“You in Tokyo” – THE NEW YORKER, 1946 (and ‘Popcorn on the Ginza’)

The November 23, 1946 issue of The New Yorker ran an article by  in their “Our far-flung correspondents” section. Titled “You in Tokyo“, the piece was named after a pamphlet given to new American arrivals that explained things like protocols, customs and recreational activities.

Excerpt from You in Tokyo pamphlet, published by SCAP GHQ for civilian employees of the American occupation of Japan (source): 

This short piece provides amusing observations about life as an American occupier, which has similarities to life as an American expat today. For example, Mears describes confusion over English translations of Japanese words (in this case it was the Hepburn System vs. the Nippon System; I personally spent months getting used to the idea that Shinbashi and Shimbashi were the same place).

Mears also describes the mentality of an American who enjoys his life in Japan and is reluctant to leave:

“He had been a poorly paid schoolteacher before the war and he had decided to stay in the service as a member of the Occupation forces. “It’s a good life, you know,” he said. “The British have had it all worked out for a long time, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t too. A regular country-club life, you know? Much better than anything you can get at home unless you’re a millionaire.” No one present could deny it.”

Also interesting was the description of black market activities that many Americans took part in, and the Army’s tolerance of this activity. Mears notes:

“any soldier or civilian could export money up to twenty-five per cent more than the amount of his salary, even though it was obvious that any surplus could have been acquired only through gambling, black-market activities, barter, or currency speculation.” 

Also this quote about trading used clothing for kimonos or ceremonial swords:

“Old hands in the Occupation look upon these exchanges not only as sound finance but as philanthropy. They argue, with sincerity, that since the Japanese need every sort of commodity, it is only fair to sell or barter one’s extras.”

The article touches upon a topic that demands a deeper discussion: the origins and nature of democracy in Japan. The American occupation of Japan was, among other things, a mission of economic reconstruction and social engineering. One major initiative was land reform: approximately 38% of Japan’s cultivated land was redistributed. The introduction of democracy was another major project.

“it was under General Dyke’s direction that the C.I.&E. was built up to a staff of around a hundred people, who are now busy with the “democratization” of the Japanese press, movies, religion, and so on….

…The task includes things like censoring the press and having textbooks rewritten, so it is not too surprising that some of the Japanese say they are not quite sure what we mean by freedom and democracy.” 

For further reading on the democratization of Japan, I highly recommend Popcorn on the Ginza: An Informal Portrait of Postwar Japan (1949) by Lucy Herndon Crockett (1914-2002), an amusing and informative first-person account of the Allied Occupation and rebuilding of Japan following World War II. I plan to write about this book in greater detail. In the meantime, here’s a stylish illustration from her book:


Helen Mears

Land reform

  • “By 1949, SCAP had forced the Japanese government to redistribute about 2 million hectare of farm land, and 1 million hectares of irrigated paddies. As of 1941, farmers had rented 46 percent of their land. After the SCAP-mandated reform, they rented only 10 percent.” – The Fable of Land Reform: Expropriation and Redistribution in Occupied Japan, by J. Mark Ramseyer
  • “Between 1947 and 1949, approximately 5,800,000 acres (23,000 km2) of land (approximately 38% of Japan’s cultivated land) was purchased from the landlords under the reform program and re-sold at extremely low prices (after inflation) to the farmers who worked them. By 1950, three million peasants had acquired land…” – Wikipedia

American Occupation of Japan

The New Yorker’s OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: selected Japan articles over the years

Other American women in Occupation-era Japan




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.