Cultural Changes in Japan Due to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb

MacArthur's reforms helped Japan become an industrialized nation.
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The atomic bombs dropped on Japan ended the war in September 1945. When the Allied forces, represented by General Douglas MacArthur, started the post-war occupation of Japan, which lasted until 1952, the primary aim was to ensure that Japan would never enter another war. The Allies' twin aims of demilitarization and democratization changed Japanese culture in profound ways. They also created an economic environment that enabled Japan to enter the global consumer market.

1 The Emperor and Shinto

During the seventh and eighth centuries, Japan's rulers claimed that the emperor was descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu, the country's supreme deity. This became official doctrine and the emperor was given the status of a god. During the Meiji Restoration of the late 1800s, Shinto was proclaimed the official state religion and the emperor was its high priest. Shinto became associated with imperialism and militarism during the 20th century and was used to reinforce the nationalist belief that Japan was superior to all other countries and destined to rule the world. When Japan surrendered, Emperor Hirohito had to give up his god status and Shinto was disestablished as the official state religion. Shinto still exists but the new post-war constitution prevents the government from ever again using religion as a political tool.

2 Political Democracy

The Allies dismantled Japan's military and associated industries, and Article 9 of the new constitution stated that Japan could not form an army or enter a war again. However, this demilitarization was only one part of the Allies' plan to create a peaceful Japan. MacArthur insisted that Japan become a political democracy. The emperor had to give up his sovereignty and could only remain as a symbol of Japanese culture, a role similar to that of the British monarch. Members of the Diet -- the Japanese Parliament -- were elected by the people. This new democracy also changed the lives of women who were given the right to vote.

3 The Family

Democracy also changed the patriarchal culture of Japan. The historic family system or "ie" -- dominated by the father and male members of the family -- now had no legal basis. The Civil Code of 1947 abolished the law of "katoku," in which only the eldest son could inherit family property. The new laws stated that children had equal inheritance rights. It also meant that both sons and daughters were responsible for the care of aging parents; before, it had been the sole responsibility of the eldest son. Arranged marriages were also banned and marriage became a matter of mutual consent.

4 Economic Culture

Another of MacArthur's objectives was to establish a free market economy. Japan was dominated by a group of 10 companies known as "zaibatsu." Some members of this group are still familiar brand names, including Nissan and Mitsubishi. This group controlled around 60 percent of Japan's major industries. Although dismantling this control seemed the best way to create a free economy, MacArthur also realized it could hold back Japan's economic recovery. So instead, he instigated a series of legal reforms that prevented companies from having a monopoly. He also enacted a series of land and labor reforms that enabled tenant farmers to buy their land from landowners. This was another major change to Japan's traditional culture.

Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.