillors. The judicial
system was made as independent of executive interference as
possible, and a newly created supreme court was given the
power to review the constitutionality of laws. Local
governments were given greatly increased powers. The
Emperor was reduced to being a symbol of the unity of the
nation. Japanese began to see him in person. He went to
hospitals, schools, mines, industrial plants; he broke
ground for public buildings and snipped tape at the opening
of gates and highways. He was steered here and there, shown
things, and kept muttering, "Ah so, ah so." People started
to call him "Ah-so-san." Suddenly the puybli c began to
take this shy, ill-at-ease man to their hearts. They saw in
him something of their own conqured selves, force to do
what was alien to them. In 1948, in a newspaper poll,
Emperior Hirohito was voted the most popular man in Japan.
Civil li berties were emphasized, women were given full
equality with men. Article 13 and 19 in the new
Constitution, prohibits discrimination in political,
economic, and social relations because of race, creed, sex,
social status, or family origen. This is one of the most
explicitly progressive statements on human rights anywhere
in law. Gerneral Douglas MacArthur emerged as a radical
feminist because he was "convinced that the place of women
in Japan must be brought to a level consistent with that of
women in the western democracies." So the Japanese women
got their equal rights amendment long before a concerted
effort was made to obtain one in America. Compulsory
education was extened to nine years, efforts were made to
make education more a traning in thinking than in rote
memory, and the school system above the six elementary
grades was revised to conform to the American pattern. This
last mechanical change produced great confusion and
dissatisfaction but became so entrenched that it could not
be re vised even after the Americans departed. Japan's
agriculture was the quickest of national activities to
recover because of land reform. The Australians came up
with the best plan. It was basis was this: There were to be
no absentee landlards. A person who actually worked the
land could own up to 7.5 arcers. Anyone living in a village
near by could keep 2.5 acres. Larger plots of land,
exceeding these limits, were bought up by the government
and sold on easy terms to former tenants. Within two years
2 million tenants became landowners. The American
occupation immediately gained not only a large
constituency, for the new owners had a vested interest in
preserving the change, but also a psychological momentum
for other changes they wanted to ini tiate. The American
labor policy in Japan had a double goal: to encourage the
growth of democratic unions while keeping them free of
communists. Union organization was used as a balance to the
power of management. To the surprise of the American
authorties, this movement took a decidedly more radical
turn. In the desperate economic conditions of early postwar
Japan, there was little room for successful bargaining over
wages, and many labor unions instead made a bid to take
over industry and o perate it in their own behalf. Moreover
large numbers of workers in Japan were government
employees, such as railroad workers and teachers, whose
wages were set not by management but by the government.
Direct political action therefore seemed more meani ngful
to these people than wage bargaining. The Japanese unions
called for a general strike on February 1, 1947. MacArthur
warned the union leadership that he would not countenace a
nationwide strike. The strike leaders yieled to MacArthur's
will. The re after the political appeal of radical labor
action appeared to wane. The Americans wanted to disband
the great Zaibatsu trust as a means of reducing Japan's
war-making potential. There were about 15 Zaibatsu families
such as - Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Yasuda, and Sumitomo. The
Zaibatsu controled the industry of Japan. MacArthur's
liaison men pressured the Diet into passing the
Deconcentration Law in December 1947. In the eyes of most
Japanese this law was designed to cripple Japanese business
and i ndustry forever. The first step in breaking up the
Zaibatsu was to spread their ownership out among the people
and to prevent the old owners from ever again exercising
control. The stocks of all the key holding companies were
to be sold to the public. Friends of the old Zaibatsu
bought the stock. In the long run the Zaibatsu were not
exactly destroyed, but a few were weakened and others
underwent a considerable shuffle. The initial period of the
occupation from 1945 to 1948 was marked by reform, the
second phase was one of stabilization. Greater attention
was given to improvement of the economy. Japan was a heavy
expense to the United States. The ordered breakup of the
Zaibatsu was slowed down. The union movement continued to
grow, to the ult imate benefit of the worker. Unremitting
pressure on employers brought swelling wages, which meant
the steady expansion of Japan domestic consumer market.
This market was a major reason for Japan's subsequent
economic boom. Another boom to the economy was the Korean
War which proved to be a blessing in disguise. Japan became
the main staging area for military action in Korea and went
on a war boom economy with out having to fight in or pay
for a war. The treaty of peace with Japan was signed at San
Francisco in September 1951 by Japan, the United States,
and forty-seven other nations. The Soviet Union refused to
sign it. The treaty went into effect in April 1952,
officially terminating the United States military
occupation and restoring full independence. What is
extraordinary in the Occupation and its aftermath was the
insignificance of the unpleasant. For the Japanese, the
nobility of American ideals and the essential benignity of
the American presence assuaged much of the bitterness and
anguish of defeat. For the Americans, the joys of promoting
peace and democracy triumphed over the attendant
fustrations and grievances. Consequently, the Occupation
served to lay down a substantial capital of good will on
which both America and Jap an would draw in the years
Christopher, Robert C. /The Japanese Mind/. New York:
Fawcett Columbine, 1983
La Cerda, John. /The Conqueror Comes to Tea/. New
Brunswick: R utgers University Press, 1946
Manchester, William. /American Caesar/. New York: Dell
Publishing Company, Inc., 1978
Perry, John Curtis. /Beneath the Eagle's Wings/. New York:
Dodd, Mead And Company, 1980
Reischauer, Edwin O. / The Japanese/. London: Belknap
Press, 1977
Seth, Ronald. /Milestones in Japanese History/.
Philadelphia: Chilton Book Company, 1969
Sheldon, Walt. /The Honorable Conquerors/. New York: The
Macmillan Company., 1965  


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