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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2018

11 - Japan since 1945


The Postwar Allied Occupation

The Shōwa 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 Tōkyō. These first Allied arrivals were uncertain what sort of reception they might encounter. The Japanese, too, were anxious and uncertain what sort of behavior to expect from the arriving foreign army of occupation, whose soldiers had until recently been such bitter enemies. 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 magnanimity toward their defeated foes. Not a few participants in the occupation discovered a lifelong love and fascination for Japanese culture. In retrospect, the usual verdict is that the postwar Allied occupation of Japan was an overall great success.

Although it is referred to as an “Allied” occupation, it was overwhelmingly really an American affair. Unlike postwar Germany (and also the former Japanese colony in Korea), defeated Japan was not divided into separate zones of occupation by the different Allied powers. A multinational Far Eastern Commission was eventually established in Washington, DC, and a four-power Allied Council for Japan was sent to Tōkyō, 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 Tōkyō at the end of August 1945. Most of the occupation personnel were also American.

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