This panel offers fresh perspectives on economic developments in Japan during and after the U.S. occupation following World War II. One paper looks at the contribution to Japan’s economic recovery of the occupying force’s participation in the burgeoning market for handicrafts, two papers take up Occupation programs to break up Japanese big business, and two papers examine the larger issues of Japan’s experience under the Bretton Woods monetary system and the country’s remarkable industrial transition in the early postwar period.
Martha Chaiklin tells the little-known story of the revival of handicraft industries such as ivory carving in response to demand from U.S. soldiers during the Occupation. She shows that the influx of U.S. funds into the postwar Japanese economy depended not only on official aid programs and Korean War military procurements but also on large-scale spending on souvenirs by the occupying army, which numbered some 150,000 after the first few months of the Occupation. Steven Ericson challenges the widely held view that the Occupation command (GHQ-SCAP) made a concerted effort at trust-busting until the 1947-1948 “reverse course” by demonstrating that several divisions within SCAP actively resisted business deconcentration from the start. Simon Bytheway presents an in-depth case study of the reorganization of the Yasuda business combine. He interrogates the postwar democratization narrative to show how SCAP’s acceptance of the “Yasuda Plan,” narrowly focused on holding-company liquidation, enabled Yasuda and the other leading zaibatsu largely to escape further antitrust measures, an outcome reinforced by U.S. geopolitical and business interests after 1947. Steven Bryan reexamines Japan’s postwar integration into the Bretton Woods system, arguing that this international monetary regime prioritized politics over economics and ultimately failed, as the political context changed but the economics of the system remained basically the same. Mark Metzler reinterprets Japan’s industrial transition during the decade and a half following World War II from a novel “materials and energy” perspective. He details the process by which Japan moved from an initial reversion to earlier forms of industrial activity to an unprecedented expansion of the country’s most advanced industries.