An ancient painting of a hawk in a pine tree that faces forward but is looking backward.

The Immediate Postwar Setting

At the end of World War II there must have been great confusion, and very few people probably had a very good idea about what needed to be done. Japan had never known what it meant to suffer a major defeat in the hands of a foreign enemy; neither had Japan ever been so completely occupied by alien troops. The colonial outposts of the previous century were nothing in comparison.

Should the emperor remain, or should he go?  What kind of constitution would be suitable for a country whose democratic constitution was nipped in the bud only decades before?  How was one to deal with a victor who had just laid to waste two of Japan’s largest industrial centers in a matter of seconds and was now presenting candy, cigarettes, and blankets across the country. Clearing away the rubble was surely a difficult task, but probably not the most difficult one.Lending capital to a vanquished enemy for reconstruction and opening one's domestic markets for just repayment by the same was completely unexpected.  Japan's unconditional surrender was still on everyone's lips.

Where had Japan gone wrong, and what needed to be done, so that it would not happen again? And then, there was the rubble.  More than 70 percent of Tokyo had been destroyed by incendiary bombs.  Reconstruction was not going to be easy.

setting japan's national priorities

In some ways Japan was very lucky.  Postwar events did not allow much room for thought: neither on the part of the defeated, nor on the part of the occupying victor. In just a few years the war on the Korean peninsula would break out, and shortly thereafter the Iron Curtain would be constructed -- new enemies would be born and the Cold War would soon be set into motion.

Time was short, Time was short, decisions had to made quickly, and the US already had its plate full. decisions had to be made quickly, and the United States government was poorly equipped to meet the challenge. Unlike in Germany where the occupying forces knew well the language and culture of the people whose land they beset, the Japanese occupation was clearly in the dark. In effect, the same people who had kept Japan’s military machine running at home, while Japanese soldiers marched across the Western Pacific only years before, were now assigned the task of reconstruction.

Surely it did not take long for most US servicemen to learn the Japanese words for riceご飯 and rice wineお酒, for this is what would be needed to capture the hearts and minds of the Japanese people.  It is unlikely, however, that many US servicemen and government diplomats stationed in Japan ever came to appreciate what it meant to defecate without a stool to sit on, and this is was it would have taken to capture the hearts and minds of Japanese bureaucrats and harness pre-existing Japanese social, political, and economic institutions.

Ideally the US government would have liked to remold Japan in its own image; realistically, could it have achieved little more than the reward and punish apparent outcomes?

a seemingly small, but important shortcoming

During the war the English language had been banned in Japanese schools and censored in the Japanese press. Moreover, with the exception of a few learned people, the Japanese foreign service, a a small, but significant number of overseas investors, translators, and business people, there must have been few Japanese who had very good command of the spoken language.

Indeed, oral communication must have been a major stumbling block Good communication must have been a major stumbling block. for the occupied forces, and the US government must have depended enormously on the good will of a select number of bilingual Japanese to achieve the few important changes that it was able.  Certainly, there were very few people in all of America that had very good command of spoken, let alone written Japanese language.

Under such circumstances the channels of intergovernmental diplomacy must have been few, simply drawn, and nearly always overburdened.

a political tug-of-war

In the end, the goal of the US government was not to subjugate its defeated enemy, rather it was to rebuild it in such a way that it no longer posed a threat.  The diplomatic mistakes that followed World War I in Europe were not to be repeated in the wake of World War II as larger more powerful enemies lay on the horizon.

Surely there were sympathetic Japanese ready to help the United States government introduce crucial domestic political, economic, and social reforms.  For in times of war there are just as many people offended at home, as there are overseas.  War is a dirty business.  Finding such people was probably easy; communicating with them in a very meaningful way must have been more difficult.  Moreover, winning the hearts and minds of the defected many is one thing; convincing the majority to simply follow your lead into the unknown is quite another.  It was not that Japanese were unfamiliar with Western culture, simply they understood it in a manner very different from that of the average US or British citizen.

Importing the advanced technology of a foreign culture is quite different from having that technology and culture imposed on you by its adherents.  To believe that American occupation forces were far better received in Japan at the close of the Asian-Pacific War than they were in Iraq in the wake of the 2nd Gulf War would be misleading.To think that American occupation forces were any better received in Japan at the close of the Asian-Pacific War, than they were in Iraq in the wake of the 2nd Gulf War would be foolish.  Simply the resistance manifested itself in a different way.

When new technology enters a country through private business channels it is democratically accepted or rejected by the host nation each time the individual citizen makes or does not make a purchase.  When it enters via an individual government department it can be examined, filtered, modified, and otherwise transformed before it is finally implemented.  When this procedure is performed well it can minimize unwanted social backlash and disruptive political turmoil.

In this light, retaining control of Japan's military defense was clearly an achievable goal of the US government.  Introducing broad-reaching domestic social, economic, and political reforms was not.  The knowledge of Japanese language, culture, and society necessary to oversee such reform was simply absent.

Despite the foolish military decisions of their political and military commanders the Japanese bureaucracy had built and maintained an empire that extended across two world hemispheres and half of the Pacific Ocean.  This was no small feat.  In short, the Japanese were no amateurs in matters of human social organization; neither were they naïve in matters of cross-cultural communication, cultural exploitation, and national self-preservation.

Surely, the political tug of war between US sympathizers and Japan's national patriots must have been both bitter and intense.Surely, the political tug of war between US sympathizers and Japan's national patriots must have been both bitter and intense.  Whereas US sympathizers must have kept Japanese patriots in check with threats of painful disclosure of their past activities and current intentions, Japan's patriots surely contained the political ambitions of their "pro-occupation", political rivals by challenging their loyalty to the Japanese nation.  In the end, many a compromise must have been reached that placated both sides while preserving Japanese society for the Japanese.

the reward and punishment of apparent outcomes

The ability of the occupation forces to monitor the Japanese press and its ability to interpret what it withnessed in the streets must have been severely limited.  Though it would have been difficult for competing political factions to hide their differences, once a political compromise were reached, it would have been easy for them to hide their true intentions.  The Japanese had only to give assurances to the top and offer selected proof.  With little or no way to probe very far beneath the surface, the occupation forces had little choice but to accept the Japanese government at its word -- a spurious activity in a culture where public deception is often preferred over disruptive social discord.

In effect, one had only to create the appearance of complianceOnce the difficult, but necessary compromises were reached at the national level, creating the appearance of compliance must have been easy.  to the dictates of the occupation, and the Japanese government and people would be left alone to achieve their own destiny under the protection of the US government and its allies.

Indeed, the person in charge of introducing the social, economic, and political reforms desired by the US government was a military general -- hardly the kind of person under whose leadership strong democratic reforms were likely to receive an optimal level of support.  Moreover, it was simply too convenient for the occupation forces not to leave the Japanese bureaucracy in tact.  For what better way to exact reforms on an obedient Japanese public, than through a powerful governmental center who would kowtow to US government dictates, once the opposing Japanese political parties could agree on a strategy that would provide the appearance of reform necessary to satisfy the occupation.

When it became clear, for example, that the socialist left was beginning to amass power among the Japanese public, US sympathizers and Japan's industrial right quickly joined hands to pass the legislation required to push out the communists and squelch Japan's growing labor movement.  These reforms brought about the administration of labor unions under the control of individual firms and paved the way for life-long employment and a tightly controlled secondary labor market that imprisoned the Japanese worker and insured his fidelity to Japan's post-war industrial machine.  Indeed, what had worked so well during Japan's rise to an imperial world power was transformed into an even more powerful economic engine legitimized under the guise of democratic process overseen by the US-led occupation.

This imprisonment of the Japanese worker gave Japan's political and industrial leadership a free-hand to extract whatever sacrifices they requiredThe corporate imprisonment of the Japanese worker gave Japan's political and industrial leadership a free-hand to extract whatever sacrifices were required. from the Japanese people in order to rebuild Japan and restore the integrity of Japanese nation.  Industrial pride was substituted for military might, and the Japanese nation grew and propered.

a friendship of mutual exploitation

The obvious result of Japan's success was a renewed appreciation for Western culture and a gradual acceptance of US military domination. Unfortunately, the friendship that grew out of this process does not appear to have been based on like minds; rather, it was founded on a common set of geo-political policy objectives dictated by the United State and used by the Japanese to further their own national industrial and commercial interests?

Because of the high profile of Japan's political parties easily observed by a severely limited intelligence capability on the part of the occupation forces, the bulk of this transformation took place where it was less easily observed or completely hidden -- among the leadership of Japan's powerful industrial groups, key personnel in Japanese entrenched national bureaucracy, and political power brokers who, although popularly elected, worked behind the scenes to insure proper coordination of public and private sector interests.

In Japan one rises to power not on waves of popular support or industry-wide public reputation, but step-by-step up an arduous corporate or bureaucratic ladder that carefully filters who does and does not reach a position of national leadership.  Under such a system only insiders very close to the top are ever made privy to the true motivation of policy decisions that effect every member of Japanese society.

Democratically elected talking puppets deflected the attention of the occupation from Japan's hidden power brokers.In effect, Japan's most prominent political leaders were little more than talking puppets for Japan's hidden power brokers who effectuated deals between Japan's powerful industrial and bureaucratic leaders.  It was these puppets whom the Japanese press and outside observers followed in order to track Japan's reconstruction, for there were simply few other sources of information readily available.  In effect, one could only guess based upon well-orchestrated appearances and the outbreak of an occasional scandal.  One could never really know until after the fact when the results of certain policies became clearly visible, and it was already too late to intervene.

And so, the reconstruction must have begun.