The American occupation of Japan Fifty years after the end of the second World War, it is easy to look back on the American occupation of Japan and see it as a mild nudge to the left rather than a new beginning for the country. We still see an emperor, even if only as a symbol. Industry, when it was rebuilt, was under much of the same leadership as before the war. Many elements of the traditional lifestyle remained-with less government support and in competition with new variants.
The Japanese people remained connected to a culture which was half western and half Japanese. Nevertheless, it is irrefutable that the surrender in 1945 had a major impact on the lives of the Japanese. Political parties, elected by the populous, became a great deal more influential in the government. This changed the dynamics of Japanese industry, even if the zaibatsu were sill the foundation of the economy. Financial success took on a new character; the production of high tech goods for sale to the world's most developed countries was now a better source of income. The affluence of the upper class was more evenly distributed.
On a broader scale, for the first time, America had more influence than European powers. The prevention of the formation of a military put the focus of the government on trade, the United Nations, and the cold war rather than an empire in Asia. Simultaneously, social attitudes and lifestyle were more independent of the government and consumer led. The American military occupation of Japan was the driving reason for all of the changes in postwar Japan.
Its first task, determined even before the surrender was to disarm Japan and to remove the wartime leaders from their influential government positions. This was part of America's plan to demilitarize and democratize. The goal was to purge the government, media, and education system of war criminals. Once this was accomplished, the American focus shifted to reform. The American plan for reform was based on the idea that Japanese aggression had developed because of fundamental faults in the government, (not, as the Japanese said, from a temporary deviation from the course set during the Meiji period) and that these faults had to be corrected before Japan could ever become a respected member of the developed world.
Democratization was what America wanted. The first steps in the reforming process were obstructive to America's goal of democracy. Under the request of General MacArthur, the emperor denied his divinity; Shinto shrines, which had been closely linked to the myth of Amaterasu, lost their government funding; and a ban was put on militaristic and ultra nationalistic teachings in school. These are some of the alterations that the Japanese went through.
The sudden change in the Japanese lifestyle caused by the new laws and new constitution shocked Japanese citizens. There was a period of confusion and disturbance among the Japanese because of the new system. As Americans, we have never gone through a period of such sudden and extreme change. It is hard for us to imagine the turmoil caused by a complete switch in government. Because of our liberal government, we say that it would have been easy to democratize Japan in one quick step, but, revolution is not easy in a country so steeped in tradition as Japan.
The war related purges in Japan ended and the United States government even restored some of them to their old position. The zaibatsu were also allowed to return to reconsolidate in order to help the economy. These changes, among others were necessary to the survival of the nation of Japan. The important thing is that the Japanese now had their own constitution, untouched by reverse course.