Under the control of the Japanese warlords of the 1930s and 40s, the military committed unimaginable and unspeakable atrocities. History resonates with their savagery: Rape of Nanking, Bataan Death March, construction of the railway through Thailand, as well as hundreds of incidents of individual brutality to prisoners throughout the islands of the Pacific. Today, this aggression has been channeled into sharp and often unyielding business practices. But to the visitor, the Japanese people are
most courteous, and if you’re able to blot out or weren’t indoctrinated by living through the uncivilized period, you can enjoy the gracious hospitality the Japanese offer.
Though Japan was inhabited early as 30, 000 B.C., it wasn’t until the 6th century A.D. that it began to spread its cultural wings. Kyoto was the capital from 794 A.D. until 1868, when it was moved to Tokyo. The Emperor was considered divine, before the Japanese defeat in 1945 to end World War II, when Emperor Hirohito renounced his claim to divinity. Japan adopted a new, democratized constitution, and women gained the right to vote. Allied occupation, under General Douglas MacArthur, ended in 1952, allowing Japan to regain its independence. It was admitted to the UN in 1956. With outside aid, Japan soon became an economic superpower; where her products had once been considered shoddy and cheap, they quickly gained a large share of the world’s markets. In autos and electronics they mounted a strong adversary for the western world.
The transition of power from the aristocratic court in Kyoto to the warrior class was initiated by a fierce fighter named Minamoto Yoritomo, who waged and won a bloody civil war at the end of the 12th century. He created a military government- a shogunate- becoming the nation’s first shogun. This warrior class was called samurai, and they were devoted to their feudal lords. The most brilliant feudal lord was Tokugawa Ieyasu, who after 1603 made the obscure village of Edo the seat of his shogunate, isolating the powerless emperor in Kyoto. Edo in 1868 was renamed Tokyo, becoming the capital. Tokugawa’s heirs, with his samurai, wielded the real power until Japan was forced to open its doors in 1853-54 by Commodore Perry of the U.S. Navy. Those 250 years of isolation were a period of political stability, accumulation of great wealth by merchants and advancements in education and the arts. No country in the world was more structured, with strict inherited positions: emperor, shogun, lords, samurai, farmers, artists and merchants.
Japan’s troubles with the United States started in 1924 when this country banned Japanese immigrants. The 1929 stock market
crash hit Japan hard, opening the door for the military to replace the politicians. Invasion and occupation of Manchuria in 1931 was the first aggressive act, followed by the Rape of Nanking, China, where estimates of civilians killed ranged up to 300, 000 with women raped, tortured and mutilated. Cruelty was packed in every Japanese soldier’s field pack, as the army marched relentlessly across the Pacific and down Southeast Asia. During World War II, Hiroshima had been spared the fire-bombs that raked Tokyo, Yokohama and other Japanese cities.
Before a bomb, Hiroshima’s factories supplied the military machine, its ports staging areas for strikes into China, Korea and Southwest Asia. Headquarters for Japan’s Second Army, Hiroshima’s population of 400, 000 included 43, 000 military personnel. On 6 August 1945, three American B-29 bombers approached Hiroshima. One passed over the city and dropped the bomb, then sped away at full throttle. The bomb exploded 43 seconds later at 8:16 am at an altitude of 1,900 feet, in a huge fireball. A mushroom cloud of smoke rose 29, 700 feet in the air. The number of those killed immediately has ranged from 75, 000 to 175, 000. Those who survived have forever remembered a blinding white flash, incinerating heat, concussive shock wave and a towering cloud that turned daylight into darkness. A second atomic bomb over Nagasaki brought peace. The bombs averted an expected one million U.S. casualties, and many time that many Japanese. Critics of the use of the bomb overlook the fact that the early summer U.S. fire-bombs took as many lives, just not as quickly.
Though Japan includes nearly 4, 000 small islands, most people live on the four largest, which make up about 60% of the country. More than 3/4s of Japan’s area is heavily forested mountains; only 15% is habitable. With 125 million people, Japan is the world’s seventh most populous. Major problems: earthquakes (in 1923 one killed over 100, 000 people), a large population, and lack of natural resources.