Political parties had begun to revive almost immediately after the occupation began. Left-wing organizations, such as the Japan Socialist Party and the Japan Communist Party, quickly reestablished themselves, as did various conservative parties. The old Seiyokai and Rikken Minseito came back as, respectively, the Liberal Party (Nihon Jiyuto) and the Japan Progressive Party (Nihon Shimpoto). The first postwar elections were held in 1946 (women were given the franchise for the first time), and the Liberal Party's vice president, Yoshida Shigeru (1878-1967), became prime minister. For the 1947 elections, anti-Yoshida forces left the Liberal Party and joined forces with the Progressive Party to establish the new Democratic Party (Minshuto). This divisiveness in conservative ranks gave a plurality to the Japan Socialist Party, which was allowed to form a cabinet, which lasted less than a year. Thereafter, the socialist party steadily declined in its electoral successes. After a short period of Democratic Party administration, Yoshida returned in late 1948 and continued to serve as prime minister until 1954. [Source: Library of Congress]

Even before Japan regained full sovereignty, the government had rehabilitated nearly 80,000 people who had been purged, many of whom returned to their former political and government positions. A debate over limitations on military spending and the sovereignty of the emperor ensued, contributing to the great reduction in the Liberal Party's majority in the first postoccupation elections (October 1952). After several reorganizations of the armed forces, in 1954 the Self-Defense Forces were established under a civilian director. Cold War realities and the hot war in nearby Korea also contributed significantly to the United States-influenced economic redevelopment, the suppression of communism, and the discouragement of organized labor in Japan during this period.

Continual fragmentation of parties and a succession of minority governments led conservative forces to merge the Liberal Party (Jiyuto) with the Japan Democratic Party (Nihon Minshuto), an offshoot of the earlier Democratic Party, to form the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyu-Minshuto; LDP) in November 1955. This party continuously held power from 1955 through 1993, when it was replaced by a new minority government. LDP leadership was drawn from the elite who had seen Japan through the defeat and occupation; it attracted former bureaucrats, local politicians, businessmen, journalists, other professionals, farmers, and university graduates. In October 1955, socialist groups reunited under the Japan Socialist Party, which emerged as the second most powerful political force. It was followed closely in popularity by the Komeito (Clean Government Party), founded in 1964 as the political arm of the Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), a lay organization of the Buddhist sect Nichiren Shoshu. The Komeito emphasized traditional Japanese beliefs and attracted urban laborers, former rural residents, and many women. Like the Japan Socialist Party, it favored the gradual modification and dissolution of the Japan United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact.

Good Websites and Sources on Post-War Japan : Wikipedia article on the Japanese Economic Miracle Wikipedia ; Jref Article on the Japanese Economic Miracle wa-pedia.com ; Long Blog Report on the Japanese Post-war economy dostoevskiansmiles.blogspot.com ; Yale Paper on the Economic Miracle econ.yale.edu ; Essay on Japan’s Rebirth at the 1964 Olympics aboutjapan.japansociety.org Wikipedia article on the Japanese Red Army Wikipedia ; Yukio Mishima's Suicide dennismichaeliannuzz.tripod.com/finalDay ; Wikipedia article on the Lockheed Scandal Wikipedia ; Websites and Sources: Post World-War-II Japan hartford-hwp.com Essay on Allied Occupation of Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Essay on Postwar Japan 1952-1989 aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Essay on 20th Century Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Birth of the Constitution of Japan ndl.go.jp/constitution ; Constitution of Japan solon.org/Constitutions/Japan ; Takazawa Collection at the University of Hawaii on Social Japanese Social Movements takazawa.hawaii.edu ; Documents Related to Postwar Politics and International Relations ioc.u-tokyo.ac.jp ; Japanese History Websites: ; Wikipedia article on History of Japan Wikipedia ; National Museum of Japanese History rekihaku.ac.jp

Shigeru Yoshida and Politics in Japan After World War II


In 1947 the opposition Japan Socialist Party became the largest force in the lower house and its leader, Tetsu Katayama, became prime minister after the party gained 143 of 466 seats in the lower house election. Forming a coalition was difficult. A month after the election a three party coalition led by Katayama was formed. Prime Minister Hitoshi Ashida resigned in October 1948 to take responsibility for the Showa Denko bribery scandal, in which many Diet members and bureaucrats were arrested.

Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida (1878-1967) led Japan during the postwar period. He is the grandfather of former Prime Minister Taro Aso. He is the only prime minister in the post-war period who stepped down and made a comeback to the post. Yoshida, who was named prime minister five times, first resigned after his party lost in the House of Representatives election.

As a result of the lower house election held under the first Yoshida Cabinet in April 1947, the Japan Socialist Party held the largest number of seats in the lower house while the Japan Liberal Party, led by Yoshida, won the second most seats. Yoshida chose not to form a coalition government with the Democratic Party. Instead his Cabinet resigned en masse in May 1947 based on the philosophy of "the right path for constitutional government." Yoshida believed the head of the largest party should take the reins of government.

Yoshida made formidable strides towards democratic self-government and laid the foundations for the nation's rise as an economic power through low-profile military policy. His main rival was Ichiro Hatoyama, , the first head of the of the LDP. Hatoyama was seen as the most likely person to be prime minister after World War II but initially was barred from running for the office by the Americans for his involvement in the war.

Yoshida was a diplomat-turned politician who had expensive tastes and liked to smoke cigars. Known as “one-man rule premier,” he presided over Japan for a long period and helped lay the foundation for Japan’s success. He established a security relationship with the United States and laid the foundation for the postwar recovery by pursuing a “Light armament and economy-first policy.” He also helped groom several prime ministers that followed him.

Yoshida had a lengthy run as prime minister after his comeback in October 1948, but was forced to dissolve the lower house in March 1953. The March 1953 lower house dissolution is dubbed the "Bakayaro [dumb bastard] dissolution" as it was triggered by a verbal gaffe by Yoshida. During a question-and-answer session of the lower house Budget Committee in February 1953, Yoshida called a lawmaker of the right-wing JSP a "dumb bastard." The group claimed his remark disrespected the Diet and the lawmaker.Yoshida's Liberal Party lost in the subsequent lower house election in April 1953 and his small ruling party struggled to maintain the government.After a no-confidence motion was submitted to the Diet in December 1954, members of the ruling Liberal Party called for the resignation of Yoshida's Cabinet en masse and he eventually decided to step down.

Ichiro Hatoyama and the LDP

Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959), grandfather of the current prime minister, was prime minister of Japan from 1954 to 1956 and the first LDP President.

During World War II Ichiro Hatoyama served as education minister and clashed with Prime Minister Tojo on government policy. For a time he lived in exile in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, where he heard the Japanese Emperor announce Japan’s surrender. While there he read extensively from a book about “fraternal revolution” by the Austrian diplomat Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, who also influenced his grandson and his dream of a united Asia.

After World War II, Ichiro Hatoyama founded the Liberal Party and was expected by many to become prime minister. However, he was purged from the government by the American occupiers on the grounds that his activities in the diet during the war raised some questions.

Hatoyama and Yoshida were two very different men and their battles were legendary. While Yoshida was known for his expensive tastes Hatoyama was regarded as a folksy man of the people. The two leaders split Japan’s conservative block following World War II. When Hatoyama was finally allowed to return to public service he urged Yoshida to support an orderly transfer of power to him. Yoshida snubbed this suggestion and Hatoyama rallied the nation’s “anti-Yoshida forces” and embarked on fierce power struggle with his rival. As head of the Democratic Party Hatoyama eventually wrestled power from Yoshida and became prime minister.

While serving as prime minister, Hatoyama oversaw the merger of the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party in 1955 — a merger of conservative forces to create the Liberal Democratic Party. Hatoyama became the first president of the LDP in 1956.

Ichiro Hatoyama resigned in December 1956 after normalizing diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union and Japan joining the United Nations.

Rapid Growth in Japan in the 1960s

In 1960, Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, regarded as Japan's most charismatic postwar prime minister, challenged Japan to double its income in the next decade. Under the Income Doubling Plan consumption was boosted by cutting taxes, bolstering welfare, raising farm prices and reducing income equality. This ushered in a long period of growth that didn't stall until the oil crisis of 1973. The 58 month period of sustained growth between November 1965 and July 1970 is known as the “Izanagi” boom. Japan became the world’s second largest economy in 1968,

Through the 1960s, Japan had a growth rate of 11 percent (compared to 4.6 percent in West Germany and 4.3 percent in the United States and comparable to the growth rates China has achieved in the 1990s and 2000s), fueled by vigorous investment of private industry in new plants and equipment; a high rate of saving by Japanese households, which provided banks with funds for investment; and the availability of an abundant labor force with a high level of education.

Many ordinary Japanese aspired to get their hands on the "three Cs" — a car, an air conditioner and a color TV. Between 1965 and 1970 the number of households that owned a car jumped from 1 in 20 to 1 in 5. By 1970, 19 out of 20 owned a television.

Protectionism by the United States allowed Japanese companies stop focusing on producing consumer goods and concentrate more on making big things like cars. By 1970, Japan was the third largest industrial nation in the world after the United States and the Soviet Union. Spurred by the Income-Doubling plan of 1960, Japan became the world’s second-largest economy in the early1970s, strong enough to weather the energy crisis and oil shock of the mid 1970s.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann wrote in Forbes: “It is difficult for those who were not there to imagine what a dynamic place Japan was during the 1960s. Japanese, at virtually all levels, were outward looking, internationally curious and eager to learn. As a Frenchman I remember how eager ordinary Japanese students were to discuss Camus, Sartre, Proust and Gide, while taxi drivers, upon asking me for my nationality, would melodiously intone the Japanese versions of French songs such as “Sous les toits de Paris” and “Les Feuilles mortes” until we got to our destination. One such destination was a sushi bar where the chef lectured me on the foreign policy of Charles de Gaulle (and how Japan should learn from him). [Source: Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Forbes, April 24, 2016]

Japanese Post War Politics

The post-war Japanese political scene was characterized by a domination of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), fights and shoving matches in the Diet (the Japanese parliament), and a debate between left-wingers proud of Japan's pacifist status and right-wingers who wanted Japan to be an economic superpower and regain its military strength. The conservatives also pressured the government not to fully apologize to other nations in Asia about atrocities committed in World War II.

The LDP thrived under protection of the United States, and pushed its agenda for “growth, growth, growth” and stamped out opposition. Buruma argued that dependancy on the United States for defense “kept right-wing reactionism alive and polarized political opinion on the one thing where there should have been consensus: the Constitution itself.” Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi worked to amend the Japan-U.S. security treaty. He resigned in July 1960 after achieving the revision of the treaty--but amid disarray caused by radical activists' protest rallies.

The LDP ruled all but 10 months between 1955 and 2000 either with an outright majority or with coalition partners.

Eisaku Sato

Eisaku Sato (1901-1975) was postwar Japan's longest serving prime ministers. He served as prime minster from 1964 to 1972 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 for his work improving relation between Asian countries and getting nuclear weapons removed from U.S. bases in Okinawa. Under Sato Japan’s economic power grew, Okinawa was returned to Japan from the United States.

Documents revealed in 2008 indicate that Sato made a secret deal with U.S. President Richard Nixon, negotiated by Henry Kissinger, in which the United States agreed to return Okinawa to Japan in return for being allowed to keep nuclear weapons on Japanese soil in Okinawa in the case of an emergency. This agreement, which was reportedly signed in a small room off the Oval office in the White House, contradicted a 1967 Japanese declaration which stated that no nuclear weapons would be brought into Japan and a 1969 agreement between Japan and the United States that called for the removal of all nuclear weapons from Okinawa.

Sato resigned in July 1972 just after realizing the return to Japan of Okinawa. But behind that were internal conflicts in the LDP.

Japan Comes of Age

Japan took its place on the world stage as a peaceful nation in October, 1964 when Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Everyone did their part to make the $2 billion sporting event a success, including a member of Imperial family who waited on tables in the athletes village.

Japan seemed to come of age as a technological power at the same time. The Tokyo Olympics were the first to be broadcast live around the world via satellite and 1964 was the year that Japan introduced the Shikansen bullet train, the world fastest train. Restrictions on overseas travel were also lifted that year, unleashing tides of Japanese tourists on the world.

Japan still had a ways to go, however, to reach American and European levels of prosperity. In the 1960s, there were still Japanese farmers who used oxen to plow their fields and pedal-powered threshers to get their rice ready for market. Some families kept their children out of school because they couldn't afford the $125 annual school fees and workers at Seiko earned only $27 a month.

Japan’s embrace of capitalism and democracy was an inspiration for all the countries of Asia.

Kakuei Tanaka and Iron Triangles

Prime Minister Tanaka
Japanese politics in the 1960s and 1970s was dominated by charismatic and corrupt prime minister Kakuei Tanaka, who was credited with creating Japan Inc. and keeping the Liberal Democratic Party in power through a patronage system described as "Iron Triangles."

Tanaka was a populist hero who sang folk songs and appealed to ordinary Japanese. He was nicknamed the "Human Bulldozer" for his fondness for expensive public works projects including one system of roads that allowed him to drive from his office in Tokyo to his office in Niigata, a journey of four hours, making only three turns. Under his stewardship 10-year public works expenditures tripled from $37 billion to $105 billion.

The American writer Richard Katz wrote that Tanaka melded "the corruption of a Ferdinand Marcos and the interest-based politics of a Richard Daley." He made Japan Inc. into a global business powerhouse with his program to "Rebuild the Japanese Archipelago" and forged "Iron Triangles” between business, the bureaucracy and the Liberal Democratic Party. The cornerstone of Iron Triangle patronage system was getting government ministries to approve huge public works programs and granting the contracts to construction companies which employed retired bureaucrats and LDP loyalists and supported the LPD further by getting out the vote for the LDP in the areas where they were based.

When Tanaka visited Shanghai in 1972 he began to stagger after drinking maotai and was from falling by support from Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.

Lockheed Scandal

During Lockheed Scandal, Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka was forced to resign in 1974 as a result or corruption allegations. In 1976, he was arrested for taking bribes in the scandal in which the aircraft maker Lockheed channeled funds to top officials in the Japanese government in return for their help in a deal to sell L-1011 Tri-Star jets to All Nippon Airways.

The Lockheed scandal broke in February 1976 when a Lockheed executive, A. Carl Kotchian, testified before the U.S. Congress that Lockheed gave money to foreign officials to selll Lockheed aircraft. The accusation led to the indictments of 16 Japanese politicians, including Tanaka. Kodama Yoshio, one of the founders of the LDP, was charged with accepting huge payments from Lockheed. Tanaka was convicted in a lower court and died in 1993 while appealing his case to the Japanese Supreme Court.

Oil Embargo and Growth in Japan in the 1970s and 80s

The high economic growth and political tranquillity of the mid to late 1960s were tempered by the quadrupling of oil prices by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973. Almost completely dependent on imports for petroleum, Japan experienced its first recession since World War II. Japan went into a severe recession in 1974 and 1975 after the Arab oil embargo. GDP shrunk 0.5 percent in fiscal 1974 and 4 percent in fiscal 1975 with the worse drop of 13.1 percent occurring the January-March 1974.

In 1973 the Japanese economy was suffering an inflation spiral caused mainly by surging land prices triggered by a nationwide development boom In October of that year, war broke out in the Middle east and Arab oil-producing nation cut supplies to countries that supported Israel. Oil prices quadrupled, consumption declined and high raw material costs hit companies hard.

Again in 1980 Japan suffered from high inflation and recession mainly due large hikes in the price of imported oil. The exchange rate reaches 360 yen to the dollar in the 1970s.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann wrote in Forbes: “The 1970s were a bit more challenging as Japan was hit by the so-called oil shock, following OPEC’s steep rise, accompanied by the “Nixon shock” when the then president took the dollar off the gold standard, resulting, among other things, in the massive appreciation of the yen. Prognostics for Japan were grim. But it turned out to be in many ways Japan’s finest hour: Government and the public undertook dynamic adjustments. Consumption of energy plummeted, and production boomed as energy-saving measures were introduced and Japanese industry gained competitive advantages in miniaturization.” [Source: Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Forbes, April 24, 2016]

Japanese Arrogance in the 1980s

Jean-Pierre Lehmann wrote in Forbes: The 1980s “was when the “Japan as No. 1" syndrome emerged. As the U.S. was economically struggling it was looked upon with scorn, in fact contempt, as was vividly illustrated by the publication of the hubristic book The Japan That Can Say No, coauthored by Sony cofounder and chairman Akio Morita and leading political figure Shintaro Ishihara, who was also known for staunchly denying that the 1937 Nanjing massacre had occurred. [Source: Jean-Pierre Lehmann, Forbes, April 24, 2016]

1974 Honda Civic
Even so economic growth continued at a robust rate through the 1970s and 80s, with the growth in the 1980s about 5 percent a year, about half the growth rate that China experienced in the 2000s. With the help of the oil embargo Japan captured 21 percent of the world's automobile market by the mid 1970s.

By the 1980s, Japan had built up such huge trade surpluses and the yen had become so strong that Japanese businessmen were buying up properties all over the world and Japanese tourists were fanning out to every corner of the globe. Many people thought Japan was poised to dominate the world economically and Japan bashing became a popular conversation topic in the United States and elsewhere.

Image Sources: 1) Sony 2) Toyota 3) 4) 5) 11) Kantei, office of Japanese Prime Minister 6) Japan Olympic Committee 7) 8) 9) 10) the film United Red Army by Koji Wakamatsu 12) Japan 101 13) Honda

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2016

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