Occupied Japan - Cultural Reaction

Cultural Reaction

Hirohito’s surrender broadcast was a profound shock to Japanese citizens. After years of being told about Japan’s military might and the inevitability of victory, these beliefs were proven false in the space of a few minutes. But for many people, these were only secondary concerns since they were also facing starvation and homelessness.

Post-war Japan was chaotic. The air raids on urban centers left millions displaced and food shortages, created by bad harvests and the demands of the war, worsened when the importation of food from Korea, Taiwan, and China ceased. Repatriation of Japanese living in other parts of Asia only aggravated the problems in Japan as these displaced people put more strain on already scarce resources. Over 5.1 million Japanese returned to Japan in the fifteen months following October 1, 1945. Alcohol and drug abuse became major problems. Deep exhaustion, declining morale and despair was so widespread that it was termed the "kyodatsu condition" (虚脱状態, kyodatsujoutai?, lit. "state of lethargy"). Inflation was rampant and many people turned to the black market for even the most basic goods. These black markets in turn were often places of turf wars between rival gangs, like the Shibuya incident in 1946. Prostitution also increased considerably.

In the 1950s, kasutori culture emerged. In response to the scarcity of the previous years, this sub-culture, named after the preferred drink of the artists and writers who imbibed it, emphasized escapism, entertainment and decadence.

The phrase "shikata ga nai", or "nothing can be done about it," was commonly used in both Japanese and American press to encapsulate the Japanese public's resignation to the harsh conditions endured while under occupation. However, not everyone reacted the same way to the hardships of the postwar period. While some succumbed to the difficulties, many more were resilient. As the country regained its footing, they were able to bounce back as well.

There is an ongoing discussion regarding the concept of "authenticity" as experienced by the generation raised under American military occupation. Masaya Ito et al. compared different generations of Japanese and found no difference in the perception of authenticity. In reviewing the same data, A. James Giannini found that Japanese culture was not vertically homogeneous. In accordance with the work of Umberto Eco he noted a difference between expectancy and fulfillment of this particular word and concept.

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