Remembrance of times past

by johnmccreery

I turn and look out my window. It’s crisp, spring morning in Yokohama. The sky is blue, the air is clear, looking down on the scene in the valley below our office, it looks like any other day. If, however, I turn on the news, read a newspaper,  or look for news on the Internet, I am instantly reminded that Japan is dealing with catastrophe “on a scale not seen since World War II.” If I walk down to the station or, for more impact, take a cab back at night, as we did last night around 10:00 p.m. It is clear that things are not  normal. There are no express trains on the train and subway lines. Half the escalators are turned off. Stores are shutting early, around 8:00 p.m. instead of 10:00 or 11:00. The cab driver echoes a comment from a member of my chorus that people are coming home earlier; fewer are working late or coming home drunk after socializing with their workmates. It has been announced that the rolling blackouts, which are expected to intensify this summer as demand for air conditioning rises, will likely continue for at least two years.

But something less dramatic also happened this week. I was thinking of going into Tokyo to ADMT, the Advertising Museum Tokyo, to get working again on my research. But before I set out, I thought to check once again what I might be able to find on the Net. On the website for Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency, I found the Dentsu Kokoku Nenpyo (Dentsu Advertising Chronicle). This single source provides nine to eleven pages densely packed with information about Japan’s economy, the advertising industry, consumer behavior, hit products, films, books, TV and radio shows, for every year from 1945 to 2009. I carefully download all sixty-four PDFs, gird my loins and start to read them (translating important bits from Japanese to English), starting in chronological order from 1945. The following are just the top notes, translated from the section on economic conditions, for the first four years.

1945

As a result of Japan’s losing WWII, economic activities became extremely chaotic. The standard of living fell and a huge number of people were unemployed. Food was in short supply and black  markets appeared. Inflation accelerated, resulting in loss of real income and extreme reduction in desire to work. Conditions were bad, but the economy began to revive as much as permitted by Occupation policies. Economic democratization resulted in a shift of labor to agricultural production, but the rice harvest was poor.

1946

Defeat has resulted in economic devastation and social chaos. Japan’s economy, isolated from the global economy, is shrinking. Signs of an economic crisis deepened as 1946 began. GHQ was pursuing an extreme demilitarization policy, existing stocks were drying up, shortages of coal and electricity reduced production. As a result the economy seemed caught in a vicious inflationary cycle. Extreme poverty and anxiety continued, but as year’s end approached, priority production measures pointed the way to industrial redevelopment.

1947

Tension between the US and USSR is growing. Economy conditions  change dramatically for the better as a result of aid policies aimed to revive Japan’s economy. But steps to prevent inflation fail, production remains sluggish.

1948

As conflict between the US and USSR intensifies, the tempo of changes in US policy toward Japan accelerates. Vigorous aid program aims to promote Japan’s economic independence.  Mining and industrial production rise 50%, reaching 60% of prewar level. Controls on interest and borrowing block inflation.

I find myself thinking, if things look bad now, what was it like back then, to people like my parents just starting young families (I was one year old in 1945). The “biggest catastrophe since WWII” now looks more like a setback than the looming end of the world.

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One Comment to “Remembrance of times past”

  1. In a post that is already eerily lyrical, for some reason I especially find “economic democratization” a startlingly upbeat euphemism for collective poverty and despair. I am oddly touched.

    Incidentally, in light of current policy debates, it’s interesting to see this evidence of massive government stimulus quickly and effectively turning around a crashed economy. Although I don’t suppose a market fundamentalist would have any compunctions about claiming the counterfactual that private enterprise would have done the job faster and better without all that hamhanded gummint meddling.

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