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The New International, November 1945


William Braden

Japan’s Days of Defeat

Notes of an Observer

(October 1945)


From New International, Vol. XI No. 8, November 1945, pp. 232–234.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Anyone visiting Japan today sees at very first glance that it was not the atomic bomb which defeated her; she was already defeated before that. The Japanese themselves claim the B-29 did the job. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are flat, but Tokyo, Kobi, Osaka, and Yokahoma are thoroughly blasted. The incendiary bomb burned out huge areas in all these cities.

In Tokyo, miles of residential districts have been destroyed as well as the main department store section, the Ginza, and the adjourning streets and the dock areas. In Yokahoma, the famous bund, the docks, and the largest part of the home districts are in ruins. Industries have suffered even worse damage. Almost eighty per cent of the steel mills, almost eighty per cent of the chemical plants, eighty-five percent of the textile mills, and seventy per cent of the electric power plants are inoperative. The main core of Japanese industry no longer exists or is damaged very badly. The shipyards are almost 100 per cent out of commission. MacArthur has said that Japan is now a fourth rate power. The truth is that she is no power at all. What will happen to Japan will be the effect of the policies of her conquerors upon her; unless the people of Japan take their destinies into their own hands.

The Japanese themselves are very tired, war weary, passive, and hungry. People do not go to work because work seems useless. Besides, the factories and offices are bombed or burned out and business is completely disorganized. Energies are concentrated on obtaining food and clothing and a roof for the night.

No Energy for Anger

There is no anger at the Americans; they are received with politeness and even welcome. There is hardly enough energy left for anger or hatred. The biggest thing that counts is that the terrible war is over and the pursuit of a means of subsistence dominates life. This passivity toward fundamental problems of politics permeates all from the richest to the poorest. Japan is on the verge of a terrible winter of starvation and homelessness. There are signs that the working class and small peasantry may organize soon to force attention to the dire needs of the people. At present the country continues in disrepair with nothing being done.

The transportation arteries are disrupted. There is almost no gasoline except for United States Army and government vehicles. Of the five hundred passenger cars on the main Tokyo suburban line only three hundred are now running, mobbed daily beyond capacity so as to make a rush hour New York subway look like an almost empty dance floor. I saw a woman’s ribs crushed while she screamed in agony. The rest of us were helpless to move the smallest fraction of an inch to alleviate the pressure or to help her. Everyone carries bundles, things to barter for food, possessions rescued from their ruined homes or black market food purchased in the country. Many people carry all their belongings on their backs. Mothers carry children, papoose fashion, in the most crowded cars having no homes in which to leave them.

Food is not coming into the city because there is no coal for the locomotives and not enough cars. Trucks and autos are burning charcoal increasingly because of the lack of gas. At the same time thousands of trucks lie idle because of lack of gas. In the village of Mitake about fifty miles east of Tokyo I saw a score of trucks, formerly used for vegetable hauling, lined up by the roadside rusting uselessly.

Home industry was concentrated around the factory districts and in many cases integrated with large plants. These domestic industries were in workers’ homes and were prime military targets. Whereas the center of Tokyo was subjected to precision bombing these populated districts were destroyed by incendiary fire. The result is mass homelessness. About two and a half million Tokyoans are estimated to be without shelter. On vacant lots all around the outskirts shanty towns, looking like Hoovervilles of 1932, are growing up. Only the central business district around the Imperial Palace, Imperial Hotel, Dainichi Building, and Tahoe Theatre are untouched.

The Food Situation

Food is practically unobtainable in Tokyo itself. What there is in the country is hoarded by the farmers for the fantastic prices of the black market, tens and hundreds of times larger than the legal prices. People coming into the city for work carry their own food or do not eat. Only a few restaurants are open to the Japanese. Practically the only restaurants are the Imperial, Dainichi, and the Marianaouchi, all in allied hands, and serving occupation troops only. In these, prices of meals are strictly pegged at pre-V.J. Day rates. At the Imperial, a lunch consisting of pea soup, salmon salad, a main entrée of egg plant, cabbage and noodles in sauce, bread, butter, and tea costs ten yen or at the present exchange rate of 67 cents. A supper consisting of Waldorf salad and roast beef, soup, sea food in butter sauce, and entrée of steak and potatoes, tea, and a quart of beer costs nineteen yen ($1.20). I list these menus so that the bareness of the Japanese catering restaurants may be understood, because in these food shops there is simply no menu. Three of the most popular eating places on the Ginza, Tokyo’s Broadway, all have the same unvaried diet for all meals every day: tea (a Japanese cup of tea is equal to about one third of an American glass) without sugar, cream or lemon and tangerine slices in sugared water, both for fifty-nine sen (4 cents). Since almost all food is on the black market, only the wealthy eat well. Tokyoans invariably look worn and thin.

Rice, the chief food staple, is rationed and distributed through government channels. The daily ration of two go a day per person is equal to about a glassful of rice. As in everything else, the wealthy obtain additional rice on the black market, where prices are beyond the reach of working men, millions of whom are unemployed and other millions only recently demobilized. Workers require more rice because of their heavy labor but receive the same official ration as the idle bankers and useless capitalists. So serious is this situation that the Socialist Party is demanding an increase in worker’s rations if starvation is to be prevented and work to be continued. The Fisherman’s Union, to be officially launched on November 1, is making one of its most pressing demands a special rice ration. H. Tahara, organizer of the fishermen, claims that it has become extremely hazardous for men to leave port because in their enfeebled condition, they are often unable to work the nets or save themselves or the boats in case of bad weather.

Black Market and Starvation

Here are some black market conditions: It takes hours to obtain any kind of food. For meat or vegetables you have to go into the country. The legal price of meat is from sixty to eighty sen. The black market price is from 28 to 40 Y a pound. Black market price for rice is from 20 to 50 Y for a day’s ration of two go. Potatoes sell for 18 to 20 yen per pound. American five cent candy bars get 10 to 30 Y. Sugar and salt are almost unobtainable even on the black market. Black market prices are being further inflated by the occupation troops which buy everything in sight and sell cigarettes at 20 Y a pack ($1.33). Every G.I. is a walking black market.

Japan was never self-sufficient in food supplies. Before the war she imported twenty-five per cent of her rice, for instance. This year the bad rains have ruined about ten per cent of the normal rice crop and made a large portion of the rest unobtainable because of limited transportation and destruction of channels of distribution.

Already there is starvation in the streets of Tokyo. I saw several skeletonized men lying in the gutters, hands clasped to their stomach, eyes raised in a plea for food. Meanwhile, the sacred fish continue to swim and are fed regularly in the enormous moat that surrounds the Imperialist Palace in the very center of the city.

The food shortage is well illustrated by the following advertisements which are increasing in number. These are from the October 8th issue of the Nippon Times:

“Wanted, to buy or exchange for cigarettes, all copies of Nippon Times from August 10th to September 30th.”

”Zeiss-Film camera 16mm., also new Olympia Portable and Smith-Corona Typewriters for canned foods, etc.”

Inflation is a real danger. Already most black markets are beyond the popular reach. Barter is increasing because money buys so little. Wages remain stationary, between 100 to 250 Y a month. Unemployment is increasing daily. There are six million unemployed officially recognized and three million girls mobilized for work during the war who have been asked to return to their homes. The work mobilization included all those from twelve to sixty-five. Many of the children are still working at low wages. There is nothing in the program in the present Shidehara Government or MacArthur’s which indicate that relief will come in time to prevent mass starvation. C. Mizutans, leader of the Socialist Party of Japan, stated he expects “starvation of famine intensity to grip the cities of Japan this winter.”

The Clothing Situation

What is true of food is likewise true of other necessities. I did not see a single matched suit of clothes, except uniforms, not even on fairly wealthy persons. People are wearing their very last remnants and these are beginning to fall apart. There are no leather shoes, even on the black market. As shoes wear out, the only substitute available are the wooden clogs called “geta.” The streets, buses, and subway cars resound with the clack of the clogs. Cotton goods of any kind are unobtainable. While only about 15 per cent of the textile spindles were destroyed, there is no raw cotton on hand. It will be a long time before new clothing becomes available. Clothes look shoddy and inadequate as if everyone were wearing their old work clothes. I met a professor of public finance at Meiji University, wearing a grey jacket, black trousers, an unironed dirty shirt, no tie, and clogs on his bare feet. He had just come from the country where he had spent all morning trying to buy meat, which he hadn’t eaten for several months. He told me the suit he was wearing was also the one in which he lectured, in fact his only one, that he had no shoes or socks. There is a story, probably apocryphal, that when Premier Igashkuni, a royal prince of the blood, went to visit MacArthur, he did not wear socks explaining that he had only one pair and was saving those for the winter. Although the weather is already cold and it rained six of the seven days I was in Tokyo, I saw very few people prepared for such weather. I visited a primary school principal who was dressed in a Japanese Army uniform. He explained apologetically that it was his brother’s, who no longer needed it since he had already died of hunger.

The present shortage of food and all other consumers’ necessities is, of course, a direct result of Japan’s defeat. But it is also a consequence of the disastrous policies of the Japanese imperialists. The Japanese people have been underfed through~ out the war. They have been on increasingly shorter rations because of the poor distribution and the ubiquitous black market against which almost no action had been taken. Before the war the ruling classes had exploited the people in order to concentrate on the construction of the war machine. Profits made from the intense exploitation did not go into the establishment of consumer’s goods industries where ancient, domestic type of production continues. This holds for clothing, many types of shoes, and all agriculture. Modern machinery and modern techniques are almost non-existent in these spheres. Farms are seeded and ploughed and harvested with hand tools and draft animals. On the other hand, the ships and planes were among the most modern in the world. The air fields I saw were in many respects superior to the best of American army fields. All the sweat and labor of Japan were channelized into the imperialist war.

The Political Outlook

It is significant that no party in Japan is calling for a constituent assembly. All favor elections, but none demand fundamental changes determined by the people. The liberals of both pre-Tojo parties, with whom I spoke, the Seiyukal and Minseito, were contemptuous of the masses, dividing the blame for Japan’s defeat and misery equally between the militarists and the masses. This is not surprising since these parties had not enjoyed great popularity. The rule of these parties had been characterized by corruption, bureaucratic abuses, and chronic economic crisis which caused general discontent.

The Liberals cannot think in terms other than submission to the conqueror: their liberalism consists of great admiration for American institutions and they desire to transport them to Japanese soil. In editorials and feature article Mainichi, leading liberal daily, teaches that the defeat is for japan’s ultimate good if only she “turn the presence within her boundaries of the occupation army into a medium through which she can better understand America.” Japan failed because of “the less advanced state of our social ethics compared to those of the Western peoples.” And so on ad nauseum. Not feeling intimate relations or responsibility to the people, they speak continually, of “The New Japan” rising from defeat to become a sort of forty-ninth state. But this job is to be done by MacArthur and the occupation troops. They desire a long occupation, speaking easily of ten to twenty years! They do not trust their own abilities to accomplish this change and time has proven this lack of self-confidence to be justified.

Minseito and Seiyukai are not yet reconstituted, but undoubtedly will be before the general election. The few leaders I met were tired old gentlemen, most of them American educated, very busy exonerating themselves from blame for the war, anxious to genuflect to MacArthur and impatiently awaiting the moment when he can use them. They have no ties with the people. They are confused because the ruling class of Japan, the Mitsuis and Mitsibushis are in a state of confusion.

Attitude of the Masses

The masses of people are extremely war weary since for them the war has been going on since 1931 and at an intensified pace since 1936. Privations and hard labor have weakened them physically. Just as they paid for the cost of the war, they are now suffering the brunt of the defeat. They have been tired of the war for a long time. I was told by several Socialists and Minseito men that while many intellectuals became defeatists toward the end of the war, the masses had already been so a long time. American fliers had reported as early as last June that they were being greeted with white flags all over the smaller cities of Kyushu. Today, hatred for the militarists is universal. Reports occasionally leak through of attacks on army officers. In several instances fishermen have refused to sell fish to provision troops. If one considers the years of carefully planned indoctrination in the military code and the allegiance which the military have exacted from the people, this new attitude is a fundamental psychological revolution.

The popular attitude toward the emperor is ambiguous. Many distrust Hirohito but are fearful that an end to the monarchy would further weaken Japan and leave her without stable institutions. But there is also increasing indifference to the fate of the monarchy, as it proves itself incapable of solving the present crisis and as MacArthur continues to attack those previously associated with Hirohito.

The loss of faith in their masters of the past several decades dominates the thinking of the people and makes them as yet indecisive. It is this loss of faith which made possible the easy occupation. The coming of the Americans meant an end to the war and perhaps an end to their oppressive rulers. This was no shift of allegiance to a foreign conqueror, but thorough disillusionment with their own masters and an increasing desire for their defeat as the only way of removing them from power.

Political discussion has been non-existent in Japan since 1938. Even the patriotic societies, including the infamous Black Dragon, were disbanded and the single government party ruled. The ability of the Socialist Party to organize so quickly and the rapid development of trade unions shows the mood of the Japanese working class. Their present recovery is remarkable in view of the general situation. As the people begin to realize that MacArthur is not in Japan to solve the country’s problems but is a representative of foreign imperialism, we may expect a great surge of political organization and action.

World Situation of Japan

At present, and as long as it is occupied, Japan cannot exert any influence on the world scene. The defeat signifies the end of the empire. Japanese capitalism cannot easily adjust to survival without an empire. The capitalists and bankers achieved political power by compromise with feudalism and by thrusting the burdens of both systems on the masses. Japan came on the world scene very late and suffered from a shortage of capital. In order to overcome this shortage, a policy of expansion became necessary. A second method of overcoming the shortage was to make the state a direct and integral part of the economy using its powers of taxation, monopoly grants, imperial household investments and subsidies to provide the capital for construction of large scale industry. Thus, the Japanese state and economy were more intimately interlocked than in any Western nation. Because it began so late, Japanese heavy industry began as a modern machine industry. The result is that her economy is the most highly concentrated in the world. Heavy industry was developed along modern lines at the expense of consumer’s industries, which remained primitive.

The semi-feudal army, closely linked to both the state and the new economic industrialists and bankers took over the reigns of the state when war became inevitable to carry out the necessary imperialist drive for markets and capital. First to fall in the defeat has been this same feudal militarist group. But their defeat signifies the collapse of the imperialist policy for which they were the dynamic force, playing a role not unlike that of the German Nazis.

The economic wealth of the ruling families (Zaibatsai) has been damaged or destroyed. They no longer occupy a position of leadership in Asia and their rule at home is on a precarious basis. They are at the mercy of their imperialist enemies. They are unable to pursue their own policy but are subordinated to America’s domination of the Pacific and Asia. They continue to rule and to control what is left of Japanese economic wealth because the people of Japan have not yet had their say. The American imperialists do not wish to utterly destroy them but only to control their expansive powers. Japanese capitalism cannot exist without an Empire except as a minor subject nation.

The vicissitudes of Big Three politics reduces Japan to the position of a pawn. The end of Japanese imperialism opens Asia wide to American penetration and has already given her unchallenged mastery of the Pacific. It is limited only by the growing demands of Russia, with whom the United States now has a common border, to all practical purposes.

October 19, 1945

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