Education About Asia: Online Archives

Occupied Japan: An Experiment in Democracy

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Distributed by PBS VIDEO, a department of the Public Broadcasting Service

800-344-3337 1996.

VHS video. 60 minutes.

The American Occupation of Japan following World War II is surely one of the most fascinating chapters in human history. Where else can one go for a practicum in intercultural transformation that benefitted most, if not all, involved? Where else has democratic reform worked as well as in Japan from 1945–52? Yet, this story has often been told as one of American values overcoming Japanese culture, the imposition of democracy “from top down” by the U.S. military on the silent, suffering Japanese folk. This new video claims that it will challenge this America-centered perspective on the Occupation, “arguing for a distinctively Japanese evolution that occurred in tandem with American objectives.” The larger goal is to redress the unequal relationship between a superior America and a subservient Japan that many feel has characterized U.S.Japan relations until recently.

These presentist concerns are evident throughout the video. One technique that is particularly effective is the use of interviews with Japanese from a variety of walks of life who lived through the Occupation (prominent politicians, farmers, female entertainers) and with American officers and G.I.s who were “on the spot” during the reforms. Memories and commentaries supplied by these people are then juxtaposed with a good deal of footage from the period, ranging from the surrender on board the USS Missouri to recent protests against U.S. troops stationed in Japan.