POSTWAR JAPAN: The US Shogunate
The MacArthur Era
The aftermath of war and defeat found Japan in an appalling condition. Most
of its cities had been destroyed. Tokyo alone had lost almost 60% of its buildings
due to the firebombing raids of the US. The air attacks had destroyed 30% of
Japans industrial capacity.
Territorially Japan was now back where its was when Commodore Perry first arrived.
Japan was forced to relinquish the Pescadores, Korea, Formosa, the Kuriles and
southern Sakhalin. Millions of Japanese soldiers and civilians began to return
from these areas back to an already crowded mainland.
The immediate problem for the urban Japanese was the food shortage. Bad weather
had caused rice production to drop 27%. Since Japan had lost its colonial possessions
it could no longer obtain additional food from Korea, Formosa, or Manchuria.
Its fishing industry had also deteriorated and was about 40% below the normal. Official food rations in this situation came to 1,050 calories per person per
day. Mass starvation was only avoided due to the American occupation.
There was a shortage of basic necessities and the issuance of an excessive amount
of currency caused serious inflation. In 1945 the amount of currency in circulation
was 14 times that of 1937. Mac[Arthur] was in charge and the strong personality of Mac[Arthur] made it seem that the reconstruction
effort was a one man show. The Japanese people cooperated willingly with the
American authorities and the occupation was relatively harmonious. In essence
Mac was SCAP Supreme Commander of Allied Powers.
SCAP would have to demobilize well over 3 million Japanese troops. All military
installations and equipment were destroyed and what remained of the navy ships
were divided among the four allied nations.
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was created to try War
criminals in Japan. In April of 1948 seven persons were given the sentence of
death by hanging for their war crimes, and 16 were given life sentences. Tojo
himself was hanged along with six of his generals who were responsible for atrocities
committed in China and the Philippines.
Initially SCAP had adopted a policy of having Japan pay reparations in the form
of industrial equipment and plants to the nations that had been victimized by
Japanese imperialism. But this idea was terminated in 1948 in favor stabilizing
the Japanese economy. Still by 1964 Japan had paid 477 million dollars to six
Southeast Asian nations.
SCAP carried out economic reforms. An attempt was made to dismantle the Zaibatsu.
This was done in order to encourage the rise of democratic elements and promote
a wider distribution of income and ownership of the means of production.
The Mitsui and Mitsubishi organizations were fragmented into 240 separate firms.
But this was a wasted effort for when SCAP left Japan the old zaibatsu firms
reunited especially during the period of rapid economic growth of the 1950's
and 1960's. A land reform was carried out that was much more successful that
the zaibatsu busting. At the end of the war 70% of Japan's farmers were tenants.
Under the land reform law of 1946 land was redistributed to these tenant farmers
who were granted loans to pay for the lands. By 1950 only 12% of all the arable
land in Japan remained under tenancy.
The US also attempted to foster an independent trade union movement and a number
of trade union laws were passed in the Japanese Diet at the insistence of SCAP.
By 1947 the Japanese worker for the first time in history was guaranteed a minimum
wage, the right to organize and engage in collective bargaining, strike. Minimum
standards were set for working hours, vacations, safety conditions, sick leaves,
accident compensation and other safeguards.
Educational reforms were initiated in order to remove militaristic and ultra-nationalistic
influences fro the school and to inculcate democratic values in the students.
The school system was reorganized like the American system of 6-3-3-4.
But the most significant efforts at democratization of the Japanese nation occurred
in the political realm. In this area the US had 4 main objectives:
1.) eliminate the power of the emperor;
2.) make the executive power of the government responsible to the people or
3.) establish a legislative body that would be responsible to all adult citizens;
4.) and develop democratically controlled political parties.
At the official level it was claimed that the new constitution was drafted by
the Japanese government, but in reality it was written by the officials of SCAP.
The new constitution changed the identity and role fo the Emperor from that
of an absolute monarch to "the symbol of the State and unity of the people."
Sovereignty was now vested in the people.
The Japanese people also received a bill of rights and legal guarantees. Also
Japan guaranteed that land, sea, and air forces as well as other war potential
will never be maintained."
But as the cold war deepened in the late 1940's Japan was encouraged to maintain
Universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1946 and the ties between the government
and the Shinto shrines were severed. In the social arena the most significant
legal changes occurred in the family system. The wife would now have equal legal
rights as the husband. The wife could own property and she gained the right
to divorce her husband on the same ground that he could divorce her.
Daughters were given the right to inherit the same property as the sons. A male
at the age of 18 and a female at the age of 16 could now marry without parental
consent. Prostitution was all but eradicated and a vigorous birth control program
was instigated which resulted in the legalization of abortion in June of 1949.
From the late 1940's to the present the political culture of Japan has been
dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party or LDP. Its main rival has been the
Socialist Party. The LDP is the party of Japanese businesses, while the socialist
party is the party of organized labor.
The Socialist Party favors closer ties with communist nations, the renunciation
of the security treaty with the US, tighter government controls over business,
higher wages and more generous social welfare programs. But the continued economic prosperity of Japan from the late 1940's to the present
has resulted in a steady decline of the popularity of the socialist party.
The most spectacular achievement of postwar Japan is to be seen in the incredible
economic recovery that took place. While the economy steadily grew after the war the most spectacular growth took
place in the years between 1953 and 1960 for the economy grew at an average
rate of 9.3% a year. By 1965 manufacturing had quadrupled in terms of output
when compared to figures before the war.
At the same time the population ad only grown from 70 to 95 million people.
The average Japanese family consumed 75% more in goods and services than did
its counterpart in the mid 1930's. Economic growth continued and the GNP which
stood at $10.9 billion in 1950, reached $202 billion in 1970 placing in the
number 3 position in total GNP behind the US and Russia. By the late 1980's
the GNP of Japan easily surpassed Russian making it the second largest economy
in the world behind the US.
In terms of steel production Japan produced 5 million tons in 1950 and in 1969
82 million tons. By 1956 Japan had become the largest shipbuilder in the world
and by the early 1970's produced almost 50% of all ships in the world. In 1950
Japan produced only 1,593 passenger cars, but by 1969 it produced 2,611,499
and in doing so became the third largest car manufacturer in the world. Now
Japan is the largest car manufacturer in the world. The dependency of the Japanese
economy on the US market was exposed when in 1971 President Nixon imposed a
10% surcharge on Japanese imports to the US and pressured the Japanese government
to revalue the yen upward. This touched off an acute economic crisis in Japan
for over 30% of its exports went to the US market. As a result of the rapid
rate of industrialization only 18% of Japan's labor force was employed in the
agricultural sector as opposed to 50% in the 1930's.
Japan's economic growth and prosperity depended primarily on foreign trade.
In 1950 Japan exported $820 million worth of goods and imported $974 million.
In 1969, Japan exported $16.7 billion which was $4 billion more than its imports.
There were many reasons for Japan's spectacular economic growth. Certainly one
reason was the fact that the US did not require Japan to pay war reparations.
In fact by 1951, the US had poured over $2 billion into the Japanese economy.
Also Japanese economic growth received a strong boost from the Korean war as
it produced munitions for the US war effort. The fact that Japan renounced militarism
meant that it would have to spend only a minimal amount on defense, about 1%
of its GNP. Therefore the government could and did invest much more of its public
funds into programs for developing the nation's industries. All the money that
was invested in tanks and huge warship in the prewar period could not be invested
in the industrial sector.
But despite all this aid it cannot be overlooked that Japan still had many
of the resources that had transformed Japan into a formidable industrial power
by the 1920's. Japan had an ample supply of well-educated, skillful, well-disciplined,
hard working laborers. In fact the labor force was now better educated than
before which allowed it to quickly adapt to the new production technologies
that were made available in the postwar era. As a result of improved production technology, labor productivity per hour increased
7.2% annually from 1953 to 1962.
The Japanese government also vigorously planned and promoted the growth of certain
industrial and manufacturing sectors. With government support management moved
swiftly to modernize industrial facilities and production techniques. Another
significant factor in the growth of the Japanese economy has been the high rate
of domestic savings a policy which was instigated by the government. With high
rates of savings substantial amounts of domestic capital was made available
The average Japanese wage earner saves 15% of their income which is about twice
that of American domestic savings.
One consequence of the government's policy of economic expansion has been the
rebirth of huge business combines. The old zaibatsu have reemerged under new
leadership. The four top zaibatsus controlled about 25% of all industrial capital.
Now the top corporations in Japan Toshiba Electric, Matsushita Electric, Toyota
Motors, and Yawata-Fuji Steel have their own circle of subsidiary corporations,
but none have the inter-locking banking connections that characterized the old
Economic growth has not only resulted in huge profits for the more successful
firms, but it has also brought higher wages for the workers. Rather sever privation
was endured immediately after the war, but by 1952 the workers of Japan were
earning wages equivalent to the prewar level and wages continued to rise with
the demand for skilled labor.
DEVELOPMENTS SINCE 1972
The Liberal Democratic Party has continued to dominate the political scene,
although its representation in the lower house has slipped somewhat. The conservative
party's dominance of the political scene has not translated into a monopoly
of power. Because the LDP consists of five major factions, compromises and accommodations
are necessary. The LDP has managed to maintain its dominance due to the support
of the major financial and industrial concerns, which have succeeded the prewar
zaibatsus. These business interests supply the party with the money necessary
to conduct successful campaigns.
The Japanese economy has continued to grow at a tremendous rate since 1970 in
industrial manufacturing and high technology. This growth was spectacular until
the oil crisis of 1973-74 temporarily slowed the economy. Oil increased from $2 a barrel to $11 in 1973, to $24 a barrel in 1974 to $35
a barrel in late 1979.
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) which directs the Japanese
economy devised ways to save energy in production and to shift to low energy
production of high technology. As a result of these measures, industrial and
high technology production began to rise and continued to expand. By 1983 industrial
production had increased over 40% over 1974. By 1981, Japan was the largest
producer of motor vehicles producing 11.2 million. By 1983 Japan produced nearly
30% of all motorvehicles in the world.
By 1985 Japan had also cornered the world market in electronic cameras, radios,
quartz watches, TVs, calculators, VCR's, stereo equipment, computers, silicon
memory chips, and genetic engineering. In 1982 90% of all VCR's were made in
Japan, and 70% of all computers. And it has been predicted that the by the year
2000 Japan will have the highest per capita GNP in the world. There are many
reasons for the economic success of Japan and many of the reasons prior to 1970
for the growth of the Japanese economy still hold true. The managerial class
continuously adopts new technologies to make its plant more efficient. In 1983
Japanese savings total 17.3% of their income compared with 5.1% in the US. Japanese
savers pay no income tax on the interest earned in their savings accounts.
Traditionally the Japanese have spent much on research and development to modernize
their products and production techniques. In the 1980's Japan spent an average
of 6% of its total profits from sales on R&D, while the US spent less than
1%. This has led to greater reliance on automation and higher productivity per
worker. These efforts to improve productivity and quality have enabled Japanese
business leaders to adjust constantly to world economic developments and market
demand. Government agencies, especially MITI and the business sector have cooperated
closely in charting the course of Japan's economic development. MITI was responsible
for the creation of a cheap, well-constructed car for export, for restructuring
the ship building industry and for initiating the R&D of fifth generation
computers that may come close to reasoning like human beings.
Unlike American executives, most Japanese corporate leaders have a strong sense
of public service. This difference in attitude is reflected in the salaries
received by top executives in the two countries. In 1982 the head of Toyota
received $1,300,000 in salary, in contrast to the top executive of Ford who
received $7,313,000 at a time when the US auto industry was being destroyed
by Japanese imports. Japanese management is generally regarded as being paternalistic
towards its workers, and the workers for their part of fiercely loyal to the
corporation that they work for. Also individual interest is stifled in favor
of group interest. Many Japanese workers have been happy to let the company
arrange their weekends, their hobbies, their vacations and even their marriages
for the good of the company.
FOREIGN RELATIONS AND TRADE
The spectacular growth in Japanese industrial production resulted in an enormous
expansion in foreign trade.
Japan's exports rose from $19 billion in 1970, to $170 billion in 1984. The
US is Japan's biggest market and of Japan's total exports 35.3% came to the
US in 1984.
Currently there is much friction between the US and Japan over the growing trade
imbalance. The trade imbalance between the two countries continues to grow because
Japan mainly imports nonindustrial products from the US, and it exports to the
US industrial and high technology products. The trade imbalance also grow because
of Japan's protective tariffs that seem deliberately designed to keep out foreign
goods. US pressure on Japan to relax trade restrictions has intensified since
1970. The Japanese government has periodically pledged to comply the policies
of the government have not been sufficient to redress the trade imbalance. As
a result the trade imbalance steadily increased from $7 billion in 1980, to
#39.5 billion in 1985.
While the Japanese people have enjoyed higher living standards, greater life
expectancy, and full literacy there have been social costs for the rapid economic
development of Japan. The price of intensive industrialization has been industrial
pollution. One of the worst cases occurred in 1953, when the sea waters off
the coast of northwestern Kyushu were poisoned by a chemical plant with methyl
mercury. The fish were consumed by people in the region and the mercury in the
fish caused hundreds of people to go blind, become paralyzed, have muscular
disorders and lose their hearing and speech. Also there were hundreds of babies
born with serious birth defects.
There have also been many cases of PCB poisoning of fish, and toxic waste in
the water and sir of the Japanese islands.
Because of the overcrowding in Japan as well as the intense pressure to study
and work hard there has been extreme social tension in Japanese society. Suicide
is increasing steadily, also the number of divorces though low when compared
with US standards have doubled in the last decade. Another indication of growing
dysfunction in Japanese society is the increase in juvenile delinquency, which
has grown by 80% since 1972. The Yakuza has been growing steadily in power and
is partly responsible for the designer drug epidemic on the US west coast in
the late 1970's and 1980's.
In 1960 protests against the mutual security treaty led to riots in the streets.
In the 1970's radical university students formed the Red Army group and killed
24 innocent people in an airport massacre.
Women have made no appreciable gains in the business world and they are actively
discriminated against in terms of promotion and career track in corporations
such as Sony, Toytota and most of the other large companies.
Japanese novelists have contributed much to world literature in the post war
world. And the great film director Kurosawa is recognized around the world.
But in another sense more than 50% of the movies made in Japan since the 1970's
have been pornographic. And in popular culture pornography featuring little
girls and adult comic books have become the rage.
Modern Japan is a dichotomy of sordidness and puritanism. The pornographic films
and magazines, which are overwhelmingly sadistic depict brutal abuses of women.
The recurring themes are of bondage and mutilation...and it has been surmised
by social psychologists that Japanese men must be very afraid of women if they
want to tie them up with chains and sexually mutilate them.
The popularity of comic books among adults is widespread and pervasive in Japanese
society, but these are hardly comic books for children for they as well emphasize
sexual violence, female bondage, and child pornography. In 1982 1.2 billion of these comic books were published and they are read by
all urban sectors of Japanese society, both male and female. Newspapers also
enjoy a wide readership and circulation. In 1977-1983 the daily newspaper subscription
per 1,000 population was 563 compared to 282 in the US. The Japanese also treasure
education. In 1980 19.3% of national and local expenditures in Japan were devoted
to education compared to 16.7% in the US. Japanese students attend school 5.5
days a week 240 days a year compared to 180 days in the US.
But for many Japanese the goal of education has not been learning for the sake
of learning, but entry into elite schools and resulting social-economic upward
mobility. The main complaint by the international community has focused on Japan's
self-imposed isolation. This insularness tends to confine Japan to national
narrow concerns without taking into account the broader international needs
Some good examples of this are the fact that Japan is one of the worst polluters
in the world in terms of toxic wastes.
Japanese corporations play a role in the deforestation of the rain forests in
the Amazon. Japanese fishermen continue to hunt endangered species of sea mammals
such a dolphins and whales.
When most of the industrial world had placed embargoes on South Africa to protest
its apartheid policies, Japanese businessmen rushed in to trade with the South
Africans and act as international middle men.
Foreigners, regardless of how long they may have lived in Japan express frustration
that they are never accepted in the Japanese community. These foreigners remain gaijin, outsiders. Japanese are openly racist
to non-white races as well.
The persistence of this discrimination, combined with the recovery of Japan's
self confidence due to its phenomenal economic success has resulted in a new
wave of nationalism in Japan. Japanese are now no longer deferential to either
Americans or Europeans.
There is also a growing body of evidence that there is a movement in Japan to
purge the nation of war guilt. Movies about the Pacific War are becoming increasingly
popular in Japan. In a 1982 hit movie The Imperial Japanese Empire, Japan is
depicted as the victim rather than the culprit in the Pearl Harbor attack, on
the assumption the President Roosevelt tricked the Japanese into attacking Hawai'i.
In the 1990's Japan has not only become an economic power second only to the
US, but it is also being perceived as an economic giant that threatens the security
of other nations.
Who would have guessed that a country in 1945 had a lower per capita rate of
income than Malaya would by 1989 have the highest standard of living in the
world? This is the paradox of Japanese postwar cultural and economic development.
A paradox that we must understand in order to avoid conflict in the future.