Japan Table of Contents

After initial naval and battlefield successes and a tremendous overextension of its resources in the war (known to Japan as the Greater East Asia War, to the United States as the Pacific War) against a quickly mobilizing United States and Allied war effort, Japan was unable to sustain "Greater East Asia". As early as 1943, Konoe led a peace movement, and Tojo was forced from office in July 1944. His successors sought peace mediation (Sweden and the Soviet Union were approached for help in such a process), but the enemy offered only unconditional surrender. After the detonation of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 8, 1945, respectively, the emperor asked that the Japanese people bring peace to Japan by "enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable" by surrendering to the Allied powers. The documents of surrender were signed on board the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945. The terms of surrender included the occupation of Japan by Allied military forces, assurances that Japan would never again go to war, restriction of Japanese sovereignty to the four main islands "and such minor islands as may be determined," and surrender of Japan's colonial holdings.

A period of demilitarization and democratization followed in Japan (1945-47). Under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), Japan's army and navy ministries were abolished, munitions and military equipment were destroyed, and war industries were converted to civilian uses. War crimes trials found 4,200 Japanese officials guilty; 700 were executed, and 186,000 other public figures were purged. State Shinto was disestablished, and on January 1, 1946, Emperor Hirohito repudiated his divinity. MacArthur pushed the government to amend the 1889 Meiji Constitution, and on May 3, 1947, the new Japanese constitution (often called the "MacArthur Constitution") came into force (see The Postwar Constitution). Constitutional reforms were accompanied by economic reforms, including agricultural land redistribution, reestablishment of trade unions, and severe proscriptions on zaibatsu (see Patterns of Development).

The relatively rapid stabilization of Japan led to a relaxation of SCAP purges and press censorship. Quick economic recovery was encouraged, restrictions on former zaibatsu members eventually were lifted, and foreign trade was allowed. Finally, in September 1951 fifty-one nations met in San Francisco to reach a peace accord with Japan. China, India, and the Soviet Union participated in the conference but did not sign the treaty, formally known as the Treaty of Peace. Japan renounced its claims to Korea, Taiwan, Penghu, the Kuril Islands, southern Sakhalin, islands it had gained by League of Nations mandate, South China Sea islands, and Antarctic territory, while agreeing to settle disputes peacefully according to the United Nations Charter. Japan's rights to defend itself and to enter into collective security arrangements were acknowledged. The 1952 ratification of the Japan-United States Mutual Security Assistance Pact also ensured a strong defense for Japan and a large postwar role in Asia for the United States (see Relations with the United States).

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress