and Economic Changes during the American Occupation of Japan
When the war ended, it was the common intent of all the Allied Powers
to render Japan incapable of ever returning to the field of battle. "Demilitarization" was
thus the first policy of the Occupation authorities and was accompanied
by abolishing Japan's armed forces, dismantling its military industry,
and eliminating the expression of patriotism from its schools and public
But the American government, which had led the Allied war effort and
whose representative, General Douglas MacArthur, was named the Supreme
Commander of the Occupation forces, felt that only a democratic Japan
would be truly peace-loving. It was assumed that democratic countries
like the United States and Great Britain were more peaceful than nondemocratic
countries such as Hitler's Germany and prewar Japan under the emperor.
But what makes a country "democratic"? Is a country democratic
simply because of certain political institutions, like free elections
and free speech? Can these political institutions survive if economic
power is concentrated in just a few hands, and social structures like
the educational system and the family preach unlimited obedience to authority?
The American government believed that establishing democracy in Japan
involved change in all areas of Japanese life. Under MacArthur and with
the cooperation of the Japanese, Japan undertook tremendous changes in
just seven short years — the Occupation lasted from 1945 to 1952.
The success of the Occupation can be judged by the fact that forty years
later, Japan has not fought a war, is a close ally of the United States,
and has not changed most of the important reforms made by the Occupation.
The most obvious changes were political. During the
Occupation, Japan adopted a new constitution (sometimes called the MacArthur
Constitution because of the major role Americans played in its drafting).
This constitution was completely different from the Meiji Constitution
- The biggest change was that it declared that sovereignty rested with
the people, not the emperor. This is the political basis of democracy.
- The emperor was to continue as a symbol of Japanese unity and culture,
somewhat like the Queen of England in Britain's democracy, but without
any political authority whatsoever.
- The supreme political institution was now to be Japan's parliament,
the Diet, which was to be made up of freely elected representatives
of the people.
- Women were given equal rights under the new constitution, including
the right to vote.
- Local governments were strengthened to encourage "grass-roots level" political
- The constitution established many new civil liberties, such as the
right of free speech, and the powers of the police were weakened and
- Finally, the military forces were completely abolished and Article
9 of the new constitution forbade Japan to maintain an army or go to
war ever again.
To support these political changes, the Americans
instituted reforms to make economic power in Japan more "democratic." In
prewar Japan, two-thirds of the agricultural land was rented, not owned,
by the farmers who farmed it. The farmers, who made up over 50 percent
of the labor force, often rented the land from landlords who lived in
distant cities and paid them as much as half of the crops they grew.
Since the average "farm" was little more than an acre, many
farm families lived in poverty. The land reform took land away from big
landlords and redistributed it to the farmers, so that farm families
could own the land they worked. Because farm families became more independent
economically, they could participate more freely in the new democracy.
The Americans also tried to make workers in the industrial sector more
independent by changing the laws to allow free trade unions. Before the
war there were only a few small unions; by 1949, about half of all industrial
workers belonged to a union.
To democratize economic power further and create competition, the Occupation
intended to break up the giant business corporations, the zaibatsu, but
this reform was not implemented, in part because it would have made Japan's
economic recovery more difficult.
Changes in Civic Values
Besides changing Japanese institutions, the
Americans wanted the Japanese people to understand better the idea of
democracy. To do this, the occupation government used its control of
newspapers and magazines to explain and popularize democracy.
They used American democracy as a model to be copied. The complete defeat
and devastation of Japan after the war had left many Japanese shocked
and disillusioned with their own military leaders, and they were open
to the new ways of their American conquerors.
To ensure that Japanese children learned democratic values, the Americans
insisted that the education system and the laws regulating families be
revised. "Moral training" in schools was abolished, and instruction
in democratic ideas was begun. Control of education and censorship of
textbooks were taken from the central government and given to local administrations.
The laws giving the head of the household complete control of every family
member (for example, he could withhold his consent when his children
wished to be married) were changed to make each family member more equal
and thereby more democratic.
Support for Change Within Japan
After the Americans left, the reforms
that did not find strong support within the Japanese system were discontinued.
The anti monopoly laws were weakened, and new giant businesses appeared.
The central government assumed control of the schools, although the democratic
school structure and curriculum remained. The ruling conservative party
suggested other changes, including re-introduction of "moral training" in
the schools and abolition of the "peace clause," Article 9
of the constitution, but these were not adopted. In sum, there was great
popular support for most of the changes, and the changed system thus
continues to the present.