Photographs that document the Japan’s transformation in the 1950s

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A young Japanese woman in a kimono takes part in the Hula-Hoop craze that swept America and Japan, 1958. (Photo by Mitsunori Chigita).

After World War II had ended, the surrendered Japan was devastated. All the large cities, industries, and transportation networks were severely damaged. A severe shortage of food continued for several years.

Allied forces led by the United States occupied the nation and started the rehabilitation of the Japanese state. Between 1945 and 1952, the U.S. occupying forces, led by General Douglas A. MacArthur, enacted widespread military, political, economic, and social reforms.

The occupation, like the Taika Reform of the 7th century and the Meiji Restoration 80 years earlier, represented a period of rapid social and institutional change that was based on the borrowing and incorporation of foreign models.

General principles for the proposed governance of Japan had been spelled out in the Potsdam Declaration and elucidated in U.S. government policy statements drawn up and forwarded to MacArthur in August 1945.

The essence of these policies was simple and straightforward: the demilitarization of Japan, so that it would not again become a danger to peace; democratization, meaning that, while no particular form of government would be forced upon the Japanese, efforts would be made to develop a political system under which individual rights would be guaranteed and protected; and the establishment of an economy that could adequately support a peaceful and democratic Japan.

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Women greet repatriated Japanese soldiers, formerly prisoners of war, on April 26, 1950. The men bear the ashes of their friends who died during their imprisonment.

The armed forces were demobilized and millions of Japanese troops and civilians abroad were repatriated. The empire was disbanded. State Shintō was disestablished, nationalist organizations were abolished and their members were removed from important posts. Japan’s armament industries were dismantled.

In the economic field, the Allies introduced land reform, designed to benefit the majority tenant farmers and reduce the power of rich landowners, many of whom had advocated for war and supported Japanese expansionism in the 1930s.

MacArthur also tried to break up the large Japanese business conglomerates, or zaibatsu, as part of the effort to transform the economy into a free-market capitalist system.

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A replica of the Mt. Rushmore memorial in South Dakota, one of the exhibits portraying U.S. history and notable scenes at the America Fair. The fair portrayed “significant events in American history and followed the growth of the United States to its current standards of efficiency in sciences, industry, and agriculture.”

The cooperation between the Japanese and the Allied powers worked relatively smoothly. Critics started to grow when the United States acted increasingly according to its self-interests in the Cold War, reintroduced the persecution of communists, stationed more troops in Japan, and wanted Japan to establish its own self-defense force despite the anti-war article in the constitution.

Many aspects of the occupation’s so-called “reverse course” were welcomed by conservative Japanese politicians.

With the peace treaty that went into effect in 1952, the occupation ended. Japan’s Self Defence Force was established in 1954, accompanied by large public demonstrations.

From 1952 to 1973 Japan experienced accelerated economic growth and social change. By 1952 Japan had, at last, regained its prewar industrial output.

Thereafter, the economy expanded at unprecedented rates. At the same time, economic development and industrialization supported the emergence of a mass consumer society.

Large numbers of Japanese who had previously resided in villages became urbanized; Tokyo, whose population stood at about three million in 1945, reached some nine million by 1970.

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Three kimono clad Japanese girls sit at the base of a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty at the America Fair, which opened in Osaka, Japan, on March 25, 1950.

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Engines of U.S. Air Force B-26 bombers are revved up shortly before taking off from Far East Air Force field in Japan on September 20, 1950, for combat missions in Korea. The twin-engine bombers were flying round-the-clock missions in support of United Nations ground forces.

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A Japanese girl carefully sorts cultured pearls raised on Kokichi Mikimoto’s pearl farm near the tip of Japan’s Ise peninsula on October 12, 1949. They are sorted according to color and size as well as shape.

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To draw the public’s attention to a new line of bathing suits, a Tokyo department store used live models to show off the suits on June 5, 1950. The rain didn’t bother the curious, and both the girls and the crowd seemed to like the idea of staring at each other through the glass.

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Dining room of an orphanage in Osaka, Japan, on February 19, 1951, where the 160 orphans were fed each day on food purchased by the Wolfhounds, the 27th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army. (Photo by Jim Pringle).

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Industrial training experts watch a light bulb machine drop bulbs down to other workers who sort them according to defects at Tokyo Shibaura Electric Co. in Tokyo on January 25, 1951.

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Dom DiMaggio of the Boston Red Sox gets set to swing during an exhibition game between the American All-Stars and the Yomiuri Giants in Japan on October 20, 1951.

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On August 3, 1951, six years after an atomic bomb was detonated above this spot in Hiroshima, a souvenir shop stands in the street near the shattered dome of the Industry Hall. The shop is operated by Kiyoshi Kikkawa, who was injured in the blast.

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Passengers on a train traveling from Tokyo to Osaka go through three minutes of calisthenics under the leadership of a drillmaster, during a five-minute stopover at Hammamatsu on August 27, 1952. This unusual service was set up to help travelers on the long journey limber up at the station which is about halfway between the two cities. There is even music for the exercises and a platform for the drillmaster. (Photo by Max Desfor).

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A lens is inspected at Tokyo’s Nikon camera plant, on January 5, 1952. (Photo by Bob Schutz).

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Pro-communist demonstrators stone Japanese policemen at the height of May Day riots in downtown Tokyo on May 1, 1952. Casualties were numerous on both sides as police used tear gas, guns, and clubs to beat back the waves of rioters.

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A dazed Japanese youth, his face bruised and bleeding, is led from the riot scene by policemen after pro-communist demonstrators were dispersed near the imperial palace grounds in Tokyo on May 1, 1952.

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Children of repatriated families scoot around the deck of the Koan Maru as their parents prepare to disembark at Maizuru Bay, Japan, on March 24, 1953. The first group of repatriates to be returned from Communist China where they had been stranded since the end of World War II completed the formalities through the processing center at Maizuru and were released to go home. The first batch of 2,000 men, women, and children came from North China on the Koan Maru. The bicycles were gifts from charitable organizations and placed on the ship when it left China.

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A movie studio workman rigs up one of the scale model warships used in filming a battle scene in a Japanese documentary that tells the story of the last day of the battleship Yamato, on June 8, 1953.

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A scene from “Battleship Yamato” is filmed in the studio pool of Japan’s Shin-Toho Motion Picture Company on June 8, 1953. The background of sky and water ends at left and right, a camera crew in the foreground.

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Japan’s moviemakers filming on the last day of the documentary about the Battleship Yamato. Studio men load shells into the guns of a model of the Yamato as they get it ready for the big scene on June 8, 1953.

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A combination of two comparative novelties to Japanese audiences, television, and American wrestling, brought out a tremendous crowd of fans watching the bouts on an outdoor screen in Tokyo on February 21, 1954. NTV televised the bouts between visiting American wrestlers and Japanese opponents. The crowd that completely filed and jammed the street cheered, booed, and applauded as if they were right at the ringside. (Photo by Max Desfor).

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On the island of Iwo Jima, Japanese work crews cut up the wreckage of a naval vessel which was almost completely covered along the sandy beach on February 21, 1954. After a nine-year absence, the Japanese are back on the island of Iwo Jima, but as salvage workers.

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Spectators equipped with fans watch a baseball game between Waseda and Keio Universities at Meiji Park, Tokyo, on June 1, 1954. At left Japanese counterpart of American cheerleader leads rooters whose fans are painted with school colors.

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Ten thousand photo flashbulbs lit up a new television station and tower in downtown Tokyo on March 26, 1955, in what was called the biggest flash shot in the world. Radio Tokyo, in connection with a local flashbulb company, exploded the 10,000 bulbs on its new 516-foot television antenna to remind Tokyoites that it would begin telecasting on April 1. Thousands of camera fans crowded upper story windows and rooftops near the TV station to photograph the spectacle.

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Forty-five cameramen photograph the new Japanese cabinet at the Prime Minister’s official residence in downtown Tokyo on December 17, 1954. Japanese newspapers made a practice of assigning three or four photographers to cover an event from all possible angles.

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Women nurses of Japan’s newly-formed Self-Defense Corps man an aid station on Hokkaido, Japan, during maneuvers on October 20, 1955. Japanese forces, using U.S. – supplied equipment engaged in their first post-war military exercises with a U.S. advisory group and other foreign military observers on hand to watch the defense maneuvers against an imaginary invader of the Japanese island.

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An area of Tokyo, seen from the sky on August 5, 1955. Modern buildings have wiped out the scars of flattened blocks. The Sumida River flows peacefully through the Hamacho district (foreground) and the Fukawaga district. Wholesale houses and warehouses occupy most of these districts.

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Japanese girls Mitsuko Kuranoto, left, and Emiko Takemoto, survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing 10 years earlier, face newsmen and photographers at the Mitchel Air Force base on Long Island, New York, on May 9, 1955. Twenty-five Japanese girls, scarred by the blast, made the 6,700 mile trip to New York cautiously hopeful that the miracle of plastic surgery can give them new faces. (Photo by Jacob Harris).

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A huge replica of an H-bomb mushroom cloud is carried through the streets of Tokyo, Japan, on May 1, 1957, in protest of a planned British H-bomb test at Christmas Islands.

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The transition from former enemy to ally is evidenced by these GI-clad Japanese army volunteers during maneuvers at the Fuji Army School outside of Tokyo on May 15, 1957. Armed with American-made weapons and supported by a U.S.-supplied tank, the soldiers were part of the 160,000-man ground, sea, and air self-defense forces undergoing intensive training for the defense of the Japanese homeland.

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Soldiers practice bayonet tactics at the Kokubu Army Camp in Japan on May 22, 1957. They use wooden rifles and wear Samurai-style training attire which was modified somewhat for modern bayonet training.

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Some 50 colorfully-garbed Buddhist monks march from the Buddhist goddess of Mercy Statue in Kyoto, Japan on May 11, 1958, after the unveiling of a memorial to Allied dead of World War II on June 8. A white marble tablet, honoring more than 48,000 soldiers who died fighting against Japan, was uncovered in base of the 80-foot-high statue. The Buddha is dedicated to the more than one million Japanese who perished in the war.

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Japanese children press close to view an “outer world” space exhibit in a Tokyo department store on August 19, 1958. There they saw a rocket that landed on the surface of the moon, strange-looking people on the moon walking around, and even a satellite going around the moon.

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Japanese dancers of the Schochiku dancing troupe rehearse one of their new numbers in the “natsu-no-odori” summer dance scene which they performed at the Kokusai Theater in Tokyo on July 11, 1958. (Photo by Mitsunori Chigita).

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Micky Curtis, an Elvis Presley-style singer, strums his guitar and sings just beyond reach of female admirers in the Nichigeki Theater in Tokyo on February 18, 1958. Japan was bouncing in a Rock ‘n Roll craze as the Rockabilly music of the west jolted its way to the top of Japan’s Hit Parade. Screaming, moaning, applauding teenagers packed the theater, throwing steamers toward the stage which the lucky singer dodged with timely gyrations.

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Interior of a Tokyo department store in 1959, where a Japanese man wearing Geta, traditional wooden footwear, looks up at a poster-sized portrait of Abraham Lincoln hanging with two other posters about Lincoln’s life.

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Tooru Ohira, the Japanese voice of television’s Superman, watches actor George Reeves closely while he dubs Japanese words for the show on July 7, 1959. Television has made a strong impression on the Japanese from Emperor Hirohito down. About 99 percent of Japanese TV shows are American, including the Emperor’s favorite, “Superman.”

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College students employed as uniformed “pushers” cram commuters into railroad passenger cars in Tokyo.

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Tomiko Kawabata sits in her car and admires her new all-transistor, portable television set which Sony put into mass production, in Tokyo, on January 5, 1960. The set, which has an eight-inch screen, is powered by a storage battery good for three hours when used outdoors and it can be operated on an AC 200-volt current indoors.

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Golf enjoyed some popularity in Japan before World War II, but became a national obsession in the later years of postwar Japan. Here, a three-story driving range in use in Tokyo.

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Mount Fuji, viewed from a passing train.

(Photo credit: Britannica / Wikimedia Commons / The Atlantic; captions by Alan Taylor / AP / US Army Archives).