Season 2 Episode 5 – “Decade after Defeat: Japan 1945-1955 with Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi"

World War II On Topic Podcast Series

About the Episode

Today’s episode is brought to you by the Museum’s Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy.

In February 2022, Dr. Jason Dawsey, Research Historian for the museum, talked with Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi, one of the country's leading authorities on postwar Japan.

On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced to the Japanese people that the Japanese Government had agreed to the Allies’ terms laid out in the Potsdam Declaration.

This left many questions about the future of Japan and America’s role in it.

Jason and Yoshi covered: How did the deep animus between Imperial Japan and the United States during the War transform into a lasting postwar alliance? How did the authoritarian Japanese state transition into a democracy? How did the Japanese respond to the experience of defeat, occupation, and then restoration of independence in the decade after World War II? And much more.

Catch up on all episodes of World War II On Topic and be sure to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Covered in this Episode

  • General Douglas MacArthur 
  • Axis Defeat
  • President Truman
  • Imperial Japan

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Featured Historians

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Jason Dawsey, PhD, is a Research Historian at The Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy, where he researches the service records of WWII veterans and writes their biographies for family members.

Yoshikuni Igarashi, PhD

Yoshikuni Igarashi, PhD, is a professor at Vanderbilt University. He has authored three books revolving around postwar Japan, Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970, Homecomings: The Belated Return of Japan’s Lost Soldiers, and Japan circa 1972: Masculinity in the Age of Mass Consumption and Metavisuality.

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"World War II On Topic" is made possible by The Herzstein Foundation.




Jeremy Collins 

Welcome to our latest episode of World War II on Topic. I'm Jeremy Collins, the director of conferences and symposia at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

Today's episode is brought to you by the Museum's Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. In February of 2022, Dr. Jason Dawsey, research historian for the museum, talked with Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi, one of the world's leading authorities on postwar Japan.

On August 15th, 1945, emperor Hirohito announced to the Japanese people that the Japanese government had agreed to the Allies terms laid out in the Potsdam Declaration. This left many questions about the future of Japan and America's role in it.

Jason and Yoshi covered how did the deep animus between Imperial Japan and the United States during the war transform into a lasting post-war alliance? How did the authoritarian Japanese state transition into a democracy?

How did the Japanese respond to the experience of defeat, occupation, and then restoration of independence in the decade after World War II? And much more.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this morning's webinar. Delighted to be with you today for this discussion about Decade after Defeat: Japan 1945 to 1955.

And we're so fortunate to have as our guest today, Professor yoshikuni Igarashi. So I want to say a little bit about him, introduce him to you and then we'll get started for what we think will be a very rich discussion.

And then we'll hear from you from with your questions for our guest. Professor Igarashi is Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, and is also affiliated with the Asian Studies Program there. His research focuses on Japanese cultural history during the interwar and post-World War II periods.

And I want to note among his many publications his three monographs. His first book, "Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970," appeared with Princeton University press in 2000.

And I'd like to make our audience aware of the fact that my colleague and friend here at the Museum's Institute for the Study of War and Democracy, Jennifer Popowycz, reviewed this book for our website.

So some of you who are interested in that review will be able to find that piece on our website. The second book was called "Homecomings: The Belated Return of Japan's Lost Soldiers" with Columbia University press in 2016.

And then just this past year, 2021, saw the publication of his latest monograph, "Japan, 1972: Visions of Masculinity in an Age of Mass Consumerism," and made of visuality, which really deals with the transformation of Japanese society in the late 1960s and early 1970s, focusing on mass consumerism. So with that, Yoshi, welcome, It's great to have you today.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Thank you very much. Thank you for The National World War II Museum and, Jason and Jeremy, for making it possible to share my work. I'm excited.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yeah, we're delighted to have you today, Yoshi. I'm excited as well, and we're dealing with a very important decade in Japan's modern history, for that matter really world history given Japan's surprising for many Alliance with the United States during the early phase of the Cold War.

It's a decade that is maybe not so well known to Americans, even those who have a really deep interest in the second World War. And so, Yoshi, you're sharing your expertise with us today will help us all I think understand this 10 years better than we had previously.

So where I'd like to start as you've given the fact so much happens with this decade is right at the end of the second World War, Yoshi, and that is with the famous speech that Emperor Hirohito gives on August 15th, 1945 where he announced to the Japanese people the country's surrender. And he stressed the burden of, "Having to bear the unbearable."

And what I'd like to ask here is that after eight years of war, and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact here in the U.S. that Japan had been at war long before Pearl Harbor. Had been at war and China since July of 1937. That after these eight years of war what do you think we can say about how much support the Japanese state still enjoyed from its people at that time?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

That's very interesting question. On one level, we can say that at large majority of people are determined to fight to the bitter end. Now this we can tell from the contemporary accounts, which express sort of a sense of dismay hearing the news of Japan's surrender. That's one level.

But you look at this sort of deeper level, sort of emotional level, or, no, perhaps in different level in economy and social level, you start seeing different picture here. For example, toward end of the war, particularly in 1945, late 1944-1945, Japanese industry suffered from high absentee rate, absenteeism.

So there were various reasons for this, but the perhaps big reason was people just did not believe in the cause of the war and they just decided not to show up at their work. So that numbers at some industries, some of the factories, as high as or higher than 50%.

And those are not numbers that can sustain industry. So that's another sort of a different kind of story going on. And another thing is the police reports, which tell us sort of a complaints and unhappy feelings shared among the people in their private conversations.

There are so many examples of those. And those things are coexisting in communities as well as perhaps in the same individuals. So we can maybe call this a cognitive dissonance. But on one level, yes, they're determined to fight, but another level or other levels, they are beginning to see this is not sustainable.

So it's hard to say ... You cannot say, "Japan was like this. Japan was like that." It was very much sort of a mixture of complex emotions.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yoshi, your comment I think cautions us against assuming some monolithic posture on the part of the Japanese people by this very late, really at the kind of end of the war, that there is this kind of as you put it cognitive dissonance and a kind of growing discontent that's being registered on many levels.

And Japanese authorities are aware of this growing discontent as you point out. And that cognitive dissonance is also going to provide some opportunities for the American occupation, and also for Japanese who had been opposed to the course of Japanese policy during the 30s and 40s to really push for change in the immediate post-war period.

And obviously we'll be able to address some of those changes here shortly. So with that, I think most Americans, Yoshi, when they think of the end of the war they're of course always going to flash to the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Harbor.

We also know that three weeks after the surrender, that General Douglas MacArthur, who was then transitioning into a brand new role as Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in Tokyo, met with Emperor Hirohito. This meeting itself was so significant for what was going to come in terms of relations between the two countries.

Could you tell us about why this meeting was so significant and what transpired there?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Okay. So the meeting was made into a significant, sort of given ... Let me back up a little bit. The meeting was important because MacArthur later said it was. And this is sort of a part of the ... I need to back up to explain to sort of really get into this scene.

So the premise of my argument is that, no, we have to really think about this transition. U.S. and Japan used to be two of the most hated enemies, mutually hated enemies, in the Pacific up until the last minute.

But comes the end of the war. Several weeks after the war, or several months I should say, two nations became the closest allies in the Pacific. And that's to think about it a very, very strange situation. But now we don't really think about it.

Yeah. They came to terms and then they created new alliances. But go back to that moment and think about the ... This is like squaring a circle. Something must give. Something must be really forced into something else.

So what I emphasize in my argument is that the new or narrative was created to explain this transition to the Japanese as well as Americans. And this theme became one of the central scenes to explain, be part of that narrative.

So getting back to scene. Historians sort of dive into, look for, what actually was said between the two people. So MacArthur's account is this: basically Emperor Hirohito was there to sacrifice himself. And reclaiming all responsibilities of war he doesn't care whatever happens to him, but he's there to assume all the responsibilities.

This is very hero ignited, hero tale. MacArthur told people around him as far as he talked about this in his memoirs later on. But reality was not at all like that. The historians tell us that most likely what Hirohito said at the moment was much simpler.

"Well, I tried my best, but we had come down to the wall. I re-read the situation." So that's the nature of what he said. Quite different from what MacArthur told other people.

And so how that articulation turned into MacArthur's sort of a touting, and as this hero [?], that's part of the transformation. MacArthur and Hirohito came into this meeting or they coming together needing themselves each other. Hirohito needed MacArthur's authority to protect himself on the impending trials, war crimes trials.

So he needed to make sure that MacArthur is on his side. MacArthur needed Hirohito to make sure that his occupation policies would go smoothly. And also he needed to re-establish his authority in relation to other nations, Allied nations. So he needed the authority, cultural authority, as well as cooperation from the Emperor.

So they sort of saw themselves as they can help each other. But MacArthur already knew prior to the meeting ... This meeting happened September 27th. Prior to this meeting, he already knew [?] Emporer Hirohito was on board.

He's willing to support American policies. So there was no substance in actual meeting. They didn't have any need to talk about substance in the actual meeting on September 27th. So most likely this was more like a ceremonial, more like a ritual. They met, the picture and they exchanged nicities. But once again, this was turned into huge deal through the process of transforming Japan and an Emperor into a democratic entities.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

That's so interesting, Yoshi, about kind of de-mythologizing the way this September 27th meeting has typically been represented, but also reminding us that both figures in some ways needed each other even though the level they were in obviously very ... their positions certainly were not equal at all by this point, but they did need each other.

And how that mutual need plays out is something we certainly want to follow up on. And with that, I think we'd get into something about the nature of American occupation policy, Yoshi, and the role that Hirohito and others from Japan's elite what role that will play in this.

So MacArthur in the Truman administration organized much of their plans for the occupation of Japan around two basic principles: democratization and demilitarization. So why don't we start with democratization.

So can you tell us about the kind of democratic revolution? It's really a remarkable thing. The kind of democratic revolution that starts in Japan in the Fall of 1945 and about how Japanese political leaders responded to this transformation of their country's institutions?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Sure. Yes. This process was very far reaching and by and large very successful. And I should emphasize, underscore the fact that this success is also supported by Japanese participants, Japanese bureaucrats, politicians, and Japanese people.

So, yes, Americans were sort of a impetus. Brought this sort of energy as far as plans, but they were carried out by Japanese and also embraced by Japanese.

So several things I can talk about. Probably I don't have time to get into details, but I can sort of point out a few of the successful things like land reform, empowering labor movement, labor unions. Also, enfranchising the women, the voting right to women and changing economic structures, namely busting diversity, large, huge conglomerates in Japanese economic system.

And also new constitution was adopted. And this sort of became the basis of new political system. So quickly, just let me talk about the land reform and the new [inaudible 00:16:43]. The contrast and land reform is the one good example that this was already going on during the wartime period.

So when Americans came into Japan, Japanese bureaucrats already to work on land reforms and they presented their own plans without any nudge. And then basically Americans just watched on sidelines and then things carried out very successfully.

And because this was already going on during the wartime period, now part of this is that the wartime regime has to keep the peasants, or the farmers, happy, right? They have to somehow get them to make sure they will support all time regime or efforts.

So they were giving more and more incentives for the basis for tenant farmers as small scale farmers. And so land reform in the post-war period is by and large an extension of what was going on war time period.

So this is a good example of Americans tapping into sort of desire that already existed in Japanese society. And new constitution is a little different, and this is the story told many times, many different places. But this is American based, meaning that MacArthur originally told Japanese government to come up with the new constitution, but Japanese government did not take it seriously.

And MacArthur was upset. Therefore he told his men, his team, about 2,000 people to come up with a blue point constitution. So American team had only two, excuse me, about a week or so to come up with a new constitution, the plan.

And so they did, and that became the basis of Japan's new constitution. Yes, it was very democratic in many ways, advanced, but this relationship already sort of a hand in making constitution sort of became issue later on in Japan's discussion of the constitution. Some claimed that this is American; others claimed that, no, this is Japanese. Japan actively embraced it and negotiated, changed the details.

So it's Japanese as it could be. So between the two there's been some controversies. But perhaps we can take constitution as more of the top down approach to the democracy. Land reform as the bottom up approach democracy imaging many different kind of policies are instituted. And by and large, they're very successful.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

At that point about the success of these things, Yoshi, I think a lot of Americans lose sight of the fact that prior to the radical nationalists really becoming so powerful in Japan starting in the late 1920s, early 1930s, but Japan had a constitution and it had a parliament and it had trade unions and it had liberal and leftist parties that were certainly competing for support. It had an industrial working class.

So it had all of these things already at one point and they were some 20 years removed from that during this period of authoritarianism. But I see your point very well that for many Japanese they could feel like that this democratization move was in many ways reclaiming tendencies that had been at work already and were stymied by the kind of right wing nationalist forces in Japan.

And your comments, I think, ensure that we don't lose sight of that. That all of a sudden the Americans just don't invent democracy in modern Japan.

That leads us then to this second point, the second principle, which is de-militarization. And this takes us to your 2016 book, "Homecomings," that I alluded to earlier at the outset.

There you've written quite powerfully about the effort to bring home the staggering number of Japanese service members stationed outside of Japan when World War II ended. So I have two questions here.

Can you convey our audience how this massive task really did play out in the immediate postwar years bringing these service members home? And then the second one is the special difficulties involved in securing the return of Japanese soldiers in Soviet captivity.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

All right. So once again, I think going back to where, Jason, you started. Basically war ended, but ending the war is not like a closing spigot, stopping water. The momentum is built and it's really, really difficult to really bring society country back into the state of peace.

And one of the biggest problems Japanese society faced was this people left overseas. So all together about 6.9 million people were left outside of Japan, exist, living, stayed outside of Japan. And which is about 9.6% in relation to those people who lived within Japan.

Now almost 10% of people and of which of 6.9, 6.3 million people eventually came back by the end of 194. 6.3 million people came back to Japan. That posed a huge challenge because Japanese economy was in shamble. They cannot just casually sustain that large number of people.

Yes, in the end they absorb the people. But for several years this was a very difficult period for Japanese as well as returees. And what made it difficult for returnees is this: returnees, especially soldiers, 3.7 million soldiers came back from overseas after end of war.

They represented something that Japanese society did not want to see in the post war period. They represented Japan's lost war, Japan's cruelty, Japan's sort of violence. They brought back, they represented, their embodied, Japan's violence.

So nobody really wanted to talk about that aspect of returnees. So yeah, some of them are treated as poor victims, but by and large, Japanese society did not have kind of framework/language to talk about the difficult experiences that returnees experienced.

For example, the concept of trauma did not exist, was not a household word. It was really difficult in that kind of condition to register one's difficulty in coming back and all they're dealing with what they experienced the war.

So in many ways, their struggle started after they came back to Japan. And the second point is the people who were kept by Soviet Union after the war. So Soviet Union intentionally kept more than half million Japanese. Number is disputed.

Official number is supposed to be 540,000, but I believe the number was bigger. And that large number of Japanese are mostly men. Some women were kept by Soviet Union because Soviet Union needed a labor force to rebuild the nation.

And so they were kept at the labor camps spread out throughout the Soviet Union over ... There's about 2,000 labor camps. They are spread out and they are put to work one, two years. And some of them stayed as long as 11 years. But most of them came back by, let's say '49.

But initial year, especially first winter, for those people who were left in Soviet Union was very difficult because of the food shortage disruption of the distribution channel and the corruption. All those things contributed to the very difficult condition.

Now just basically their existence became a matter of survival. They are just their work. And also just to survive this first winter. So many people perished. And official fear is something like 60,000 people die at camps or during the transportation.

But I, once again, I believe the number was a little higher than that. And the difficulty of bringing those Soviet captives was that Japan and Soviet Union did not establish the diplomatic relations until 1956. So Allied nations applied pressure, and Japan tried to negotiate, but those effort did not come to fruition until 1956. That's when the last 3,000 people were brought back to Japan.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

That's just an incredible chronology that you've given us there, Yoshi. And you're talking 11 years after the wars over before all of the Japanese captives, and I think you're pointing out here that they were obviously service members in Soviet captivity but some civilians and women that were also included in that number.

And it took over a decade to get them all home. And especially many of them the kind of trauma they had experienced in terms of exposure, labor, et cetera, maltreatment was truly scarring.

And then, so I think this is I'm sure something that I think our audience would be curious about too. This issue about returnees. About bringing these Japanese soldiers, sailors, et cetera, airman back home. I think we'll probably hear more from that during the last part of our webinar.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yeah. So the war did not end August 1945. For some people war did not end until decades later. So this is one example that this end of the war is very much not defined moment, but something that has to be negotiated, something has to be realized by the efforts of so many people.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yeah. That's an excellent point, Yoshi, that we shouldn't fall into the trap of thinking that there is some neat cutoff for terminating a world war and that in this case this really does go on for years and years.

And with that in mind, I wanted to ask you about the returnees. And my question here is really about the hurdles they faced back in Japan about reintegrating. About again becoming part of Japanese society. Can you tell us a bit about what they faced?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yes. So the clearest example is the people who came back from Siberia, Soviet Union. There were discriminated against. Once again, they represented the war that the Japan did not want to think about anymore.

But on top of that, they established, they basically were associated with the Soviet Union communism. So many employers were reluctant to hire those men because they were afraid. Okay, they may harbor this communist ideas.

There's so much discussion about the brainwashing, the retaining captives in Soviet camps. So, and yes, true, some of them came back home as the diehard communist. Because of that now that association is applied to everybody else.

And employers became very suspicious of these people who came back from Soviet Union and they just did not want to touch them. So therefore they struggled to gain employment when they came back.

And other civilians came back from, for example, Manchuria. In some ways, again, they were associated with wartime regime, as far as there's a sense that they deserve what they got. They had a good time. They sort of benefited from wartime regime during the war.

Therefore, now they start losing everything once the war was over, okay. They deserve what they got at the end of the war. So in all, Japanese society was not at all sympathetic, not really extending sympathy toward those people, what kind of experiences they carried home. So there's sort of a wall between the two segments of societies.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

This is a fascinating point, Yoshi, and I think in another context it would be interesting to even just think about comparing the case of these returnees with say those in Germany coming back 1945, including many of them in Soviet captivity for a similar time until 1955 or so before many of them return and what they encounter once they do.

It's such a really difficult story to think about and how a society that's been defeated welcomes back the members of its armed forces who had been in captivity or had been stranded someplace else when the war ends.

So with these two principles in mind, Yoshi, democratization and de-militarization, I'd like to kind of bring these two together here in terms of the Japanese constitution of 1946. And you've already mentioned it as one outcome and the debate about how American is that constitution and how Japanese is that constitution?

But could you kind of take us through what this new constitution entailed for Japanese society and politics? And I think a lot of our audience would be very curious about what happened to the power of the Emperor and the once all powerful Japanese military.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

So let's start with the Emperor. So, in the pre-war 1889 constitution Emporer was defined as sovereign. He is a sovereign power in the empire. But that's gone in new constitution.

In new constitution he was defined as a symbol of nation's unity. And now there's a debate, there's been debate, as what that exactly mean to be a symbol. But that's a side point aside. So from the sovereignty symbol sovereignty was given to Japanese people. So that gave really the basis of post-war Japanese democracy.

And the second point is Japan's military. What happened to that? Well, that's gone. The famous article nine of Japanese constitution, post-war constitution, explicitly says that Japan denounces a war as a means to settle international conflict, international disputes.

And forbid having, maintaining sea and land forces. So constitutional- wise, article nine forbid Japan, sort of prevent Japan, from having any form of military. But in reality, for example, Japan self defense forces right now is the huge military forces. That's the reality.

So something happened between article nine and the development of the self defense forces. And that's sort of evolves sort of part of the evolution of American policy that came after the adoption of constitution.

But going back to constitution. Constitution that Japan sort of adopted in 1946 and made it in effect 1947 was very democratic, perhaps more democratic than American constitution in some ways.

For example, it has the article about the academic freedom. Also, it includes the gender equality. Some of the things the American nowadays, that they are very cutting edge in some ways.

So, yes, that was a very refreshing as well as in a way Japanese people were very excited. Many Japanese people were very excited about this constitution because number one, it makes it clear. Japan is a new place sort of breaking away from the tradition.

Number two, Japan is now establishing itself as democratic peace-seeking nation. So all in all, this was a very refreshing change to many Japanese people.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yeah, there you've reminded us, Yoshi, about these stereotypes. Some of them still you'll see appear in the United States about the inherent authoritarianism of the Japanese character.

And, of course, you've often heard things said similarly about Germany as well. And yet your comments here are indicating, in fact, a very quick and very enthusiastic response on the part of many Japanese to democratization into this new constitution and the new freedoms in some cases really new for not just Japan, but for much of the world at the time.

That there was a great degree of not just acceptance, but really positive support for those. So with that then, Yoshi, we're getting kind of further now along in our timetable. The issue, of course, that always comes up is that of trying Japanese elites involved in the war and prosecuting the war about bringing them to justice.

And so in terms of talking about reactions from the Japanese public, what can we say about how that public reacted to the trials of Japanese leaders, such as probably the best known here in the U.S., the trial of the 25 defendants before the Tokyo tribunal?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

I think the general reaction to the tribunals was very positive or some sense of acquiescence. I haven't seen much of pushback or the criticisms which came later.

But at that moment the trials were happening, I think the public opinions, public criticisms, are muted. And, yes, this is part of the psyche. Part of this sort of a desire to move on by identifying the culprits who brought everybody into this misery and punish them and move on.

And that desire was strongly there. And also American occupiers made sure that this trial will be supported by Japanese people. So they propagated sort of their version of justifications why they needed this and what does this do.

Also lastly, some of the events, or the historical facts, came out of the trial procedures were very shocking. Real example is Nanjing massacre. And that event was not covered by Japanese media and contemporaneously in 1937-38.

So when this news came out finally many people were shocked. Or many people saw good reasons for these procedures or the tribunals to go forward.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yeah. One might assume and, Yoshi, just correct me if I'm going too far in this direction, that the revelation of these atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese military would have in turn enhanced this peace culture that was already growing in Japan and kind of distrust of the military certainly with the defeat, et cetera, that these things would've kind of become reinforcing in a way, right?

With these things coming out and much of the Japanese public having no knowledge of them prior to the trials. It's such an interesting-

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yeah. So, in many people's mind those leaders were guilty already. So when at the beginning of the tribunals, the defendants declared not guilty, and that declaration was needed to go into proceeding.

But Japanese people, many of them, were outraged. How dare they say they're not guilty. So that shows that they already thought these people are guilty of what they did during war time period.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yes. At this point at least here in this kind of immediate post-war period to a real break does it nod really with the support for the Japanese military and the kind of openness to some new politics here, which you've already been pointing us to, Yoshi.

But the Cold War really does complicate all of this immensely and the development of this pattern of cooperation and Alliance with the U.S. And so I wanted to ask you about, in fact, the onset of the Cold War in 1947 and how that initiated a major shift in U.S.-Japan relations.

And how do you think on this issue how Japan really fit into American strategic thinking, which after 1947, really becomes based around the notion of containing communism, keeping it from spreading?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yes, '47 was a turning point in occupation policies. And well, MacArthur went into Japan with this great idealism that he was determined to convert, transform Japan into a peaceful nation, agricultural nation, like a Switzerland of Asia.

That was his vision. And he got to work immediately in pushing his agenda. And '47 came and the situations around Japan quickly changed. But he was reluctant to give up on his vision.

But the pressure was mounting and eventually he relinquished. He changed his mind. He changed the directions. And with that the sort of occupation policies, what they call is reverse course, reversal occupation policies happened.

So for example, today is February 1st and exactly 75 years ago on this day, Japanese labor unions were planning to have a national strike, nationwide strike.

But day before January 31, MacArthur stepped in, declared that will be illegal. Because the fear was that if the general strike happens that will only contribute to the instability, mess up Japan's economy. And that will lead to political instability.

That will be only conducive to communist ideas, communists. So in order to stop that the general strike must be stopped. So, yes, MacArthur stepped, intervened and stopped it. And that shows the degree in which basically his hands are tied. He has to act. He has to basically make sure that all the parties involved in Japan's policies will be on the same page.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

It really is remarkable seeing this turning point and the cooperation you'll see between Japan and the U.S. during the Korean war and the early 1950s and obviously beyond.

I have one final question here, Yoshi, and then we're going to see what our audience ... We're seeing some questions already coming in. And this kind of points ahead, really, not only during this decade after defeat but far beyond that, which is that you've done a lot of work on the distinctive form of capitalism and consumerism.

Really is so influential that develops in Japan after World War II. Could you say something just in sense of an overview, Yoshi, about this new kind of consumerist society in Japan, which I think this is actually a Japan that many Americans are very familiar with in their own ways. And in many cases know extremely well, are very curious about.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yes, since we're running out of time, I'll make it quick. So for Japanese people economy became a sort of substitute arena for politics. So I would claim that Japan's nationalism was expressed through economic activities.

So because of this strange transformation to think about Japan's ... To talk about politics pot-war period that will always lead to this reality. Japan lost the war.

Politically Japan is transformed into subservient, put into subservient position in relation to the United States. So if one thinks about the politics surrounding Japan, within Japan, there's this reality.

So rather than dealing with that, facing that, many people focused on economic success. So by excelling economically, they found solace. They found new way of expressing nationalism. So that's the economic nationalism that became very important component of Japanese society as well Japanese psyche in the post-war period.

That said, United States was an inspiration for Japan's economy, economic success, especially consumer culture. So many of the things Americans introduce Japanese people to became inspirational.

So part of that is trying to replicate American success. But at the same time, Japanese people are not trying to replicate exactly the same thing as U.S. has.

So, yes, Japan embraced and reproduced produced its own consumer culture. But I would submit that Japan's version was quite different from American version. It was Japanese consumer culture.

So we can put them both in the category of consumer culture, but Japanese producers and consumers are quite conscious of what they're doing in terms of it's very Japanese brand of economy. Japanese brand of consumerism.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

It's been such an enormously influential export as well, Yoshi. I don't need to be telling you that. You written so extensively on this and one sees it all over the place, how widespread this consumerist culture. Americans, people in ... I mean, all across the world interested in Japanese film and animation, music. It's just a remarkable thing.

Obviously, automobiles, electronics. We could just add this very long list, but our audience is weighing in now considerably, Yoshi, and we already have several questions here.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi


Dr. Jason Dawsey

So I thought we would shift to the Q and A and let them have a chance to interact with you some. So starting out first, Yoshi, we have a question from Connor, and he's curious about how much impact this goes back to the very beginning of our conversation about how much impact did the Soviet decision to attack Japan in August 1945 do you think have obviously here in the U.S. there's always obviously the focus on the dropping of the two atomic bombs. But how much of an impact did the Soviets have on the Japanese decision to surrender?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

I think that was a big part of this decision making process. Now in the U.S. I think there is so much emphasis placed on atomic bombs, but cannot isolate atomic bombs and say they alone brought Japan to its needs.

I think we have to see the whole picture. And to say that atomic bomb ended the war is erroneous because what about the 140,000 American soldiers who sacrifice their lives, right?

The way I see the whole situation is like this. Atomic bomb is like a cherry on top the cake. Yeah. It's the final thing. But the cake, you have to pay attention to the cake. And I think the Soviets entering in the war is part of this big cake.

So we have to see the whole thing. And the Soviets was perhaps definitely a big part of this cake [?] the top.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Is we need to have a comprehensive view of all of those events, developments happening.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yeah. And this is part of the justification that created after the war. Yes, we all know that the history is messy process. There are so many moving parts and so many actors and actresses and it's chaotic. And to find sort of a path through it is very difficult.

But in the post-war period, the policy makers try to simplify this whole process and just selectively represent certain facts so that they try to justify their decisions during the war.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Thank you for that. Yoshi, that takes us then to question from Christopher. And this comes to the issue of Japan's constitution that we discussed about the implications of article nine and what you think the implications of article nine are on the kind of ability of Japan to defend itself without American assistance?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Well, thank you for that question. Thank you for all questions. But article nine short term was, this is going back to the history part and the changing American occupation policies.

So when the Korean War broke out in 1950, that's when MacArthur decided to order Japanese government to create the police reserve, which was nothing but [?].

So despite the fact Americans in policies, article nine, Americans came back and told Japanese to create a military again. And from there on basically U.S.-Japan relationship is determined by this mutually, I won't say alliance, but the relationship.

So the premise or the whole base of the national energy, Japan as such, is created in this relationship between U.S. and Japan made sure it help is promise to Japan. So that's the problem. And if we try to undo it's going to take so much work.

And once again, there are so many moving parts in this. So U.S. has promised, but the there's always a question to what extent U.S. is willing to commit to help Japan in case of crisis.

And that's a big question. And also can Japan sustain itself without U.S.? Perhaps it could, but that changes the whole dynamics of East Asian politics, right? If Japan will say, "Hey, we don't need U.S. help anymore. We go this alone by puffing up, reinforcing our military, self defense forces, and call them as military."

That's one way, but that would not make China, South Korea, North Korea, very happy. And that would be huge international issue. So Japan is always treading this very difficult train in terms of negotiating, but for now Japan's course is determined by what the arrangement made in 1950s and 1960 and Japanese leaders are not at this point willing to go off from that scenario for better or worse.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

That's such a complicated history, Yoshi, and you at least got us to think about the fact that this history in terms of the Japanese ability to muster a military or some kind of defense force it's a long and very complex story there.

And this next one is also a very ... taps into a different complexity in Japanese history. And this addresses, Yoshi, the comments you made about fear of communism and containment of communism a bit more.

In this case, asking about how the Japanese public felt about this Cold War alliance based around anti-communism. Did the Japanese public feel like there was manipulation going on, on the part of the Americans and Japanese elites working with the Americans? Was there really a kind of mass fear of Soviet and or communist influence? This is from-

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Yeah, that's an excellent question. And to simplify the picture here, japan was divided and there are those who preferred American occupation, American help.

And on the other side of the picture, there are those who think that Japan will embrace Soviet style politics. So those people believe that Japan has to go through the revolution. Japan has to become socialist regime or communist regime for that matter.

So between the two extremes, people sort of different positions existed, but the conflict was there. But I think the majority of people embraced Americans sort of policy, American help turning Japan into a power against the Soviet tide.

Because that is very beneficial. You can see the progress of society, progress of the economy in front of your eyes. So revealing. Americans came here to help for whatever reasons and Japanese people, many of them are willing to accept.

But others, once again, were very principled and thinking that ... and also this is sort of disguised anti-Americanism. They're not happy that Japan lost the war and the victors came in and they redefined Japan.

And Soviet Union offered counter image, counter discourse against this American hegemony. Therefore they are eager, willing to embrace Soviet as a model. Also China for that matter later on.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yeah, it's such a fascinating period, Yoshi, about the Chinese Revolution in 1949, communist presidents in North Korea, Ho Chi Minh's success in North Vietnam. And those are all there. These areas where the Japanese, of course, had been as an Imperial power and communist movement sprouting up there and the impact that has back in Japan at the time.

We have a chunk for at least one more, Yoshi. And this one deals with, especially after hearing about the question about how the Japanese public responded to the trials of Japanese elites and the shock that those trials often produced, how do you explain this tendency in Japanese political culture to refuse to acknowledge war crimes or atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese military during the 30s and 1940s?

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Once again, depending on what segment of society you are talking about. Very top, for example, even now or just throughout the post-war period, most of the time period, very top echelon political system was very conservative.

They're into sort maintaining sort of anchoring Japan in a traditional form of poverty. But if you look at the middle section or the wider section of Japanese society, I think that segment was more willing to accept Japan's responsibility in the war, Japan's atrocities.

And if you widen the view and look at the wider populace, that's like up for grab. So there you see whole different kind of positions in relation to that.

So it's difficult to see why some of them are unwilling to accept Japan's responsibilities because some of these people are invested in the continuity of history. Japan cannot change. Japan has to be always certain way.

But larger segment society at the same time are interested in new Japan created in interaction with United States. And those people are willing to accept Japan's responsibilities more readily. And in between, depending on the political wind, political climate, they can shift their positions.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yoshi, I think it's a fantastic point to conclude on. You reminding us about not viewing Japanese cultures in any way unitary or monolithic. They're divisions. These things are contested and they have been really for decades and not to assume that there is unity on any of these huge historical issues pertaining to Japan's history during-

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

And that said, but nonetheless some people have larger, the bigger voices to represent Japan than other people. Therefore, we tend to listen to the larger voices, which tend to be conservative.

Dr. Jason Dawsey

Yes, yes. Those are often the voices that I think many Americans hear and then tend to assume that they do speak for-

Larger segments, right, of the Japanese public than they actually in fact, do. Yoshi, let me thank you so much for a superb conversation really about this decade after World War II in Japan.

I think we've all learned so much from it and hope at some point we can do something with you again on this. And I want to, of course, thank our audience.

We've had some really outstanding questions and comments from our online viewers. And we hope that you will join us here at The National World War II Museum again for future events. Thank you very much.

Dr. Yoshikuni Igarashi

Thank you.

Jeremy Collins

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