The Postwar Era
Japan Since 1945

"Wave of the Future" (Hokusai's "Great Wave Off Kanagawa" becoming digitized
Japan Icon with Hokusai's "Wave" in the form of Godzilla
General MacArthur Arrives in Japan after WWII
Emperor Hirohito informing the nation of Japan's surrender by radioThe Showa Emperor’s surrender speech was broadcast over the radio airwaves on August 15, 1945, and on August 28, a few days before the formal surrender ceremonies were conducted aboard the battleship Missouri on September 2, the first small advance party of what would eventually become an Allied occupation force reaching up to a quarter million persons touched down in a C-47 transport plane at an airport outside Tokyo. These first Allied arrivals were uncertain what sort of reception they might encounter. ... Many Japanese were relieved that the war was finally over, but many were also, understandably, apprehensive. With relatively few exceptions, however, the arriving Allied forces were treated with respect and even privilege — until 1951, for example, the Japanese government provided occupation authorities with free servants — whereas the occupation authorities, for their part, behaved with magnamity toward their defeated foes. ... In retrospect, the usual verdict is that the postwar Allied occupation of Japan was an overall great success. (HEA, 311)
General MacArthur with Emperor Hirohito
Although it is referred to as an “Allied” occupation, it was overwhelmingly really an American affair. ... A multinational Far Eastern Commission was eventually established in Washington, DC, and a four-power Allied Council for Japan was sent to Tokyo, which included British, Chinese, and Soviet representatives, but a single, unified, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) was appointed to actively supervise the entire region. The officer assigned this command was the senior American general Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), who set up his headquarters in the Daiichi building in Tokyo at the end of August 1945. ...
Netflix Series "Tokyo Trial"
At the time of Japan’s surrender, American opinion was seriously divided over the question of how completely Japan would have to be forcibly reconstructed so that it would never again be a threat to world peace. Some felt that the old militaristic Japan would have to be almost entirely obliterated and a great many of the Allies felt that Japan should quite properly be punished for its wartime aggression. ... Many felt that the individual most responsible for the war in the Pacific had been the Japanese emperor himself. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution in 1945 calling for the emperor also to be tried as a war criminal. In January 1946, however, General MacArthur cabled Washington from Tokyo with a forceful assertion of the idea that putting the emperor on trial for war crimes would be counterproductive, and would probably even provoke guerilla warfare against the Allied occupation. A plausible argument could be made that the emperor of Japan had always been more a symbol of the nation than an active ruler; that the emperor’s individual responsibility for specific government policies, including military action, had been limited; and that, precisely as a symbol of Japan, the prestige of the throne could be wielded now in the cause of peace and stability just as easily as it previously had been used for war. In the end, MacArthur’s position prevailed. Not only was the institution of the emperor preserved, but the same wartime Showa Emperor (Hirohito) was allowed to remain seated on the chrysanthemum throne, and the question of his war guilt was largely forgotten. (HEA, 311-3)
Emperor Hirohito with the caption "(Not) Divine"
The Question of Divinity
Emperor Hirohito: New Year’s Day, 1946
We stand by the people and we wish always to share with them in their moment of joys and sorrows. The ties between us and our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world. (Japan: A Documentary History, 467)
Emperor Not Guilty of War Crimes
MacArthur’s Telegram to Chief of Staff Eisenhower

January 25, 1946

Investigation has been conducted here under the limitation set forth with reference to possible criminal actions against the Emperor. No specific and tangible evidence has been uncovered with regard to his exact activities, which might connect him in varying degree with the political decisions of the Japanese Empire during the last decade. I have gained the definite impression from as complete a research as was possible to me that his connection with affairs of state up to the time of the end of the war was largely ministerial and automatically responsive to the advice of his councilors. There are those who believe that even had he positive ideas it would have been quite possible that any effort on his part to thwart the current of public opinion controlled and represented by the dominant military clique would have placed him in actual jeopardy. (Japan: A Documentary History, 467-8)
Supported by a vast array of previously untapped primary documents, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is perhaps most illuminating in lifting the veil on the mythology surrounding the emperor’s impact on the world stage. Focusing closely on Hirohito’s interactions with his advisers and successive Japanese governments, Bix sheds new light on the causes of the China War in 1937 and the start of the Asia-Pacific War in 1941. And while conventional wisdom has had it that the nation’s increasing foreign aggression was driven and maintained not by the emperor but by an elite group of Japanese militarists, the reality, as witnessed here, is quite different. Bix documents in detail the strong, decisive role Hirohito played in wartime operations, from the takeover of Manchuria in 1931 through the attack on Pearl Harbor and ultimately the fateful decision in 1945 to accede to an unconditional surrender. In fact, the emperor stubbornly prolonged the war effort and then used the horrifying bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with the Soviet entrance into the war, as his exit strategy from a no-win situation. From the moment of capitulation, we see how American and Japanese leaders moved to justify the retention of Hirohito as emperor by whitewashing his wartime role and reshaping the historical consciousness of the Japanese people. The key to this strategy was Hirohito’s alliance with General MacArthur, who helped him maintain his stature and shed his militaristic image, while MacArthur used the emperor as a figurehead to assist him in converting Japan into a peaceful nation. Their partnership ensured that the emperor’s image would loom large over the postwar years and later decades, as Japan began to make its way in the modern age and struggled — as it still does — to come to terms with its past. (Pulitzer Prize)

Was the Showa Emperor (Hirohito) Guilty?

Tojo Hideki in Netflix' "Tokyo Trial"

Did MacArthur Make the Right Decision?

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The Showa Emperor signing the new constitution
Not content with specific new laws of policies, a conviction began to grow that Japan needed an entirely new constitution to replace the nineteenth-century Meiji era document. Since official Japanese proposals for constitutional revision did not go far enough to suit the occupation authorities (whereas some unofficial Japanese proposals went too far, threatening, for example, to eliminate the emperor), the Americans stepped in and wrote the new constitution themselves, originally in English. ... After a few revisions, this new constitution was approved by the Japanese Diet in November 1946 and took effect in May 1947. It is still in effect today.
The new emperor, Naruhito, with the retired emperor, Akihito
Although, to a large extent, the Japanese emperor had really always only been something of a figurehead, his once theoretically supreme authority was now officially reduced in the new constitution to being merely a “symbol of the State.” Sovereign power was now vested, instead, in “the people.” ... The most remarkable feature of Japan’s postwar constitution is undoubtedly Article 9, which asserts that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation” and flatly states that military forces “will never be maintained.” This seems to have originally been MacArthur’s idea, and is entirely in keeping with the initial concern of the occupation authorities to prevent Japan from ever again becoming a threat to world peace. Ironically, however, many Americans soon began to regret this sweeping degree of Japanese demilitarization, as Japan quickly turned from being an enemy during World War II into an important American ally in the Cold War against communism.
Cartoon ad for the Self-Defense Forces
MacArthur himself helped Japan create a new police reserve, which later became the Self-Defense Forces. Eventually, Japan came to invest fairly heavily in self-defense capability. Nevertheless, many Japanese sincerely felt deep revulsion against the militarism that had led them to disaster in 1945, and postwar Japan has genuinely long remained an almost uniquely pacifistic country. Today, however, as many Japanese are increasingly worried by the dramatic rise of Chinese power, the current LDP prime minister Abe Shinzo (1954-; prime minster 2012-), a relatively conservative nationalist, would like to at least modestly revise the constitutional restrictions on military activity. This is, perhaps, an indication that the post-WW II era may finally be coming to an end in Japan. (HEA, 314-6)
Article 9, the renunciation of war clause, provided yet another challenge. It was not clear if the language permitted Japan the right of self-defense. In the summer of 1946, a subcommittee consisting of fourteen persons debated the language of the constitution article by article. ... The Ashida subcommittee’s “amendment” [i.e. the words “In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph”, which “made room for rearmament for defensive purposes” and allowed Japan “to participate in UN peacekeeping operations] was approved by the plenary session of the House of Representatives on August 24, 1946. ... For Many years, Japanese constitutional scholars and politicians debated whether the Ashida amendment gave Japan the right to rearm, and whether the self-defense forces were consistent with the provisions of Article 9. (Japan: A Documentary History, 470)
Chapter II
Renunciation of War

ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
       In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency [i.e. engaging in war] of the state will not be recognized. (Japan: A Documentary History, 472)

Was it a good idea to include this clause in the post-war constitution?

Do you think that this clause is still important, or should the Japanese constitution be amended?

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Photograph showing Japan's postwar devastation
Economic Recovery
For many people in Japan, the first winter after the end of World War II was the hardest. As a result of wartime firebombing, millions of persons were homeless and obliged to sleep in subway stations or whatever other improvised shelter they could find. Industrial production stood at a fraction of its prewar levels, and some five million Japanese were unemployed. Japan recovered only very slowly from this devastation. Recovery had scarcely even begun by the end of the occupation. Real per capita gross national product (GNP) in Japan did not regain its pre-World War II level until 1953. The difficulty of Japan’s economic recovery was compounded by the almost complete lack of industrial raw materials in the home islands. The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 — during the fighting of which United Nations forces used Japan for invaluable forward bases — sparked a minor boom in the Japanese economy, but it would not be until the end of the 1950s that the Japanese economy really took off. (HEA, 317)
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Chart showing historical real GDP per capita growth in Japan and the U.S., 1790-2000
The Economic Miracle
& Subsequent Stagnation
Transistor radio with the Japanese term "iitoko dori" (taking the good things)From 1955 until 1973, ... the average annual growth in Japan’s GNP exceeded 10 percent. In two decades, from 1950 to 1970, Japan’s GNP multiplied some twenty times. By 1968, Japan had passed West Germany to become the world’s third largest economy. At the same time, the industrial sector of Japan’s economy finally became one of the most developed on earth. In the 1950s, for consumers in America, the label “made in Japan” had still frequently been perceived as synonymous with “cheap.” But Japan moved swiftly from its initial base in textiles and other light industries to more advanced consumer electronics. The transistor, for example, was invented by the American Bell Laboratories in 1948, and during the 1950s Japan’s Sony Corporation adapted this new technology to create a whole new generation of lightweight portable radios. As a result, Japan soon dominated the world market for transistor radios. Not content to stop there, Japanese corporations moved on to become major producers of ever larger and more sophisticated products. The first Japanese-exported Toyota Toyopet automobiles were unloaded in th United States in 1957. By 1981, Japan had become the world’s largest automaker and an authentic global economic superpower. (HEA, 317)
Datsun: Japan breaks through the U.S. auto market
Chart showing Zaibatsu corporate structure
From Zaibatsu... Keiretsu
Chart showing Keiretsu grouping of industries
[By the 1970s, the Japanese economy was dominated by well-established companies such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui — the worlds oldest major company.] The names were old, but they now designated a new kind of enterprise grouping consisting of affiliated companies (keiretsu) rather than the family-centered zaibatsu of the prewar period. Each group included a bank, likely an insurance company, a real estate firm, and a cluster of companies engaged in every conceivable line of business, where its main competitor was most frequently a member of a rival group. The activities of the various member firms of each group were coordinated in periodic meetings of their presidents in presidents’ clubs. Interlocking directorships, mutual stock holdings, and internal financing further held the organizations together, although more loosely than in the old zaibatsu. ...
Chart showing the Keiretsu corporate structure
The keiretsu grew in size and strength until in the mid-1970s a study by Japans Fair Trade Commission found that the six major groupings, composed of 175 core companies, held 21.9 percent of all the capital in Japan and had a controlling interest in another 3095 corporations that held 26.1 percent of the nations capital. In addition, there were their substantial investments in other companies that they influenced without controlling. (A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, 269)
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The Toyota Way, by Jeffrey K. Liker

The Toyota Way to Service Excellence, by Jeffrey K. Liker and Karyn Ross
Japan Incorporated
The Employer/Employee Relationship
In the very largest firms, employees fell into three categories. At the top was management, largely recruited from university graduates. A man ... would enter the company with others of his age, expecting to be promoted along with them in accordance with seniority, providing he was suitably conscientious and his health did not break down. The least able would gradually be hived off into less prestigious appointments. The most able could hope eventually to reach the very peak, since family ownership was rare. The price to be paid was hard work, measured by hours spent in the office, and unremitting loyalty, in return for which the ‘salaryman’ received what was by Western standards a small monthly wage but a fairly generous expense account.
       In the next lowest category were the company’s regular ‘permanent’ workers, rather less well educated, but not marked off by any obvious status symbols. Pay was good, as was in-job training. There was a high degree of security of employment, made financially possible by a flexible bonus system, plus a willingness on the part of both employer and employee to resort to job changes and re-training, rather than dismissals, when times were hard. Not infrequently there were company housing, company health and pension schemes, and company holidays. Not many of these benefits extended to the lowest cohort, the temporary workers, who were also the people most likely to lose their jobs in a recession. (The Rise of Modern Japan, 256)
Japanese Cram School!
University of Tokyo logoAn employee’s point of entry into the system, as into the government bureaucracy, was determined by education, Omamori: Japanese talisman (for academic success, etc.) which gave the majority of Japanese an interest in ensuring that their children went as far as possible up the educational ladder and attended the best possible schools.  This was particularly so, because educational attainment was measured by the reputation of the school or university, rather than by the individual’s prowess in it. ...   It is not surprising, therefore, that there was fierce competition to get into those of the highest reputation; and since this entailed passing entrance examinations, the result was an annual ‘examination hell’What is more, the best schools afforded the best preparation for entry to the best universities, so the struggle extended downwards through the system. A survey published in 1988 showed that of a sample of Tokyo children in their last year of elementary school, three-quarters attended cramming schools (juku) during the summer vacation. One in four of these did so every day. (The Rise of Modern Japan, 257-8)
Sarariman (Salaryman): Japanese businessman with elements of samurai armour
Japanese companies provided varied services and facilities for their employees, including company dormitories for the unmarried. There were company athletic teams and a host of recreational activities, such as organized outings to mountain retreats. These were intended not only to foster the health and well-being of the employees but also to strengthen feelings of group solidarity and identification with the sponsoring firm, which used them to convey an image of paternalistic solicitude. At Toyota, Japan’s leading automobile manufacturer, white-collar men received an entire year of training, including a month in a company camp. Recruitment patterns that centered on certain universities, encouraging ties among men entering a company in the same year; an emphasis on longevity in promotions; the practice of extensive consultation; and a strong preference for decision by consensus all helped foster management solidarity.
Japanese office: a big open space where "section heads" interact directly with lower level workers
Japanese office setup with "Section Head" (kacho) sitting with the team
Japanese office: workers drinking beer after work
Japanese companies, especially the large modern concerns, mostly retained the loyalty of their employees, who were made to feel that what was best for the company was also best for Japan. This business ideology gained credence from management’s practice of plowing earnings back into the firm so that it could continue to grow and hopefully surpass its rivals. ... [M]anagement was able to get workers to agree to moderate wage increases and fringe benefits. The threat of foreign competition was also used effectively, and for years Japanese companies enjoyed a lower labor bill and more labor peace than many of their competitors in Europe and America. The quest for economic growth gave Japan a sense of national purpose even as it promised an improved standard of living for the people. (A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, 269-70)
The government fostered growth by establishing a political climate favorable to economic expansion, by investing in infrastructure, by adopting appropriate fiscal and monetary policies, and by setting production targets, assigning priorities, and generally orchestrating the economy. ... Although the Construction Ministry controlled the bulk of infrastructure spending, the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) coordinated economic growth. The importance of MITI [reorganized as METI in 2001] reflected the crucial role of foreign trade in Japan’s economy and the determination of the government to oversee the country’s economic and political relations with other countries. By deploying foreign exchange allocations, manipulating quotas, and establishing barriers protecting native capital from foreign competition, the government channeled the flow of investment funds. It could also extend or deny tax privileges. It thus had at its disposal a variety of weapons to bring recalcitrant firms into line if persuasion, pressures, or both failed. Generally, it preferred to rely on discussion and to act as much as possible on the basis of a shared government-business consensus. ...
Japanese people working together to reach conensus
Consensus was possible not only because of the shared aims and interest of government and business but also because of ties between the government and the business community. Often these ties were personal, because the men at the top in the private sector and those heading the influential and prestigious government ministries tended to share similar backgrounds (both included a high proportion of Tokyo University graduates). (A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, 270-1)
Map of Japanese exports
Export Success!!!
Japanese growth [in the boom years 1960 to 1970] was export-oriented in ways that had not been envisaged under the defense agreements with the United States. In particular, export success no longer depended on industries having lower wage rates than their competitors, which would have implied making low-priced goods for underdeveloped areas, but on those whose efficiency was great, honed by competition in the market at home. (The Rise of Modern Japan, 248)
In the later 1970s and 1980s, Japan’s emphasis on high technology led to a decrease in dependence on imported raw materials. By 1984, Japan had reduced its use of imported raw material per unit of manufacture to 60 percent less than it had been twenty years earlier. This change also positioned Japan to compete with the emerging economies of such neighbors as Korea and Taiwan. Encouragement was given [to] electronics, telecommunications, biochemicals, and machine tools. (A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, 274)
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Other Factors in Japan’s Success
The question of how Japan managed to recover from its complete economic collapse at the end of WWII to become one of the most important economies in the world has been studied in great detail by many authors. In his book on Japan’s influential role in the Industrialization of East Asian, Ezra F. Vogel provides a significantly different set of factors that contributed to Japan’s success, which may be summarized as follows:

(i) U.S. Aid: Due in large part to concern about the spread of communism in Russia, China, North Korea and Vietnam, America (and to some extent other members of the Allied Forces) provided technological and economic experts to train their Japanese counterparts.

(ii) Destruction of the Old Order: With the pre-War military and political factions thoroughly discredited, the new political leaders could make policy decisions without considering the interests of the pre-War elites.

(iii) Urgency of the Political and Economic Crisis: As with the beginning of the Meiji period, the sense of urgency associated with rebuilding the economy in order to preserve the national interest helped to galvanize support at all levels of society for the self-sacrifices that were necessary to restore and indeed surpass the level of development that had been attained up to WWII.

(iv) Eager and Plentiful Labor Force: After the war, 6 million soldiers and civilians returned from Japan’s overseas colonies and “spheres of interest”; with such a large workforce in need of employment, the cost of production was very low, allowing Japan to produce goods which could effectively compete on the international market.

(v) Confucian Ethic: A final factor was the cultural force of Confucian ethics, which supported the principle of sacrificing the needs of the individual for the greater needs of the collective. (cf. The Four Little Dragons, 83-112)

Japan Icon with Hokusai's "Wave" in the form of Godzilla
Cover of Time Magazing (April 13, 1987) with the heading "Trade Wars: The U.S. Gets Tough with Japan"
Trading Places
The success of the Japanese economic miracle was so spectacular that, in 1979, an influential book was published with the title Japan as Number One: Lessons for America. Per capita income in Japan actually passed the United States in 1988 (although it has since sunk again below the U.S. level, and a truly meaningful comparative standard of living is, in any case, much more difficult to measure). By the end of the 1980s, Japan appeared seriously poised to emerge as the world’s foremost economy. By 1991, Japan had become the world’s leading donor of foreign aid, and Japan had also eclipsed the United States as a source of foreign investment in Asia.
US/Japan Trade War: workers smashing a Japanese car with a sign saying "U.A.W. says 'If you sell in America, build in America'"
While some Americans looked to the Japanese model for possible lessons, other Americans simply felt that the playing field was unfairly skewed against them. Japan, it was alleged, was practicing predatory neo-mercantilist, or protectionist, trade policies. Though the United States had for decades provided Japan with military protection and free access to the American consumer market, Japan supposedly had not reciprocated by opening its own domestic market to foreign products. The 1980s became a decade of often highly emotionally charged trade wars between Japan and its leading allies. Tensions between Japan and the United States were reflected in book such as Clyde Prestowitz’s Trading Places: How We Allowed Japan to Take the Lead, with its disturbing first chapter title: “The End of the American Century.” (HEA, 321)

The Bubble Bursts
The Japanese had good reason to feel somewhat self-satisfied by the late 1980s. A new era literally began in 1989 with the death of the Showa Emperor (Hirohito) in January, after a lengthy sixty-three-year reign. The new emperor’s reign period is called Heisei, which means “achieving peace.” This new era almost immediately encountered difficulties, however. The 1985 Plaza Accord had sharply increased the exchange value of the yen, but for a few years Japanese industry had been able to successfully compensate for the increased relative cost of its exports with accelerated investments. This, however, led to inflated asset values and a bubble economy. The Japanese stock market soared, and real estate prices reached fantastic levels. By the late 1980s, the land on which the imperial palace stands in downtown Tokyo was equal in value to all of California ....
Chart comparing US and Japanese GNP growth
Almost inevitably, these real estate and stock market bubbles eventually burst. It happened in 1990. Commercial real estate prices in Japan’s major cities fell by as much as 85 percent, and, as of 1992, the Nikkei stock index was down 60 percent from its 1989 high. This left Japan with much excess industrial capacity and enormous bad debts. By the early twenty-first century, Japanese banks may have held as much as a hundred trillion yen in problem debt, or nearly 20 percent of GDP. The former exhilarating rates of economic growth seem unlikely now to ever return. Japan’s quandary is that it can produce more than its own domestic market can consume, and with the rise of new rival Asian manufacturing powers (such as China) and the “hollowing” of Japan’s own manufacturing due to the transfer of production overseas, export-led growth can no longer generate the kind of dynamic expansion of the Japanese economy it once did. (HEA, 322)
Chart comparing US and Japanese GDP growth per capita