Like many other countries Japan has had a troubled past. They have gone through many struggles throughout the past 75 years of their history. They have gone through many stages of knowing who they are as people and not knowing their national identity. There was a time when the Japanese people were in total dismay and were struggling to come to terms with what their country had done and the results of the war they took part in and there was also a time when Japan was in full bloom and in a powerful position economically, but they still were coming to terms of their new national identity. In both times the Japanese people were struggling to come to terms with their national identity.
Imagine a country that had believed that they were fighting a holy war for over a decade. Their leader has sworn to die before surrender and that defeat is not an option. Then one day the emperor comes on the radio of your local village and announces defeat and surrender, which crippled the nation. This happened to the Japanese people when Emperor Hirohito announced their surrender on August 15, 1945. With this surrender came a period in Japanese history that is commonly known as the post-war era or the occupation.
The time after the war was a true struggle for the Japanese people because of a multitude of reasons. One major reason was the fact that their whole country was in ruins, and there was only one city that had not been bombed to the ground. This meant that Japan had to start from the ground up. They had to deal with the fact they lost this war that had been going on for many years and had no thought in their mind that they would lose but are now faced with reality and how they are going to overcome this.
The Japanese people were ashamed of this failure and were overcome with grief that they had failed to meet the expectations of their emperor Hirohito and caused him grief. (Dower,37) The Japanese people had this mindset that they would blindly follow their emperor and when they lost the war, they were faced with this problem of trying to come to terms with the war and the atrocities that happened during that time period. With all of these feelings of shame from defeat arising, it did not help Japanese males seeing their beautiful women hanging around the American occupation soldiers instead of them. This caused many Japanese males to fall even further into depression and rage towards themselves and the situation that they found themselves in. This eventually led into these types of people to resent the emperor for surrendering. Overall the occupation was a time where the Japanese had to find a way to get past the war time mind set and finding a new national identity which would help them move on to rebuilding their country.
In the movie called “The Burmese Harp” it showed the two different types of mindsets that the Japanese had during the occupation. There was the war time mind set that saw what the emperor did was cowardly and not honorable. Then there was the person with the mindset that look forward to rebuilding their country and was excited for the war to be over. This type of person was what the government wanted the people of Japan to be like and looked at them as a role model citizen. With the war-time thought process these people had a hard time coming to terms with the defeat and finding what they stood for as a country.
The final big problem that the Japanese people had to deal with was the aftermath of the atomic bombs, and their victims. Japan after the war became a major advocate for countries to no longer use nuclear weapons for warfare because of their massive amount of power and devastation that they put out. They spoke about the atrocities that happened because of the bombs and how it affected the country and the people who suffered at the cost of them. They took to the world as a victim of the war and not the monster of it. They advocated for the victims of the bombs to the world, but they would treat them poorly as if they were infected with a virus that they could catch if they got to close to them so the victims couldn’t get the help they really needed. As Tada Makiko say in her article, “Even though I go out to work for the unemployment bureau and get livelihood protection for the poor, I have nothing but problems.”. (Makiko, 177) The Japanese took the event of the bombs as a positive way of looking to the world as the victim of a terrible and tragic event that could have been avoided. This became one of their national identities that can be seen all the way into the present day.
This led to another identity crisis that the survivors of the bombs felt and that was the guilt they had for surviving while some of their friends suffered and died. They didn’t think they deserved to live because of the things they had done in order to survive such as leaving others behind while they walked away. In truth they were only trying to survive themselves, but they had to come to terms that they chose to live and not die by trying to help others after the bombs hit. Some Japanese people felt ashamed they didn’t help others as they passed the rubble, even when they were in no condition themselves to offer help.
Once the US occupation ended in May of 1955, Japan saw a period of high economic growth and social change. Japan’s economy boomed throughout the mid 1950’s all the way until the early 1970’s, this era would be called the “Japanese Miracle”. This was a time that Japan was able to get back on their feet and come back into the eyes of the world as a civilized nation. The main reason that Japan was able to have this mass amount of economic growth was due to them exporting all their products and receiving very few imports. Japan would manufacture raw materials that they imported and would export more expensive items in return. “In gross national product per person, Japan surpassed the United States in 1977 or 1978, according to varying estimates by economists.” (Vogel, 21). This was extremely impressive at the time since the United States was a world leading power in economics.
While Japan was in a good place economically, they were still struggling with all the new pressures that society had but on business and school. Everything came down to what school you went to and how well you did in that school. School was not a place many children felt comfort in because of the stress that came with the amount of school work that was forced upon them and even when they were done with that work, they had to go to cram school which produced even more work for them to do. There were massive amounts of pressure for a student to do well in school or else they will fail at life.
The competition of school was intense considering that there were only a limited number of spots in universities. This kind of environment created a stressful one not only on the children but on the parents of the child. “Parents would have to consider the chances their child had to get into a university and the cost of attending the university carefully in order to see investments returned.” (Rohlen, 83). The application forms that the student needed to submit had a significant cost just to be considered an applicant of the college.
It was because of these factors that the Japanese ended up changing their national identity again to something of workaholics, and the fact that they were extremely hard working. The amount of work they do even as children was extremely weird to the rest of the world. This sense of fear grew in Americans because they didn’t see Japanese people trying to further themselves, but only saw what they were like in the years leading up to the war and that was robots. They thought it was impossible for people to work that long and not complain at all. They started to see the Japanese people as not human anymore and were scared they would try to take over their country not with military force, but with economic forces.
Japanese children had no sense of childhood because of this huge pressure of school. “Doctors have reported the rising incidences of adult diseases among school aged children.” (Field, 53). These diseases were types that should not be present in children because they are stress related, such as high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol. “There were also more cases of early hair loss that were directly related to the stresses of school and bullying in school.” (Field, 53). This was some of the major problems that this new society had caused in Japan for the children.
The stresses of the more competitive school system were not only felt by the student but also felt by the mothers that were supposed to take care of the children and make sure they have what they need in order to succeed in life. “If and when a child slips, the responsibility lies with the mother.” (Alison, 136). This quote from Alison explains what the society thought the job of the mother was and if the child failed all the blame would be placed on the mother for doing a terrible job.
During this period there was much stress added to the lives of the Japanese in order to get a good job. They struggled again with their national identity because of the added stresses that society put on them. This made them become less aware of their surroundings and solely focused on their performance at work and school. This was clearly shown in the movie “Family Game” when the family is just continuing their conversation about school and work while the tutor starts throwing food and destroying the dinner table. The family does not ever take notice of this scene and just continues have their conversation. This showed that the Japanese people were only focused on their career and had lost the every day connection of life they use to have such as helping another person in need.
Japan in a sense has been everywhere on the economic spectrum and no matter where they were, they seemed to struggle with their national identity as a whole. They also had a concentration of smaller groups dealing with other identities because of certain events that had taken place during that time period. So, while these two time periods were on opposite sides of the spectrum, they still had many similarities with one another.
For instance, in the occupation era you had the struggle of war memory and that mind set of death before surrender and to follow the emperor’s commands without fail. Then in the Japanese Miracle era you had the thought that the Japanese people had the same mindset of follow orders without thinking by only caring about how your actions would affect the company you are employed at. Then you had the struggle and pressures of society that it had on the people such as children and mothers during the Japanese Miracle. This can be related to the pressures that the Japanese people felt after the war when they had to rebuild their country from the ground up and constantly trying to get back in the global circle.
There were also the smaller groups struggles such as the survivors of the bombs who felt guilty that they survived and not their friends that had died around them. This can be related to the entrance exams of universities in the 1970’s where there were many students who got accepted into the university they applied to, where their friend did not get accepted which in evidently resulted them be separated.
- Makiko, Tada “My husband does not return”. The atomic bomb; voices form Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ed. Kyoko and Mark Selden. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1989. 173-181
- Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. Penguin, 2000.
- Vogel, Ezra F. “The Japanese Miracle” Japan as Number One: Lessons for America. New York, NY: Harper Colophon Books, 1980. 8-23
- Rohlen, Thomas, P. “University entrance exams: a national obsession” Japan’s High Schools. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983 77-93
- Field, Norma; Stephens, Sharon “The child as laborer and consumer: the disappearance of childhood in contemporary Japan” Children and the politics of culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995 51-79
- Allison, Anne; Imamura, Anne E. “Producing mothers” Re-imaging Japanese Women. Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 1996 135-155