The Democratisation of Japan after World War II

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

13 Pages, Grade: A (1,5)



Table of Contents


Japan before World War II

Japanese – American Relations before World War II

American involvement in Japan after the War

The Issue of Emperor Hirohito

The Status of the Emperor

The Constitution

The Red Threat

The Withdrawal




The purpose of this paper is to examine the democratisation of Japan after the Second World War. This is a particularly interesting subject, as Japan did not only democratise but also rose to become one of the most powerful economic nations on earth. I will argue that this is partly due to the American occupation that helped Japan to a privileged partnership with their former occupants – the worlds most powerful economy. Thus, my focus will be on the American influence on the democratisation process in Japan. I will, however, first provide a brief description of the time that preceded the democratisation process and then examine to the extent which the American occupants have shaped the Japanese post-war reconstruction. Finally, the reasons for the American withdrawal will be scrutinised.

Japan before World War II

Throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s militarism and extreme nationalism shaped the Japanese political culture. This nationalism had different origins. There was the principle of kokutai on the one hand. This principle was the idea that the nation was organically tied to the monarchy and that the emperor was a direct ancestor of the gods, and therefore divine, making every citizen a partly divine creature. On the other hand the Japanese military had subdued vast areas of China and Korea and made them their colonies.

Through the Meiji Restoration in 1889 the country had opened up to the West and their ideas, but the dominant ideology was semi-fascist. Supported by the members of the army, decadent Western influence was met by decry because it supposedly had damaging effects on Japan. From a militarist perspective, the country with “puritanical, Spartan-like native virtues” was in danger of becoming a “ profit-mad, materialistic, compliant – lackey of the West”.[1] To save Japan from this degrading fate, militarists called upon patriotism, nativism, Shintoism, Pan-Asianism and other elements with great enthusiasm[2]. In pursuit of their ideology, militarists in the army high command had advanced their power by taking advantage of intimidation and assassination incidents staged by persons even more extreme in their views, by taking advantage of them through “artificially” created war emergencies.

Although the Japanese state was still run by an oligarchic dictatorship with the Emperor on top, it included institutions and practises capable of being used later within the democratisation process. Among them were the parliament, the cabinet, elections and a constitutional monarchy, namely the Meiji constitution of 1868.

Japanese – American Relations before World War II

The Japanese were deeply suspicious of the USA and their expansionist policies in the Pacific Ocean in the early 20th century, as the Japanese wanted to be the only thriving force in the region. The USA had constantly gained influence in the pacific region due to the annexations of Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines, all in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Economically, the two countries were fierce competitors too.

Furthermore, racist tendencies could not only be detected in Japan but also in the US, which became obvious when the United States opposed a clause in the Charter of the League of Nations which would have affirmed the equality of all races. This cooled down the relations between Japan and the United States even further.[3] Tensions built up and having secured the neutrality of Italy and Germany in the Tripartite Pact of September 1940, these tensions resulted in the Japanese raid on Peal Harbor on 7 December 1941. This attack triggered the involvement of the United States of America in World War II.[4]

US American involvement in Japan after the War

Accumulation of Power in US American Hands

After the drop of two nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945, Japan surrendered on 2 September, 1945, after having entered the War on the Axis’ side on December 7, 1940..[5]

The articles of surrender were signed on deck of the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. The USA were determined to get involved as much as possible with the democratisation process in Japan. As mentioned above, they had constantly gained influence in the pacific region and by taking over the major responsibilities in Japan this influence was even more expanded. These responsibilities were given to the United States. in accordance with the Potsdam Conference Declaration.

Soon after the surrender of Japan, General Mac Arthur was appointed by the US American President Harry Truman to control the reconstruction and democratisation in the country as the head of the Supreme Command of the Allied forces (SCAP). As Arthur increasingly monopolised all the decision-making powers with his position, in December 1945 the Allied Forces established an agency that was supposed to be the top strategic decision-making institution related to the management of the occupation of Japan. The Far Eastern Commission (FEC), was made up of thirteen countries[6] from the region and beyond and its headquarters were in Washington D.C.. Decisions made by the FEC were sent as orders to the SCAP via the U.S. government. Although the Allied Powers held the power to veto decisions made in the committee, the United States had the ability to issue directives

(Interim Directive Authority) in emergency situations without waiting for the decision of the FEC.[7] So the American influence even within the FEC was overwhelming.

Douglas Mac Arthur was the man who shaped the post-war period and the reestablishment of a working Japanese government the most. His ideas on how to implant democracy into Japan were summarised in his memoirs: ”First destroy the military power. Punish war criminals. Built the structure of representative government. Modernize the constitution. Hold free elections. Enfranchise the women. Release political prisoners. Liberate the farmers. Establish free and responsible press. Encourage a free economy. Abolish police oppression. Decentralize political power. Separate church from state”[8]

The Issue of Emperor Hirohito

Mac Arthur enforced against the will of many SCAP and FEC members that the emperor Hirohito not be tried as a war criminal, and was left in his position as the head of state. Although he had been kept informed of the 1941 decisions that led to the war and may have known about the plans for the pearl harbour attack, Mac Arthur justified his insistence with several facts: First, the emperor was the perfect spokesman for the politics that needed to be implemented by the SCAP. Without Hirohito, the Americans would have been mere occupants that would not have received a lot of support from the Japanese people. But with the emperor, their sovereign that had always been their leader could be followed blindly, the American politics wrapped in Japanese rhetoric could be presented to the public and would be accepted without much hassle. Secondly, for the people, the emperor presented a continuous tradition that linked the secure past with the insecure future in the new Japan. Although his status was reduced heavily, the mere fact that the emperor would remain head of state, provided a safe feeling to the people. Finally, the emperor could be used to claim that a political and even spiritual continuity existed between the old and the new political systems and thus made it possible for the implementation of a new political system to proceed without resistance.


[1] Fischer, Mary Ellen. Praise for Establishing Democracy. Westview Press: 1996, p.124


[3] Causes of World War II in Asia: [12.Nov 2005]


[5] Timeline of the events : [Nov 12, 2005]

[6] the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France, India, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines. In November of 1949 Burma and Pakistan were added to the FEC.

[7] [Nov 13, 2005]

[8] Fischer, p.124.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Democratisation of Japan after World War II
Hong Kong Baptist Universitiy
Democratisation in East and Southeast Asia
A (1,5)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
487 KB
Democratisation, Japan, World, Democratisation, East, Southeast, Asia
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2005, The Democratisation of Japan after World War II, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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