VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > G. East Asia, 1945–2000 > 4. Japan, 1946–2000
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Aug. 28–Sept. 2)
4. Japan, 1946–2000
With the formal surrender of Japan at the end of World War II, supreme authority passed into the hands of Gen. Douglas MacArthur as supreme commander for the Allied powers (SCAP). Though aided by an Allied control council and subject to the general directions of the 11-nation Far Eastern Commission with headquarters in Washington, D.C., MacArthur pursued an independent policy. To facilitate his task, Japan's governmental structure was left intact and put under the direction of Prime Minister Shidehara Kijr (1872–1951) and a nonpartisan cabinet. The most immediate task of the occupation authorities was to rid Japan of its imperialist customs, institutions, and mind-set. In a series of decrees, Gen. MacArthur restored civil liberties, liberated political prisoners, liberalized the educational curriculum, granted the franchise to all adults, encouraged the formation of labor unions and the abolition of older land tenure systems, and ended the compulsory adherence to state Shinto. The climax of these moves to break with the past came on Jan. 1, 1946, when Emperor Hirohito, in a New Year's message, disclaimed the divinity that was traditionally accredited to him by the Japanese people.  1
Among the most important initiatives of the occupation was land reform. Absentee landlordism was eliminated, as were large landholdings. The amount of land worked by tenants dropped from 46 percent to 10 percent; rents were regulated. Japan thus rapidly changed to a country of small farmers who owned their own land.  2
1946, April 10
The first general election favored the moderate parties. Communist returns were negligible. A new government under Yoshida Shigeru (1878–1967) took office on May 16.  3
A series of purges, initiated by SCAP, was directed against all “active exponents” of aggressive nationalism, including intellectuals and businessmen, and ultimately involved more than 1.5 million people. In addition, an international military tribunal in Tokyo began the trials of major war criminals, while separate British and Australian tribunals were set up in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, respectively.  4
Nov. 3
A new constitution provided for an elected upper house, transferred sovereignty from the emperor to the people, safeguarded individual rights and equal rights for women, and introduced a broad measure of local self-government. It also renounced war for all time and became effective on May 3, 1947.  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.