- Democracy in Occupied Japan: The U.S. Occupation and Japanese Politics and Society
This stimulating collection of essays by eight scholars from the United States and Japan merits attention as an innovative study of the U.S. occupation of Japan (1945–52). It also brings historical perspective to recent debates in Japan on contentious issues such as crime, education, and nationalism. Bearing in mind the rich literature on the political, social, and economic effects of the U.S. occupation, editors Mark Caprio and Yoneyuki Sugita have compiled a groundbreaking collection that adds to our understanding of Japan since 1945 in two ways. Expanding the scope of scholarly inquiry, the richly documented essays in Democracy in Occupied Japan study critical, but previously unexplored, issues that influenced postwar Japan, including health insurance, textbook revision, policing, and policy regarding resident aliens. By examining these issues from the perspectives of innovation, continuity, and compromise, the authors also arrive at a deeper understanding of how the U.S. occupation influenced the tone and direction of Japan's postwar history. As the editors explain, the book's chapters "examine the contribution the period made to Japanese social, economic, and political understanding; the extent to which this contribution benefited from pre-war and wartime Japanese institutions; and the factors that prevented officials from fully realizing the goals established at the occupation's outset" (p. 2).
Taking this long view enables the authors to advance beyond the interpretive approaches to understanding the occupation evident in the historical literature to date, as the editors explain clearly in the introduction. With the benefit of time, the contributors can reconcile early perspectives, which emphasized the magnitude of the changes introduced to Japan, and subsequent revisionist accounts. Like Edwin O. Reischauer, Herbert Passin, Theodore Cohen, and other early observers who highlighted the dramatic changes in the direction of pluralism and democracy, most of the authors featured in this volume concur that the U.S. occupation made a big difference in Japan's development. At the same time, they acknowledge the limits of change where the evidence warrants, and they recognize the influence of international crises, most notably the escalation of the cold war, on the experiment [End Page 189] in democratizing Japan, as explored elsewhere by John W. Dower, Howard B. Schonberger, and others.
What stands out in these essays, written from a perspective over five decades on, is the authors' keen appreciation of the place of continuity in the Japanese experience. Building on the burgeoning literature regarding Japan's prewar and wartime experience, this volume underscores how the postwar innovations in Japanese politics and society "required the foundation that pre-occupation Japan provided for their success" (p. 7). From the well-known retention of the Showa emperor and government officials to labor protection standards, plans for land reform, and education policy initiatives, the authors present considerable evidence in support of the view, most forcefully argued by Noguchi Yukio and Yoshida Yutaka, that there was far greater continuity across the 1945 divide than usually assumed. Yet the changes after 1945 were undeniable, and the authors demonstrate convincingly how the institutional arrangements that took shape in Japan after the war became the channel through which the course of events in succeeding decades would flow, in some instances down to the present day.
In the chapter entitled "Feeding the Japanese," Steven J. Fuchs skillfully integrates discussion of food policy and land reform to demonstrate that the U.S. commitment to Japanese economic revival was also consistent throughout the occupation. Fuchs shows how a pro-active Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) attempted to increase Japanese rice production, improve distribution, and import agricultural commodities to resolve Japan's immense economic problems. The rice crop in 1945 was the worst in 30 years, and SCAP saw in the dire food shortage at the war's end the cause of disruptive migration, absenteeism, and general lethargy, among other problems crippling the economy. Plans to redistribute approximately 4.5 million acres of...