SOME OF THE SERIOUS CONDITIONS IN JAPAN
AFTER WORLD WAR II




Compiled by Robert J. Baran



     In order to better appreciate what the Japanese experienced following the Pacific War -- including those who were involved with bonsai -- these highlights are provided:

     Japan at the war's end was vastly weaker than anyone outside the country had imagined -- or anyone inside it had acknowledged.  The atomic bombs, "while seized upon by the Japanese as an excuse for getting out of the war, actually speeded surrender by only a few days." [44]

     All told, probably 1.74 million Japanese servicemen and one million civilians died as a result of the war, roughly 3-4% of the country's 1941 population of around 74 million.  Approximately 4.5 million servicemen demobilized in 1945 were identified as being wounded or ill, and eventually some three hundred thousand were given disability pensions.
     It is estimated that the Allied assault on shipping and the bombing campaign against the home islands destroyed one-quarter of the country's wealth.  This included fourth-fifths of all ships, one-third of all industrial machine tools, and almost a quarter of all rolling stock and motor vehicles.
     Rural living standards were estimated to have fallen to 65% of prewar levels and nonrural living standards to about 35%.  Sixty-six major cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had been heavily bombed, destroying 40% of these urban areas overall and rendering about 30% of their populations homeless.  In Tokyo, the largest metropolis, 65% of all residences were destroyed.  In Osaka and Nagoya, the country's second and third largest cities, the figures were 57 and 89%.  Five millions of Tokyo's seven million population had left the ruined city. [45-46, 44]

     Vast areas of poor people's residences, small shops, and factories in the capital were gutted, for instance, but a good number of the homes of the wealthy in fashionable neighborhoods survived to house the occupation's officer corps.  Tokyo's financial district, largely undamaged, would soon become "little America," home to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's General Headquarters.  Railways still functioned more or less effectively throughout the country.  Close to 9 million people were homeless when the emperor told them they had fought and sacrificed in vain.  The streets of every major city quickly became peopled with demoralized ex-soldiers, war widows, orphans, the homeless and unemployed -- most of them preoccupied with simply staving off hunger.  In the wake of defeat, approximately 6.5 million Japanese were stranded in Asia, Siberia, and the Pacific Ocean area.  Roughly 3.5 million of them were soldiers and sailors. [47-48]

     In September 1946, over 2 million Japanese still remained unrepatriated and the government acknowledged that the whereabouts of 540,000 others were unknown. [50]

     Some 1.35 million Koreans had been conscripted to perform heavy labor and were resident at the time of surrender.  By the end of 1946, over 930,000 had been repatriated. [54]

     Surrender and the American army of occupation liberated the Japanese from death.  Month after month, they had prepared for the worst; then, abruptly, the tension was broken and they were literally given back their lives. [88]

     With a minimum of rumination about the legality or propriety of such an undertaking, the Americans set about doing what no other occupation force had done before: remaking the political, social, cultural, and economic fabric of a defeated nation, and in the process changing the very way of thinking of its populace.  It is not surprising that the Japanese did not know what to expect. [78]

     Food shortages had begun to appear in some parts of the country even before Pearl Harbor.  A majority of the Japanese already were malnourished at the time of surrender.  In 1944, officials in Osaka prefecture estimated that 46% of all economic crimes in their jurisdiction involved food.  Hunger was compounded by a disastrous harvest (1945 was the worst since 1910, a shortfall of almost 40% from normal yield) and exacerbated by the confusion, corruption, and ineptitude of the postsurrender elites.  Food shipments from the U.S. helped avert the anticipated disaster of as many as 10 million Japanese starving to death through the fall and winter, and, in the process, enhanced the image of the U.S. as a generous benefactor. [90, 93]

     Despite the efforts of the occupation authorities and the government, the collection and distribution of even the most basic foodstuffs remained chaotic for years. [94]

     Bombed-out areas in downtown Tokyo were turned into vegetable gardens. [95]

     During mid-1946 and mid-1947, when the delivery system broke down most abysmally, food rations sometimes dropped to little more than one-quarter or one-third of what was required.  Tokyo residents failed to receive a full month's ration in six out of twelve months of 1946.  Despite a normal harvest, deliveries in 1947 were worse.  In both years, deliveries were commonly a week or two late nationwide, and the allotment of rice dropped off drastically between late spring and late fall, with various kinds of flour being increased in compensation.
     Absentee rates among civil servants taking time off to search for food ran to 15 percent or more, and even the Tokyo metropolitan police took to providing monthly "food holidays" for their employees.
     In September 1946, "bread-eating races" became a fad at elementary-school athletic contests.  In such a contest, needless to say, there were no losers.  Leftovers from restaurants, even the garbage of places where the more privileged dined, became depended-on sources of sustenance.  A hotel proprietor plagued by rats had to give up scattering poisoned food because people were picking it up and eating it. [96-97]

     For millions of blue-collar and white-collar families, mere daily survival did not begin to regain a semblance of "normality" until 1949 or later. [98]

     Communicable diseases, widespread during the war, now flourished in the filth, chaos, and poverty that accompanied defeat.  Tuberculosis carried off more than all the other diseases combined -- in 1947 some 146,241 persons were reported to have died of TB, and it was not until 1951 that total annual deaths dropped below 100,000.  For every person who died of tuberculosis, up to ten others contracted the disease. [103]

     There was also a rise in alcoholism, drug addiction, and violent as well as non-violent crimes.  Cheap alcohol was imbibed to ease the pain, including lethal methyl alcohol with its trail of deaths or permanent blindness. [107]

     Children's games were happy but highlighted so clearly and innocently the pathos that war and defeat had brought into their lives.  In early 1946 it was reported that the three most popular activities among small boys and girls were holding a mock black market, playing prostitute and customer, and recreating left-wing political demonstrations. [110-111]

     The postwar scourge of material shortages coupled with spiraling hyperinflation lasted for over four years (longer than the Pacific War with America itself).  The protracted nature of this postwar crisis was, in large part, due to policy shortcomings on both the Japanese and American sides, compounded by outright corruption and economic sabotage. [112-113]

     The diversion of military funds and supplies into private hands actually began the day before the emperor's broadcast.  It was later estimated that approximately 70 percent of all army and navy stocks in Japan -- sufficient for a force of some 5 million men at home and 3 million more overseas -- were disbursed in the first frenzy of looting lasting perhaps a month or two.  During the turbulent two weeks following the emperor's broadcast, a great many men of influence spent most of their waking hours looting military storehouses, arranging hasty payments from the military budget or from Bank of Japan to contractors and cronies, and destroying documents. [114]

     The cost of repatriating millions of servicemen and civilians was predictable, but the costs of housing and supporting several hundred thousand occupation forces was unpredictable and actually made up one-third of the regular budget for several years.  (See also two paragraphs below.)  In 1948, some 3.7 million families lacked housing of their own, while the government was required to provide housing and facilities for the conquerors, ensuring that they met American living standards.  Some officers had two to six servants, all paid for by the government. [115, 207]

     Consumer goods, foodstuffs, fertilizers, fuel, building materials, industrial equipment and chemicals, and so on were dealt with in the immense black market, to be either resold, used or stockpiled by the end "consumers."  Shortages persisted, inflation ran unchecked, industrial reconstruction languished, and the black market flourished because this was exceedingly profitable for a large number of well-placed persons.  Some of the black market profits were used to pay for later political campaigns. [116]

     Materials looted had been stockpiled to supply a gigantic home army for the protracted "decisive battle."  Donated jewelry was stolen, drugs and rare precious metals were brought back from overseas.  For the year 1947, the black market was estimated to be worth at over 300 billion yen, while the regular national budget that year was only 205 billion yen.  (See two paragraphs above.)
     The most onerous heavy labor at surrender was being performed by conscripted Koreans laborers or Chinese prisoners.  When liberation came, they deserted their hellholes en masse.  One result was that the basic energy sources necessary to fuel industrial reconstruction recovered at a dismal rate and the concept of "coal famine" occurred. [117-118]

     A great part of the prostitution trade involved catering to the huge army of the occupation.  Exaggerated fears of rape and pillage by hundreds of thousands of Allied servicemen was dealt with by prostitution and also government-encouraged "comfort stations" throughout the country.  The irony was not lost regarding the thousands of non-Japanese women who had been employed thusly for Imperial troops during the war. [124-125]

     By the time public prostitution was prohibited in 1946, STDs had been detected in 50-70% of a single unit of the U.S. Eighth Army and almost 90% of the women involved.  It was largely in order to combat such diseases that the first U.S. patents for penicillin were sold to Japanese companies in April of that year. [130]

     In October 1945 there were some 17,000 open-air markets around the country.  These had blossomed to 76,000 stalls months later selling both legal and illegal products.  With this expansion came gangsters controlling and wanting their share in clear-cut territories. [140-141]

     While the Japanese were turning to black markets to survive, the Americans shopped at PX's and commissaries which were filled to the brim with luxury items as well as hardy staples. [209]

     Mixed-blood children became one of the sad, unspoken stories of occupation -- seldom acknowledged by their foreign fathers and invariably ostracized by the Japanese. [211]

     The supreme commander never actually saw the Japan over which he presided.  From the moment he arrived in Tokyo, his travels were restricted to morning and afternoon commutes between his residence in the old U.S. Embassy facilities and his nearby office at SCAP (Supreme Command for the Allied Powers) headquarters in the former Daiichi Insurance building.  He never socialized with Japanese; and, according to one intimate observer, "only sixteen Japanese ever spoke with him more than twice, and none of these were under the rank, say, of Premier, Chief Justice, president of the largest university."  The general's evenings were largely devoted to watching Hollywood movies, particularly Westerns.  Sometimes he also viewed newsreel-type footage of Japan shot by U.S. Military cameramen, enabling him to at least keep in celluloid touch with the country he governed.
     For five years, the general's movements were as predictable as a metronome.  Prior to the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, he left Tokyo only twice for brief visits to Manila and Seoul.  Like Emperor Hirohito prior to 1946, MacArthur spoke in intimate, paternalistic terms about the sentiments and accomplishments of the tens of millions of Japanese under his aegis but never had the slightest meaningful contact with them, never observed first hand how they actually lived.  The general thrived on veneration, believed that "the Oriental mind" was predisposed "to adulate a winner," and assumed that democracy would take root only if people believed him when he said it should.  And, indeed, the response of huge numbers of Japanese was that the supreme commander was great, and so was democracy.
     MacArthur was the indisputable overlord of occupied Japan, and his underlings functioned as petty viceroys. [204-205]

     Underlying all of the occupation was an American sense of righteous mission and manifest destiny, not to speak of a secular saintliness as well. [216]

     Beyond doubt, many of the conquerors conveyed and impressive idealism and generosity of spirit.  GIs became famous for their offhand friendliness and spontaneous distribution of chocolate and chewing gum.  Individual Americans demonstrated serious interest in aspects of Japanese culture and a sense of bearing responsibility toward strangers that was unfamiliar and attractive (or sometimes just bizarre) to their Japanese neighbors.  They took people unknown to them to hospitals and did favors without expecting repayment.  They practiced simple charity in uncalculating, matter-of-fact ways. [207]

     From September 1946 through May 1951, some 441,000 letters and cards were sent by Japanese from all walks of life to occupation HQ. [228]

     An amazing cascade of gifts and invitations fell on the supreme commander, Gen. MacArthur.  He received dolls, lamps, ceramics, lacquer work, bamboo products, feudal manuscripts, books, miniaturized bonsai trees, bonkei tray landscapes, animal skins, armor, and swords, as well as paintings and sculptures that sometimes included renderings of himself.  MacArthur was sixty-five years old when the occupation began and his age not only enhanced his aura of wisdom but also prompted writers to express sincere concern for his continued good health.  This led to innumerable gifts of canes and walking sticks.  Fruit and flowers arrived in season, along with a whole range of native edibles properly preserved.
     In most cases, the gifts were offered as simple expressions of gratitude to the supreme commander, not as the more calculated ritual gestures of reciprocity and dependency that characterized gift giving in the purely Japanese context (or in the shrewd politics that lay behind gifts from the imperial household or prominent public and corporate figures to MacArthur and other SCAP officials).  [Emphasis added by RJB.  It is not known how many of the letters and presents actually were seen by MacArthur.] [230, 231]

     Occupation authorities created a web of programs designed to reach every man, woman, and child in the country.  They dispatched teams of Americans, mainly men but some women as well, to local communities to provide grass-roots tutelage in American-style civics.  Until the end of the occupation, they required that every textbook be translated into English for their scrutiny and approval.  They exerted immense influence over the mass media -- negatively through censorship (no criticism of SCAP or its mission was ever allowed) and positively through active input into the articles the press published, the programs public radio broadcast, and the foreign and domestic films movie houses put on screen. [206]

     A few thousand accused war criminals were tried in Tokyo ("Japan's Nuremberg") beginning May 1946 and continuing for 31 months (compared with 10 months for Germany).  Twenty-five "Class A" defendants were found guilty in the showcase proceedings.  Seven former Japanese leaders went to the gallows; sixteen more were sentenced to life imprisonment; other lesser terms granted.  Five convicted "Class A" war criminals died in prison, but none of the others served out their terms.  The remaining persons were all paroled by 1958, many returning to politics. [449-450, 452]

     The Korean War triggered global economic changes that served Japan well.  Trade patterns were disrupted, recessions elsewhere came to an end, and both of these developments stimulated trade purchases of a variety of Japanese manufactures.  At the time, Japan was the only industrialized country with spare engineering capacity, and orders poured in for its machine products.  Because Western shipyards were fully extended, the country was presented with an golden opportunity to develop its shipbuilding industry as a leading export sector.  Japan was also allowed to participate in and so profit from the U.S.-directed reconstruction of South Korea. [542]

     Many companies used this windfall not merely to import more raw and semi-finished products, but also to upgrade equipment and acquire advanced foreign technology.  This was the beginning of Japan's systematic acquisition of rights to American commercial licenses and patents -- an immensely beneficial transaction that the U.S. government strongly supported as crucial for the economic well-being of its still-fragile Cold War associate. [543]

     In decades to come, this new capitalism would prove to be more flexible and competitive than the old zaibatsu-dominated economy had been, and far more capable of responding to global economic and technological challenges than almost anyone had imagined.  Zaibatsu were the gigantic financial and industrial oligopolies that dominated the presurrender economy and exploited much of the population.  While Japan's leaders slept, the Americans provided food for the near-starving people and cut the chains that had bound ordinary Japanese and granted them civil liberties. [545, 68-69]



     And Nature had some input during this time.  There were three very major earthquakes -- in addition to the usual number of smaller quakes to touch the islands: Dec. 20, 1946 (Shikoku, Western Japan, Magnitude 8.0+, with at least 1362 dead, 2600 injured and 100 missing); June 28, 1948 (Fukui, Central-Western Japan, Magnitude 7.1, with 3,769 dead and 22,203 injured); and March 4, 1952 (Hokkaido, Magnitude 8.2, 33 killed and 572 injured) .



NOTES

Dower, John W.  Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II  (NY: W.W. Norton & Company; 1999).  Possibly the most important book about the Japanese-American relations, without the monopoly of the occupation's "official" point-of-view.  The above excerpts make up a very abbreviated and highly selective synopsis for this bonsai history.  With 86 pages of footnotes and 24 of index, Dower's book is 676 pages long, and has almost one hundred b&w photos and illustrations.  It is very highly recommended and enlightening.  It also includes much about the emotional/psychic challenges and changes the Japanese people underwent, plus the reflection of these in the language and media.

The value in the year 2007 of the "300 million yen" and "205 million yen" mentioned above for 1947 would be 5,186,310,000¥ and 3,543,980,000¥, respectively, per Lawrence H. Officer and Samuel H. Williamson, "Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a Japanese Yen Amount, 1879 - 2007," MeasuringWorth, 2008. URL http://www.measuringworth.com/japancompare/.


For background on the political and psychological lead-up to the Pacific War, see Chapter 1 "The Path to Nanking" and especially pp. 54-59 "The Motives Behind Nanking" in Chapter 2 "Six Weeks of Terror," plus pp. 217-221 of the "Epilogue" in Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking, the Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (New York: Penguin Books; 1997).  A recent update to this topic is found here.


Also, please see Brian Daizen Victoria's Zen at War (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.; 2006, Second Edition).
      The principle Buddhist sects had ingratiated themselves since at least the Meiji Restoration with both the political powers of the day and a state under the suzerainty of the emperor. [47]  Japan was seen as a "flawless state" to which all sect adherants should selflessly devote themselves... to promote material stability and maintain social order. [51]  The emergence of imperial-way Buddhism (kōdō Bukkyō) in the 1930s was not so much a new phenomenon as it was the systemization or codification of previous positions.  It was the total and unequivocal subjugation of the Law of the Buddha to the Law of the Sovereign. [79]
     The elaborate theological justification, basically, was that through the cumulative efforts of the emperor and imperial household through the centuries, Japanese Buddhism was richly cultivated and achieved a state that the Chinese and Indian Buddhists were still aiming towards. [82]  The Japanese Emperor was one of the four manifestations of the ideal Buddhist monarch.  Due to a "lack of wisdom of his subjects," he was not able to rule by his virtue alone and must resort to such things as laws, taxes, and, significantly, weapons.  The same held true for his relationships with other countries.  When "injustice" and "lawlessness" abound in these countries, the Emperor must "grasp the weapons of force."  But this is not the force of hatred and anger but the force of compassion, of parental discipline.  The "Buddhist war is always war used as a means to an end.  The end is to save sentient beings and guide them properly." [88]  If individuals were peaceful, wars would never occur.  One fights a war not to continue war, but to eliminate it. [89]  Japan's continual and constantly escalating war of compassion against China was the religious duty of Asia's most advanced Buddhists. [69]
     Add to this the fact that in the midst of the Great Depression, Japan's high dependence on foreign trade spelled economic disaster with high unemployment and increasingly severe labor disputes.  Farmers found themselves caught between greatly reduced income and unchanging tax assessments.  The end result was a rapid increase in rural debt, with some poor tenant farmers selling their daughters into prostitution, and others banding together to resist high land rents.  Things were no better in Japan's overseas colonies. [91]  (cf. the Great Depression's effects on Japan in this article)
     In the 1930s there were approximately 200,000 priests in some 70,000 temples in Japan.  Large scale resistance never occurred, but those few Buddhists who did oppose Japan's war plans demonstrated that resistance was possible if one were prepared to pay the price of exile or even death (some examples are given herein from court and newspaper documents). [78]
     This book also examines the bushido code of a warrior population and a review of Buddhism in the various countries.  It is noted that "Buddhism has, at one time or another, been used as an instrument of state policy for subduing rather than liberating the populations." [233]  (This, of course, is a charge that can be levelled against all major religious faiths at some time in their history.)  Public reappraisal and apology for supporting this bastardization of Buddhist teachings would be delayed and slow-coming after the war, including from the "Zen missionary to the West," D. T. Suzuki.


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