Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 November 2020
A league unto its own
A picture of Miyajima's famed torii gate, a pine tree, some stone lanterns and a shimmering Seto Inland Sea appeared on the cover of the first general circulation ‘Guide to Japan’, prepared for the American military forces and released on September 1, 1945. The guidebook's chapter headings included stern entries such as ‘Stream-lined Tyranny’ but also titles with a much softer tenure, such as ‘The Land of the Cherry Blossoms’.
The British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), not to be outdone, produced its own guidebook, titled simply ‘Know Japan’. On its cover page, the guidebook carried the picture of a woodblock print – a close reproduction of ‘The 36 Views of Mount Fuji’, with the iconic mountain towering over Suruga Bay, pleasant sailing boats dotting the sea and and pine trees dressing the coastlines. In his foreword, Lieutenant-General John Northcott, the Australian Commander of the BCOF, wrote, deftly combining pragmatism, idealism and missionary rhetoric, that:
This occupation is necessary to ensure the demilitarization of Japan and the inculcation of democratic ideas and ideals in her people, to ensure that Japan never again menaces civilization.
If we are to succeed in this arduous task, we must realize that we are the representatives of the democratic and free world, and that by our actions and conduct will the Japanese people judge the value of our democratic way of life. Although we may not like the Japanese people, we must learn something of their history and customs, so that we can help them to make themselves fit to take their place alongside the other peoples of the civilized world.
Against this backdrop, three general characteristics of the modus operandi of the American Occupation are worth recalling. First, the Occupation was indirect: the GHQ conducted policy and reforms through the Japanese government Since the Meiji era, Japan had enjoyed a sophisticated bureaucracy – and Occupation planners decided quietly and early on, based on advice from their experts and scholars, that they could not govern without its help, notwithstanding their distaste for and strong resentment of Japanese bureaucrats who had closely cooperated with the militarists throughout the war. Second, the United States was the sole occupying power, in practice if not officially, which facilitated decision-making (On paper the United States was required to share authority with other victors.