Japan During the Post Occupation Years

Japan During the 1950’s

An examination of the post occupation years through economic, military and other elements.

This paper presents a detailed examination of life in Japan between 1950 and 1960. The writer explores the occupation period as well as the post occupation period and how that occupation impacted the following years. The writer examines cultural, military and other aspects of Japanese life during that time frame. There were eight sources used to complete this paper.

Japan During the Post Occupation Years

When Japan made the decision to bomb Pearl Harbor it probably had no indication what the magnitude of the response from America would be, however, it was large, it was strong and it was devastating. Not only did America respond with violence and devastation, it also made the decision to invade and occupy Japan until it could get the nation restructured in a way that moved it toward success through technology and education and away from military strength and power. The occupation of Japan lasted until 1952 and set the stage for the following few years leaving 1950-1960 as a time in Japan’s history to restructure, regroup and re-invent the way it was going to present itself to the world.

Leading to the 1950’s

Before one can begin to understand the impact that the occupation had on Japan during the 1950’s one must have an overall picture about what Japan was like shortly before that decade.

At the end of World War II Japan was under occupation by the Allied Powers, however, the decision making was left to the United States. The occupation itself only lasted two years but in that two years, Japan was changed in ways that would completely restructure the direction it was headed and make it on target to become a world leader in the field of technology.

Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. On the following day, Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender on the radio. It was V-J Day, the end of World War II, and the beginning of a long road to recovery for a shattered Japan. The Soviet Union was responsible for North Korea, Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands, while the United States and British Commonwealth forces were responsible for Japan, South Korea, and Japan’s remaining possessions in Oceania (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).”

It was on V-Day that American President Harry S. Truman chose American General Douglas MacArthur to lead the charge in the changes that Japan would insititute over the next few years (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).

Japanese officials left for Manila on August 19 to meet MacArthur and to be briefed on his plans for the occupation. On August 28, 150 U.S. personnel flew to Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture. They were followed by USS Missouri, whose accompanying vessels landed the 4th Marine Division on the southern coast of Kanagawa (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).”

One of the first things that the general did when he arrived in Japan was instill two immediate laws to protect those under the occupation. The first rule was that no allied personnel could assault or harm the Japanese people in any manner. This set up an almost immediate sense of security for those who were under occupation. The second rule he wrote was that no allied personnel could eat Japanese food.

Following the war the food in Japan was extremely scarce and MacArthur wanted the Japanese people to understand they were not going to have to go hungry while invaders and occupiers ate their meager supplies (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).

This set the stage for the decisions and events that would take place during the next decade.


The first half of the 1950’s was consumed with becoming occupied, dealing with the changes the occupation placed on the nation and its residents and then following the occupation which occupation elements the nation was going to keep and which ones were going to be dismantled.

The 1950’s saw significant changes in the SCAP power structure. These changes provided an increased power to the native rulers of Japan and began to remove the power from the allied forces that had been running things for several years (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).

One of the most significant elements of the 1950’s in Japan was that the people, for the most part began to believe in democracy. When the occupation began in 1946 it was forced upon them along with the other changes that were made, however, by the time the 1950’s got underway they had been recipients of the positive impact a democracy can have on a nation economically, politically and societal (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).

The Japanese now believed in democracy, and had less respect for the proponents of a hierarchical society. Japanese democracy, freedom of the press, rejection of militarism and nationalism are all legacies of MacArthur’s post-war policies (Occupied Japan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan).”

Demographically Speaking

When the decade of 1950 began Japan’s gross nation product figures were less than half of Germany’s GNP and less than a third of Britain’s GNP. When compared to the United States GNP, Japan came in at 4% of the U.S. numbers (Japan’s postwar economic miracle (1950-1990) (http://www.jref.com/society/japan_postwar_economic_miracle.shtml).

The GNP of Japan in 1950 was $14.2 billion.

By 1960 however, Japan had managed to pull itself out of the nosedive it had been experiencing and become a leading contender. By 1970 it had taken over all European nations (Japan’s postwar economic miracle (1950-1990) (http://www.jref.com/society/japan_postwar_economic_miracle.shtml).

There were several components that had to come together for this success to occur.

First of all, Japan benefited from the American military protection, which spared the government from high defense spending (Japan’s postwar economic miracle (1950-1990) (http://www.jref.com/society/japan_postwar_economic_miracle.shtml).The same happened in West Germany, and both nations experienced the most formidable economic growth in the postwar era. But whereas West Germany’s GNP increased 28,5x between 1951 and 1960 – compared to 18,7x for France, 12,7x for Britain and only 8x for the U.S.A., Japan’s increased 73x (Japan’s postwar economic miracle (1950-1990) (http://www.jref.com/society/japan_postwar_economic_miracle.shtml).”

During the 1950’s the nation’s primary goal was to rebuild itself in the business world. To that end the government provided low interest loans to thousands of would be business owners to help get businesses started and get the economy moving again.

These efforts were successful as Japanese business began to grow and gather strength.

The annual average growth from 1955 to 1960 was in the double digits at 11%.


Another important event that came from the war and carried into the 1950’s years was the development and adoption of a new constitution. The new constitution provided a blueprint for how the country would conduct itself in the 1950’s and beyond after the occupation was over (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).

Article 9 of that work states:

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 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 of the state will not be recognized (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).”

During the middle of the 1950′ s, the United States began to keep a watchful eye on the U.S.S.R. Okinawa became a prime location for U.S. military base operations as it provided a strategic vantage point from which the U.S.S.R. could be watched.

Initially the U.S. military offered land owners a lump sum for the use of their property as a military site; however, loud angry protests from those land holders made the U.S. rethink its offer and come back with an offer to pay recurring rent (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).

There were 39 military bases built in the area that drew more than 100,000 United States military troops to the area (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).While many of the service personnel chose to leave their families stateside during their tour of duty in Japan several thousand American families made the decision to join their loved one in Japan which created a need for American schools, shops and other amenities for the families to use while there.

Of all the U.S. military forces stationed in Japan, 75% of these forces were located in the islands of Okinawa. From 1945 to the present, not one piece of land has ever been returned to their landowners (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).”

Detachment 45 (http://po8.com/det45/index.htm)

Even though the military was occupying and using much of the land in the area during the 1950’s the farmers still managed to cultivate rice crops. On either side of the road going into or coming out of the base one would see rice fields for miles (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).

A day in the Life of a Japanese Citizen During the 1950’s

Most Japanese residents were initially leery of the post war years and the subsequent occupation by allied forces led by the United States however, by the time the 1950’s rolled around they had become used to the changes and even begun to embrace many of the ideas that had initially been forced upon them.

One of those changes included mandatory education. During the 1950’s children were legally bound to attend school between the ages of six and 15 years old. By the time the 1950’s came to an end not only were families complying with that law but were also voluntarily sending most of their children on to college.

It was an era that valued education and realized the way to become a power hitter in the world global business markets.

A typical day in the life of a man or woman in Japan during the 1950’s would include getting up each morning and eating breakfast, while preparing to go to work. The children would get ready to go to school and everyone would leave the house. Women at that time, just like in other parts of the world were not treated with the same respect and honor that men were treated so they were often relegated to factor positions or other menial jobs (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).

There was freedom of speech, however, anti-American words could get one arrested or at least detained for questioning.

The military for Japan was a thing of the past and the new constitution prevented the nation from ever having another paid military force, therefore during the 1950’s attention turned to other ways to become important in the world.

Men and women during that time became tuned into the importance of technology, in particular the automobile market.

Part of the occupation ruling was that Japan could no longer develop aircraft or an airline industry, as punishment for its attack on Pearl Harbor, therefore its society turned to the automobile industry to compete in the world market of technology (American Occupation and the Military Bases (http://www.uchinanchu.org/uchinanchu/history_american.htm).

The family would all gather again by evening and share a meal before perhaps heading out to see a jazz festival performance. Japanese music has long been known for it flute and harp sounds but during the 1950’s the nation enjoyed a jazz trend as well (“Ten Thousand Things” (http://www.kyotojournal.org/10,000things/056.html).

This may have been because of the military presence and the American love of jazz at the time, but whatever the reason it was not uncommon for jazz to be the music of choice in Japanese society during the 1950’s (“Ten Thousand Things” (http://www.kyotojournal.org/10,000things/056.html).

Post Occupation Changes

The 1950’s is an interesting decade for Japan as it was cut in half by the occupation following WWII. The occupation which began in 1945 ended in 1952. During the first two years of the decade the changes that the occupation had installed were legally biding and abided by. In 1952, however, the occupation came to an end and the nation had to step up and decide which occupation changes were to be kept and which were to be tossed aside (Japan (http://members.tripod.com/h_javora/jed1.htm).

The 1950’s for Japan was like having a clean slate to begin with and be able to paint any picture desired, however, the people were ever mindful of the force and destruction America was capable of if it decided to come back and take over again (Japan (http://members.tripod.com/h_javora/jed1.htm).

After the restoration of full national sovereignty in 1952, Japan immediately began to modify some of the education changes introduced during the Occupation period. These modifications more clearly reflected Japanese ideas about education and educational structure. The Ministry of Education regained a great deal of power. School boards reverted to being appointed, rather than elected. A moral education course was reinstituted in modified form, despite substantial initial concern that it would lead to a reintroduction of prewar nationalism into the schools (Japan (http://members.tripod.com/h_javora/jed1.htm).”

It was during the 1950’s that society in Japan brought increased demands on the education field as well as the field of technology.

Shortly after the war the nation saw a decrease in the birth rate however, but the mid-1950’s that trend had reversed and there were many babies being born which meant a need for more education facilities (Japan (http://members.tripod.com/h_javora/jed1.htm).

One of the most controversial issues in the post occupation 1950s in Japan was the constitutional mandate that the nation not arm itself ever again. It was in the middle 1950s that the debate raged and was actually supported by the U.S. To amend the constitution to allow a military ability (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).

The Allied occupation ended on April 28, 1952, when the terms of the Treaty of San Francisco went into effect. By the terms of the treaty, Japan regained its sovereignty, but lost many of its possessions from before World War II, including Korea, Taiwan, and Sakhalin (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).It also lost control over a number of small islands in the Pacific which it administered as League of Nations Mandates, such as the Marianas and the Marshals (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).The new treaty also gave Japan the freedom to engage in international defense blocs. Japan did this on the same day it signed the San Francisco Treaty: Shigeru Yoshida and Harry Truman penned a document that allowed the United States Armed Forces to continue their use of bases in Japan (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).

Even before Japan regained full sovereignty, the government had rehabilitated nearly 80,000 people who had been purged, many of whom returned to their former political and government positions (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).A debate over limitations on military spending and the sovereignty of the emperor ensued, contributing to the great reduction in the Liberal Party’s majority in the first post-occupation elections (October 1952) (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).After several reorganizations of the armed forces, in 1954 the Self-Defense Forces were established under a civilian director (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).Cold War realities and the hot war in nearby Korea also contributed significantly to the United States-influenced economic redevelopment, the suppression of communism, and the discouragement of organized labor in Japan during this period (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).”

Relations with the U.S.

During the 1950’s the nation of Japan had, in general a decent relationship with the United States. During the first two years of the decade, Japan had already been occupied for five years and the residents had begun to accept it and embrace some of the changes it brought about. Those who were against America generally kept their feelings to themselves and the nation moved in a quiet harmony (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).

However, near the end of the decade trouble again reared its head over the proposed revision of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact.

As the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security was concluded, which renewed the United States role as military protector of Japan, massive street protests and political upheaval occurred, and the cabinet resigned a month after the Diet’s ratification of the treaty. Thereafter, political turmoil subsided (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).”

There were several issues that arose in the 1950’s with regard to the Japan-United States relationship however.

One of those issues had to do with the relationship Japan had been building with China since the 1940’s. By 1949 Japan and China had developed what could be called a strong and positive tie with each other. The United States however, chose to denounce Beijing during the 1950’s which created tension for Japan on two fronts.

On the first front it created problems with Japan and China as China was aware of the relationship between the U.S. And Japan (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).In addition it created tension between the United States and Japan as Japan could not understand why the U.S. was willing to poke at China knowing that Japan wanted China as a friend and an ally.

Throughout the 1950’s it did not take much for the United States to rile the Japanese and bring pre-occupation feelings to the surface very quickly.

Another issue in Japanese-American relations was Japan’s growing trade surplus, which reached record heights during Nakasone’s first term. The United States pressured Japan to remedy the imbalance, demanding that Tokyo raise the value of the yen and open its markets further to facilitate more imports from the United States. Because the Japanese government aids and protects its key industries, it was accused of creating an unfair competitive advantage. Tokyo agreed to try to resolve these problems but generally defended its industrial policies and made concessions on its trade restrictions very reluctantly (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).”

The Japanese culture was also heavily influenced by America during the 1950’s. Music, food, dress and attitudes from the United States had pervaded Japan because of the military families that had joined their military loved ones in Japan (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).The children played with Japanese children, the teenagers hung out with Japanese teenagers and American women modeled a completely different lifestyle than Japanese women had been raised to accept as their lot in life.

Through this exposure there were many elements of western life that became desirable and ingrained in the daily life of the Japanese.

Japan continued to experience Westernization in the postwar era, much of which came about during the occupation, when American soldiers were a common sight in many parts of the country. American music and movies became popular, spurring a generation of Japanese artists who built on both Western and Japanese influences (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).”

Another area where Japan was affected by the United States culture was in the arts. During this time many American cartoon characters became popular in the Japanese society.

American soldiers returning from the occupation brought with them stories and artifacts, and the following generations of U.S. troops in Japan contributed to a steady trickle of martial arts and other culture from the country (Post-World War II (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Japan).”

This brought many protests from the older citizens of Japan and at times threatened to mar the good relationship that for the most part Japan and America were enjoying.


When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans were up in arms and supported a full bore attack to retaliate. While that is what eventually happened, America has always been know for going in to help rebuild what it has destroyed, and Japan was no different.

America led the Allied Powers Occupation of Japan following WWII and through that occupation made many changes that would chart the future for the Japanese residents and their future children.

Mandatory school, a democracy, a new constitution and a focus on technology were all positive elements that came from the 1950’s in Japan.

In addition the Japanese learned that they not only could compete in the business and trade markets of the world but that they could be good at it, which gave them the confidence to keep moving in that direction when the occupation ended.

The 1950’s in Japan were heavily influenced by Western culture, partly due to the fact that hundreds of thousands of military personnel were there, as well as their families. Today, Japan is considered a leader in technology and education. These are due in part to the steps that were taken during the 1950’s both during and after the occupation.


American Occupation and the Military Bases (accessed 4-19-07)


Detachment 45 http://po8.com/det45/index.htm

848th AC&W Squadron 5 llth Air Group (accessed 4-20-07)

Hokkaido, Japan 1955-1956

What’s New

James D. Satterfield, S/SGT, USAF 1953-1956 accessed 4-24-07)

Occupied Japan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupied_Japan

Japan’s postwar economic miracle (1950-1990) (accessed 4-19-07) http://www.jref.com/society/japan_postwar_economic_miracle.shtml

Written by Maciamo on 16 May 2004

Japan (accessed 4-19-07)


Post-Occupation Japan (accessed 4-19-07)


Post-World War II (accessed 4-19-07)


Ten Thousand Things” is a Buddhist expression representing the dynamic interconnection and simultaneous unity and diversity of everything in the universe. (accessed 4-19-07)


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