250px-Instrument of surrender Japan2

The instrument of surrender, dated September 2, 1945.

At the end of World War II, Japan was occupied by the Allied Powers, led by the United States with contributions also from the United Kingdom and Australia. This foreign presence marked the first time in its history that the island nation had been occupied by a foreign power. The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951, marked the end of the Allied occupation, and subsequent to its coming into force on April 28, 1952, Japan was once again an independent state.


Main article: Surrender of Japan

The instrument of surrender, dated September 2, 1945.Japan initially surrendered to the Allies on August 14, 1945, when the Japanese government notified the Allies that it had accepted the Potsdam Declaration. On the following day, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's unconditional surrender on the radio. The announcement was the emperor's first ever radio broadcast and the first time most citizens of Japan ever heard their sovereign's voice. This date is known as Victory Over Japan, or V-J Day, and marked the end of World War II and the beginning of a long road to recovery for a shattered Japan.

On V-J Day, United States President Harry Truman appointed General Douglas MacArthur as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), to supervise the occupation of Japan. During the war, the Allied Powers had planned to divide Japan amongst themselves for the purposes of occupation, as was done for the occupation of Germany. Under the final plan, however, SCAP was given direct control over the main islands of Japan (Honshū, Hokkaidō, Shikoku and Kyūshū) and the immediately surrounding islands, while outlying possessions were divided between the Allied Powers as follows:

  • Soviet Union: North Korea (not a full occupation), Sakhalin, and the Kuril Islands
  • United States: South Korea (not a full occupation), Okinawa, the Amami Islands, the Ogasawara Islands and Japanese possessions in Micronesia
  • Republic of China: Taiwan and Penghu

It is unclear why the occupation plan was changed. Common theories include the increased power of the United States following development of the atomic bomb, Truman's greater distrust of the Soviet Union when compared with Roosevelt, and an increased desire to contain Soviet expansion in the Far East after the Yalta Conference.

The Soviet Union had some intentions of occupying Hokkaidō. Had this occurred, there might have been the foundation of a communist "Democratic People's Republic of Japan" in the Soviet zone of occupation. However, unlike the Soviet occupations of East Germany and North Korea, these plans were frustrated by the opposition of President Truman.

The Far Eastern Commission and Allied Council For Japan were also established to supervise the occupation of Japan.

Japanese officials left for Manila on August 19 to meet MacArthur and to be briefed on his plans for the occupation. On August 28, 150 U.S. personnel flew to Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture. They were followed by USS Missouri, whose accompanying vessels landed the 4th Marine Division on the southern coast of Kanagawa. Other Allied personnel followed.

MacArthur arrived in Tokyo on August 30, and immediately decreed several laws: No Allied personnel were to assault Japanese people. No Allied personnel were to eat the scarce Japanese food. Flying the Hinomaru or "Rising Sun" flag was initially severely restricted (although individuals and prefectural offices could apply for permission to fly it). The restriction was partially lifted in 1948 and completely lifted the following year.

Representatives of Japan stand aboard the USS Missouri prior to signing of the Instrument of Surrender.On September 2, Japan formally surrendered with the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender. Allied (primarily American) forces were set up to supervise the country, and "for eighty months following its surender in 1945, Japan was at the mercy of an army of occupation, its people subject to foreign military control."[6] At the head of the Occupation administration was General MacArthur who was technically supposed to defer to an advisory council set up by the Allied powers, but in practice did everything himself. As a result, this period was one of significant American influence, having been already identified in 1951, that "for six years the United States has had a freer hand to experiment with Japan than any other country in Asia, or indeed in the entire world."

MacArthur's first priority was to set up a food distribution network; following the collapse of the ruling government and the wholesale destruction of most major cities, virtually everyone was starving. Even with these measures, millions of people were still on the brink of starvation for several years after the surrender. As expressed by Kawai Kazuo, "Democracy cannot be taught to a starving people," and while the US government encouraged democratic reform in Japan, it also sent billions of dollars in aid.

Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito.Initially the US government provided emergency food relief through GARIOA funds. In fiscal year 1946 this aid amounted to US$92 million, which were in the form of loans. From April 1946, in the guise of LARA, private relief organizations were also permitted to provide relief. Once the food network was in place, at a cost of up to US$1 million[citation needed] per day, MacArthur set out to win the support of Hirohito. The two men met for the first time on September 27; the photograph of the two together is one of the most famous in Japanese history. However, many were shocked that MacArthur wore his standard duty uniform with no tie instead of his dress uniform when meeting the emperor. MacArthur may have done this on purpose, to send a message as to what he considered the emperor's status to be. With the sanction of Japan's reigning monarch, MacArthur had the ammunition he needed to begin the real work of the occupation. While other Allied political and military leaders pushed for Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal, MacArthur resisted such calls and rejected the claims of members of the imperial family such as Prince Mikasa and Prince Higashikuni and intellectuals like Tatsuji Miyoshi who asked for the emperor's abdication, arguing that any such prosecution would be overwhelmingly unpopular with the Japanese people.

By the end of 1945, more than 350,000 U.S. personnel were stationed throughout Japan. By the beginning of 1946, replacement troops began to arrive in the country in large numbers and were assigned to MacArthur's Eighth Army, headquartered in Tokyo's Dai-Ichi building. Of the main Japanese islands, Kyūshū was occupied by the 24th Infantry Division, with some responsibility for Shikoku. Honshū was occupied by the First Cavalry Division. Hokkaidō was occupied by the 11th Airborne Division.

The 2nd Battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles marching through Kure soon after their arrival in Japan. (May 1946)By June 1950, all of these army units had suffered extensive troop reductions, and their combat effectiveness was seriously weakened. When North Korea invaded South Korea, elements of the 24th Division were flown into South Korea to try to stem the massive invasion force there, but the green occupation troops, while acquitting themselves well when suddenly thrown into combat almost overnight, suffered heavy casualties and were forced into retreat until other Japan occupation troops could be sent to assist.

The official British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF), composed of Australian, British, Indian and New Zealand personnel, was deployed on February 21, 1946. While U.S. forces were responsible for overall military government, BCOF was responsible for supervising demilitarization and the disposal of Japan's war industries. BCOF was also responsible for occupation of several western prefectures and had its headquarters at Kure. At its peak, the force numbered about 40,000 personnel. During 1947, BCOF began to decrease its activities in Japan, and it was officially wound up in 1951.

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