Life Magazine_Emperor and Empress 3

These are fascinating pictures of Emperor Hirohito and the Empress in the summer of 1964. Taken from the September 11, 1964 issue of Life Magazine, these black and white photos reveal the Emperor to be a somewhat ordinary man, grandfatherly, academic. In fact, the couple looks like they’re having fun looking for mollusks.

The magazine even quotes the Emperor describing the “umi ushi” they found. “This is an easygoing chap, not in the least alarmed at being caught.”

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Americans who saw this set of pictures in Life Magazine were probably surprised to see a totally different Emperor Hirohito. Perhaps their memory of him was a leader who sent suicide dive bombers to attack Pearl Harbor, or drove soldiers to kill themselves in the name of the Emperor rather than be captured by Allied forces. But to see the Emperor at all in the 1960s was due to efforts by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the entity that governed Japan in the post-war years, as well as members of the Japanese government.

After World War II, in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat at the hands of overwhelming American military firepower, one would think there would be too much concern over what to eat, where to sleep, and how they will cope the next day for people to care about the Emperor, and whether the imperial family as an institution should be maintained.

And yet, support for continuing the imperial throne was strong, a survey in October, 1945 revealing “widespread enthusiasm or deep awe and veneration comparable to that of the war years,” according to John Dower in his seminal book, Embracing Defeat. While forceful calls for the dethronement of Emperor Hirohito and elimination of the imperial system in Japan were common in America and other allied nations, the head of SCAP, General Douglas MacArthur, agreed that it was important to keep the emperor in place.

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Dower quoted a memo from Brigadier General Bonner Fellers to MacArthur about the reasons why the Emperor should remain as a symbol of Japan, emphasizing the fact that the Emperor, by going on the radio and announcing Japan’s defeat and need to lay down arms, “hundreds of thousands of American casualties were avoided and the war terminated far ahead of schedule.” in the case of trying the Emperor for war crimes, Fellers argued that “the governmental structure would collapse and a general uprising would be inevitable.”

SCAP was therefore insistent that Hirohito remain as Emperor, and not be tried for war crimes. In place of a deity as the head of Japan, SCAP sought to “humanize” the Emperor. A big part of those efforts were sending the Emperor on tours across the nation to meet the people in 1946. SCAP made sure pictures were taken and film was shot to document the Emperor walking amidst his people, a scenario unthinkable during and before the war years.

Life Magazine_Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince
Then Crown Prince Akihito Crown Princess Michiko and Current Crown Prince
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homeless in postwar japan
Hundreds of Japanese jam the Ueno railway station in Northeast Tokyo, on Oct. 26, 1945, these windy autumn nights seeking shelter. Homeless, the old and the young huddle together on thin matting and old newspapers, and try to sleep. Many are starving. Police estimate there are two of three deaths nightly from starvation. (AP Photo)

At the end of World War II, in 1945, there were 9 million Japanese left homeless, primarily due to the devastation wrought by B-29s and their bombing raids for nearly a year.

With 80% of all ships destroyed, 33% of all industrial machine tools destroyed, 25% of all trains and cars destroyed, and with the allied-ruled governing body, led by General Douglas MacArthur, imposing a rule of law that prioritized dispersing of Japanese assets to allied victors, the economy was in ruins.

Hunger and malnutrition were the norm, as Japanese managed to live off of 550 to 1,100 calories per day, about 25 to 50% the minimum required to maintain health.

The years after the end of the war was a desperate time for Japanese. Historian John Dower referred to this post-war malaise in his book, Embracing Defeat, as kyodatsu, a Japanese word for the collective depression that fell on the country. After all, when the Emperor got on the radio on August 15, 1945 to announce that the war had ended, they had not only heard the voice of a divine being for the first time, after years of being told of the need to fight to the end, they were suddenly told to stop their resistance, and to continue to live and work towards Japan’s recovery.

The immediate meaning of ‘liberation’ for most Japanese was not political but psychological. Surrender – and, by association, the Allied victory, the American army of occupation itself – liberated them from death. Month after month, they had prepared for the worst; then, abruptly, the tension was broken. In an almost literal sense, they were given back their lives. Shock bordering on stupefaction was a normal response to the emperor’s announcement, usually followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of relief. But that sense of relief all too often proved ephemeral.

Malnutrition poster 1946_Dower

From John Dower’s Embracing Defeat.

On top of all that, the post-war period saw the return of countrymen and women who served in other parts of Asia in the military or as civilians working in Japanese organizations. From October 1, 1945 to December 31, 1946, about 5.1 million repatriated back to Japan, adding to the misery of Japan that already had too few jobs and too little food for those already in the country.

An early first-hand account was written by AP journalist, Russell Brines, in his book, MacArthur’s Japan, who described a Japan unrecognizable today. Here’s how he described the repatriation of Japanese soldiers and civilians from abroad.

Men, women and children – tired and dirty – plodded off the ship, wound past the American sentry and pushed up a hill toward a weather beaten building. They stood like cattle while doctors deloused them, then walked to the railroad station. As they waited for trains, gloomy and apprehensive, commuters eyed them stiffly before hurrying away. Only relatives gave them a smile or a soft word. They soon learned the rest of Japan was too busy – or just unconcerned – to give them much thought to the cycle of fate that had deposited them like rubbish on their nation’s doorstep.

Jammed, filthy trains took them to all parts of the homeland. Some had been away as long as eight years. They returned to blowsy cities, tiny villages or drab farms; to the narrow, contained life they had left for conquest. Many found stony neighbors, silently condemning them for sharing in defeat or for failing to die, as custom decreed. Others encountered resentment from people miserly over food and patched clothing. Some located only ashes where their homes had been and only vagueness when they searched for missing relatives.

The sifting of lives continues, day by day, behind paper-curtained little homes. Men returned to find their “widows” remarried. Some wives had become streetwalkers, through necessity or restlessness. Women had lost some of their obedience and most of their patience. The fabric of prearranged, loveless marriages was too weak in many cases to survive long separation and irritable reconciliation. For the first time, women became complainants in divorce suits; including one whose husband brought back a native wife and two children from Borneo.

Jobs were scarce, money useless and the new life confusing. Those who returned swaggering, found no one willing to cringe before them, as had subject peoples. Those who came back ashamed and penitent found no pity. Only the opportunists profited, the men who had kept their eyes open to all the sharp practices they saw abroad.

Shinjuku After the War
Shinjuku right after World War II

 

“I was born in Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1947. It was a bombed out city, and Shinjuku was a rowdy part of the city – the black market area, an area where prostitutes walked,” recollected gymnast, Makoto Sakamoto. “I remember returnee soldiers with no legs, stumps, playing the accordion, with a jar for money.”

You can see a bit of what it was like in Tokyo in this British Pathe stock film of Tokyo in 1946 – Japanese getting on with their daily lives amidst the rubble.

Sakamoto’s father moved the family to California in 1955, but in those seven years young Makoto lived in Tokyo, his home country underwent a complete overhaul. He grew up under the Allied occupation of Japan, led by General Douglas MacArthur. He could see cottage industries, roads, houses, buildings sprout up around him. He may not have realized it, but the near-dead Japanese economy began to grow at a tremendous pace as the pulse of normalcy and optimism became the steady beat of Japanese society.

He remembers watching his brothers in foot races, encouraging him to eat cheese so that he would have the power to run with them. He remembers getting cleaned up in the public baths with his mother. And he recalls their home in Shinjuku, before they moved out to a better part of Tokyo, was very near the Musashino-kan, a movie theater in that still exists in the heart of Shinjuku. The business of movie theaters were booming in Japan, and was a reflection of a growing consumer class, as well as a need to escape the stress of re-building their homes and a nation.

Years later, Sakamoto would return to Tokyo as an American citizen to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. He came back to a gleaming, modern city. The American occupation had ended in 1952. The Korean War had kickstarted the Japanese post-war economy as the American military procured a lot of materials and goods from Japan for its war effort in Korea. By the time 1964 Olympics rolled around, Japan was the pleasant surprise of the East, a land of industry, modernity and quiet cool and exoticism.

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17-Year-old Makoto Sakamoto returns to Japan representing the US Men’s Gymnastics team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

Here is more British Pathe footage of Tokyo in the 1950s. It shows a rising middle class, businessmen at a restaurant, women working at a rubber boots manufacturer, children doing their morning exercises on the school grounds, as well as men and women in suits and dresses walking along wide sidewalks.

Sakamoto attended school in Los Angeles where he would emerge as America’s top gymnast. At the Tokyo Games, he finished 20th overall, best on the US team, but in no position to muscle past the great competitors from Japan, Russia and Germany. He would continue to be America’s best gymnast through 1972, and would go on to be assistant coach to the US men’s gymnastics team that finally won gold in 1984.

But in 1964, Sakamoto was back home, competing only 2 kilometers from where he was born. “I remember walking down a cobblestone road, going to the public bath with my mother,” Sakamoto told me when reminiscing about his childhood. “My mom would look up and say, ‘there are a lot of stars tonight. It will be a beautiful day tomorrow.’”

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Aileen Riggin at the 1920 Antwerp Games

Belgium put in their bid for the 1920 Olympics in 1912. Little did they know that Archduke Ferdinand would be assassinated in 1914, sparking World War I. Germany overran Belgium, clearly overriding any planning for the Olympics. In fact, the Olympics in 1916 were cancelled.

But when the war ended in 1919, Antwerp was selected to hold the 1920 Summer Games.

Over 9 million soldiers died in World War I. Around 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. The invasion of Belgium by Germany is often called “The Rape of Belgium“, during which over 27,000 Belgians were killed by German soldiers, an additional 62,000 died of hunger or due to lack of shelter, and one and a half million Belgians fled the country.

Aileen Riggin was part of the first ever US women’s team in the Olympics, which competed at the 1920 Antwerp Games. She got to Belgian in the SS Princess Matoika, which was known as the Death Ship as it had transported war dead from Europe to the US. In the book, Tales of Gold, Riggin shared memories that showed the war was still very much in the minds of people living and competing in Antwerp. As Riggin was a 14-year-old girl at the time, I simply cannot imagine how she felt.

“When we were not training, we went on several trips around Antwerp in our truck, and one was to the battlefields. The mud was so deep that we could not walk, so we stopped along the line and bought some wooden shoes and learned how to walk in them. They were not too comfortable but they did protect our feet from the mud. I do not know how we happened to be allowed on the battlefields, because they had not yet been cleared.”

“In places they were still the way they were in 1918, when the Armistice was declared. We even picked up shells and such things and brought them home as souvenirs. There were trenches and pillboxes and things like that scattered about the fields, and we looked into some of them, and they were deep in water. There were some German helmets lying on the field, and we brought some home with us. I picked up a boot and dropped it very hurriedly when I saw that it still had remains of a human foot inside. It was a weird experience, and we were glad to leave. It must have taken them another year to clear off the battlefields from the way we saw them. They were in shambles.”

Aileen Riggin On the Victory Stand
Aileen Riggin on the victory stand, from the book “Tales of Gold”
How a war devastated country could take on an international event while still in a “shambles” is hard to imagine. But the Belgian authorities did what they could, improvising in some ways. For example, the diving competition was held in a large ditch at the base of an embankment, created as a form of protection if a war were to come to Belgium. Riggin, who competed as a diver, describes the venue.

“On our second day in Antwerp an army truck came to drive us to the stadium where we were to swim. Words fail me in describing our first view of this place. I had never seen anything like it. it was just a ditch. I believe they had had rowing races there at one time. There were  boardwalks around the pool – I have to call it a pool – to mark the ends. In the center

From the back cover of a special magazine on the Olympics, called
From the back cover of a special magazine on the Olympics, called “Tokyo Olympiku Special Edition, Tokyo Shimbun”

“The rising sun, the flames of the Olympic torch and the green grass of the stadium – what you saw in black and white in Rome, you can now see in color!” According to this ad, for about JPY200,000 you can be the proud owners of a 1964 Toshiba Color Television! The ad goes on to claim how America is buying up this TV due to its “wonderful” color technology.

By 1964, Japan’s economy had grown so robustly that 90% all households in Japan owned all of the so-called “three sacred treasures” – a television, a refrigerator and a washing machine. But of course, it was time to get an upgrade on that black and white clunker that was so 1950s, and buy a 1964 Toshiba Color Television!

The phrase, “three sacred treasures” (三種の神器 Sanshu no Jingi / Mikusa no Kandakara), is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the three items (a sword, a mirror and a jewel) that were brought from the heavens and granted to the first Emperor of Japan (a very long time ago). It is said that these items actually exist and the presentation of these treasures to a new emperor is still a significant part of the ascension ceremony.

Ernie Pyle Theater

A day in the life of a G.I. in Tokyo during the Post-War years of the Allied occupation must have been surreal. Life bustled on wide, clean streets around the Dai Ichi Insurance Building, where the headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (GHQ) was located while the rest of Tokyo was clearing war rubble, scrambling to subsist, and figuring out how to rebuild.

As described in Post 2, the work arrival and departure times at GHQ of the great General Douglas MacArthur was considered a treat by passersby in those years of 1945 to 1951.

While MacArthur worked long hours seven days a week, it is said that he loved to watch movies. According to this eyewitness in the Armchair General bulletin board, the General watched a move every evening at his residence at the American Embassy compound. As E. H. Freeman, a member of the Honor Guard stated, he would sometimes join in the private viewing.

He was not a particularly social man. His main form of relaxation was watching movies, which he did seven days a week– then dinner around 10:00. One of the “perks” of being an Honor Guard was the fact that the first 35 men to sign the roster could see the movies as well. He sat in an over-stuffed chair in the center of three; his wife Jean to his right; Maj. Story, his pilot to his left. The first thing he did was to light a cigar. We enjoyed going to the movies at the “Big House” as we were able to get first run films. ahead of everyone else.

For the thousands of Americans supporting the effort in Tokyo, watching movies were one of the major forms of entertainment. The movie theater was only a five-minute walk away from GHQ – the old Takarazuka Theater in Yurakucho, which was taken over by GHQ and re-purposed as a theater for allied military. To make it clear, the theater was re-named The Ernie Pyle Theater, named after the famous and popular American war journalist, who died in action in a small island named Iejima, north of Okinawa.

Norman A. Kuehni wrote in Armchair General that he worked in GHQ from 1947-48, helping to publish a brief called the GHQ Daily Bulletin, which included information on the latest at the Ernie Pyle Theater.

I was a Tech 4 and our office was responsible for publishing the GHQ Daily Bulletin along with other duties. Our daily duties included a trip to the Ernie Pyle theater to acquire the current movie schedules. We often visited the Ginza when fulfilling this duty.

The sign for The Ernie Pyle Theater was no more after the Allied Occupation ended in 1952. The original Takarazuka Theater, which was built in 1934, was unfortunately demolished in 1998. The theater was re-born in 2001, another remnant of those Post-War years found only in old pictures.

New Takarazuka Theater

Grave of the Fireflies 1

Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓 Hotaru no Haka) was released in 1988, in hindsight, a surprisingly sober film from Studio Ghibli, the production company that has brought the world such wondrous animated films as My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.

I watched it for the first time this week.

Destruction in war time, no matter which side of a conflict you’re on, is hard to comprehend in times of peace, or in the security of your living room, in front of a large flatscreen TV. And yet, in Grave of the Fireflies, the director, Isao Takahata, transports us to Kobe, Japan, in the waning days of World War II – a time of routine air raids, frantic dashes to air raid shelters, and fruitless attempts to extinguish the fires of napalm bombs dropped from American B-29s.

Over 60 cities in Japan were bombed in the months leading to the war’s end on August 15, 1945, including Kobe, a port city that was a major industrial center, particularly for shipbuilding.

Takahata, based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, tells the semi-autobiographical story of a brother, Seita, and his younger sister, Setsuko, who are orphaned when their mother dies from full-body burns in a air raid, and their father in the Imperial Navy perishes in the Pacific. They stay at an aunt’s home, but as the days pass, the siblings feel they are an unwelcome burden, and leave to survive on their own in an abandoned cave. Their resources dwindling, the two make do, but eventually, Setsuko, and finally, Seita, succumb to the slow death of malnutrition and starvation.

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John Dower, who wrote the book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, wrote of the stigma and the challenges that returning soldiers, war widows, and war orphans faced, driven in part by the culture of the country.

Despite a mild Buddhist tradition of care for the weak and infirm, despite Confucian homilies about reciprocal obligations between social superiors and inferiors, and despite imperial platitudes about all Japanese being “one family” under the emperor, Japan was a harsh inhospitable place for anyone who did not fall into a “proper” social category.

In the early stages of the post-war period in mid-1946, the Ministry of Health and Welfare estimated there about 4,000 war orphans in Japan, but that number climbed to over 120,000 eighteen months later.

According to Dower, the war orphans lived by their wits doing anything they could to survive, “shining shoes, selling newspapers, stealing, recycling cigarette butts, illegally selling food coupons, begging,” with teenage girls ending up prostituting themselves to get by.

orphan children post war japan
Grave of the Fireflies powerfully brings the war orphan experience alive – a desperate experience – and one in the thoughts of the late, great film critic, Roger Ebert that speaks to the unfairness of war in its lack of precision, by showing the innocent nature of these two children, and the agonizing specifics of their circumstances.

I’ve seen a lot of war films. Many of them are exciting, or moving, or dramatic or artistically effective. And a few of them reach you at an emotional level and not just at an action level. I was amazed the first time I watched Grave of the Fireflies that I was actually moved just about to tears by this film. This film has an emotional breadth involving war, and the results of war, and two victims of war that is astonishing.

I think this movie is saying that firebombing is not a very precise way of going after the enemy. It’s a way to destroy morale, a way to break down a nation’s will to resist, but at the same time, are we really thinking about people like this little brother and his even smaller sister, when we drop these bombs. Or are we managing to objectify the Japanese as an evil race who deserve to have this happen to them.

So many decades later, in the 21st century, many around the world have little visceral understanding of the immediate post-war period, their understanding based on text books and dry historical explanations. But Grave of the Fireflies, considered one of the best animated films ever produced, brought that difficult time in history to life, a powerful reminder of what the stakes are when we go to war, and what depths Japan emerged from to get to where it is today – a nation where some of the most beautiful and touching animated works of art have been created.

 

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A New Year’s Eve tradition in Japan is to watch NHK’s “Kouhaku”, which is a five-hour songfest of live music that continues on until just before midnight. This is a light-hearted battle between women singers and bands (“kou” or “red”) and male singers and bands (“haku” or “white”).

This year, singer Kouhei Fukuda performed the 1963 hit, “Tokyo Gourin Ondo”(東京五輪音頭), which roughly translates to The Tokyo Olympic Dance Song.

In 1963 and 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, Tokyo Gourin Ondo would go on to sell 1.3 million records, and in some ways, made the singer of that song, Haruo Minami, the face of the Tokyo Olympics. Minami was already a well known singer in Japan, performing the popular music of the time which would later be referred to as enka. Minami stood out because he performed in kimono, which was not common for men in the 1950s.

But what makes Minami very interesting is his war past, or more accurately, his post-war past. At the age of 20 in 1944, Minami (probably under his actual name Bunji Kitazume), was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in Manchuria. Just after the Pacific War ended in August, 1945, Minami and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese were captured by the Soviet Union army. Minami eventually served four years of hard labor in Khaborosk, which is in Siberia.

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Repatriated Japanese soldiers returning from Siberia wait to disembark from a ship at Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan in 1946
Although about 60,000 of approximately 600,000 Japanese POW died in the Siberian labor camps, Minami stayed alive until 1949 when he was allowed to return to Japan.

According to a music critic, it is said that Minami sang this song with such passion because of how hard Japan has worked to re-build after the war, and nobody understood that more than a man who returned from the labor camps of Siberia.

Here is Haruo Minami performing “Tokyo Gourin Ondo” at Kouhaku, on either December 31, 1963 or 1964.

Dicki + Camera
Dick Lyon and his Bronica.

Dick Lyon was in Japan for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and was a member of the bronze-medal winning team of the American coxless fours. And after a tense week of competition in the week of the Tokyo Olympiad, Lyon had a week to enjoy the Olympics as a spectator, and Japan as a tourist.

Lyon and his friends ventured into a public bath, bought sweets in a Ginza boutique, got around in subways and taxis, took the newly-launched Bullet Train to Kyoto, and climbed Mt Fuji.

Like so many athletes, Lyon bought a camera – a Bronica SLR, from a company called Zenza Bronica, founded by Zenzaburo Yoshino. Yoshino was fascinated by photography and cameras, and started a small camera store in Kanda, Tokyo, selling foreign cameras.

Eventually, Yoshino’s business became very popular among GI’s during the Allied post-war occupation of Japan. With profits from his store, Yoshino invested in a factory to manufacture luxury watch cases and lighters. Soon after he was also manufacturing cameras of his own design, the Bronica.

Lyon shared with me some of the pictures he took with his Bronica, a fascinating look into a time capsule from 1964.

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Children on a street in Tokyo – It’s late October, and undoubtedly a tad chilly, but kids in Japan, then and now, are commonly seen wearing shorts in the Fall.

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A little girl skipping rope – no social commentary here, just a wonderful shot of a girl having a fun time!

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Two elderly gentlemen in Tokyo – this is likely in front of a small light manufacturing operation or repair shop, with two members of the commerce association of some town in Tokyo called Tagawa. I love the Olympic lantern – would love to find one that still exists!

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A bricklayer at work – A wonderful shot of a day laborer, likely prepping the façade of a building for a set of steps, as an elderly lady looks on.

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A day laborer taking a rest – This somewhat elderly man is wearing the shoes of the farmer or construction worker: the “tabi,” with its distinctive split-toe design. Since this is Tokyo, he was probably employed in construction. The hat, however, is a nice touch.

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A man on his “Ri-ya-kaa”– Here’s a gentleman who owns his own business, or works for a business that needs to transport heavy items, like alcohol bottles, sacks of rice or bags of vegetables. This vehicle is called “ri-ya-kaa” based on an extrapolation of an English word: “side car”. The side car is the carriage that you sometimes see attached to a motorcycle. The Japanese figured if you can call that part a “side car”, then attaching something similar to the back could be called a “rear car”. (I didn’t know this!)