American Occupation of 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 they decided to act
through the existing Japanese gobernment. General MacArthur 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 completed 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 cold 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
steam-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 winter. 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 MacArthur 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
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. Fish, 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 grounds 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 puyblic
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 liberties 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 revised 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 initiate.
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 operate 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 reafter 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 industry 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 Japan would draw in the years ahead.
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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