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Tokyo in the 1950s:

The latter days of the Occupation were a transitional period, when the Japanese still had to rely on the Occupation--actually the U.S.--for funds and support in order to maintain a basic economy and governmental system. But at the same time, they were beginning to reconstitute vital institutions and realize some of the reforms introduced by the Occupation. The physical presence of the country remained, on the whole, drab and worn. Tokyo had been fire-bombed and was beginning to rebuild, with many of the initial structures resembling the prewar versions, but with the intention of replacing them as soon as possible with improved, more fire-resistant materials. Large portions of Tokyo were leveled, but many of the prewar masonry structures in the downtown--and the Imperial Palace premises--were largely intact, though some what dilapidated.

The economy was showing signs of vigorous renewal; for example, the automobile industry was moving ahead, thanks in large part to the contracts for vehicles and repair services provided by the American military who needed such help during the Korean War. The release of many Occupation vehicles to the market also stimulated the repair industry and soon American petroleum distribution systems began to appear. Clothing was still on the whole drab and consisted of shapeless wartime garments, designed mainly to ward off the creeping cold caused by the lack of fuel for domestic heating. The wartime activities and institutions were giving way to more efficient and relaxed procedures, but some, like the rice ration, persisted into the early 1950s. Transportation was recovering, but labor troubles in the services, as in other industries, appeared thanks to the Occupation's liberation of the trade unions and the introduction of the right to organize. Even the geisha began to form unions. [John Bennett, 1951]

More than ten million people supported the 1952 campaign petitioning for the release of war criminals. In the face of this surge of public opinion, the government commented that "public sentiment in our country is that the war criminals are not criminals. Rather, they gather great sympathy as victims of the war, and the number of people concerned about the war crimes tribunal system itself is steadily increasing." Not only that, but visits to Sugamo to express support for the inmates by entertainers including dancing troupes, rakugo storytellers, and manzai comics, as well as "Sugamo visitations" (Sugamo mode) by prefectural friendship societies, boomed. "The cold stare directed at war criminals transformed into a sympathetic gaze on them as war victims; they even began to be referred to as war heroes ... and little by little the sense of war responsibility eroded". [Sugamo Purison. Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 2004]

Japan compared to the west in 1951, prior to the beneficial effects of the Korean War on its economy:

Country Population (million) GNP, billion USD GNP/capita, USD
United States 157.8 328.4 2,081
France 41.8 35.1 840
United Kingdom 49.8 41.4 831
West Germany 50.0 28.5 570
Japan 83.6 14.2 170
Source: Keizai Koho Sentaa, Japan: An International Comparison (Tokyo: Keizai Koho Sentaa, (1983), p.5. Outlined on Japan Reference.
Picture 1.    Taken sometimes in 1958.
Picture 2.    Ginza sometimes in the 1950s.
Picture 3.    Shimbashi sometimes in the 1950s.
Picture 4.    Tokyo station sometimes in the 1950s.
Picture 5.    This photo, taken on higher ground and looking across a valley, gives an idea of the extent of Tokyo's destruction caused by the Allied B-29 fire bombing of the city in the last year or so of the war. Before World War II, or the "Pacific War" as the Japanese call it, much of the housing was made of wood. The fire-bombing caused fires of extremely high temperatures. On the left is an empty lot where buildings used to be; on the right is a temporary, flimsy new house placed on an original stone foundation. In the far distance can be seen a white multi-story masonry building--actually a medical clinic and hospital that survived the fire. In the middle distance are small, newly constructed buildings. However, most of the first wave of reconstruction used the same flimsy and flammable materials that were so vulnerable to the fire-bombs. Taken by John Bennett in Tokyo between 1948-1951.
Picture 6.    One of the great entrance gates to the Imperial Palace in downtown Tokyo, on a foggy morning. This one was almost directly across the main esplanade, along the moat, which the Occupation named "Avenue A." The Daiichi Insurance building, which was also SCAP General Headquarters (GHQ), and General MacArthur's personal offices, was back of the camera. The Imperial Palace was hit by one or two bombs, and a building was burned, but most of the vast complex was spared by decision from Washington. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 7.    This is the same gateway to the Imperial Palace as in the previous picture, undergoing repairs a year or two later. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, it became possible to perform renovations and repairs on various Palace buildings, long postponed because of the war. Note that the ladder is made of traditional materials and construction. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 8.    An entrance gate in the ruins of the British Embassy on Embassy Hill, near the National Diet Building. Few buildings in this elegant district were left standing after the fires. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 9.    This sculpture yard produced and sold not only gravestones but ornamental garden objects as well. The official red postbox may actually be a sculptured monument of some kind. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 10.    A view of the heart of downtown Tokyo as it looked in 1948, and for the most part before the war as well. The office buildings were built between 1915 and 1925. In the foreground can be seen a small hotel and possibly one or more private dwellings. Much of Tokyo before the war had this mixed character of land use. This is no longer true in contemporary times. Today this vista would be completely transformed: no more small structures or dwellings, and the old masonry buildings would be replaced by multi-story structures. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 11.    The Ginza, with streetcars, and the Matsuya Department Store on the Ginza. During the Occupation the famous store was commandeered to house the TOKYO PX for the American military and the Occupationaires. As time passed, some groups of Japanese were permitted to shop there on a limited basis (for example, household servants of Occupation personnel with families). Not long after this photo was made, the PX was eliminated and the store returned to Matsuya management. The streetcars no longer run on the Ginza. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 12.    This apartment complex, near Meiji Park, was the first of its kind in Japan, built in the 1920s. It miraculously escaped the fire storms. It was considered an experiment, and when it was built, the critics believed that tenants would never move in, since the style of living in Tokyo was dominated by small, single family houses. But they did--both before and after the war, and as can be seen, they felt at home. The "draperies" on the balconies are, of course, futon being aired. The building is still there--in the 1990s--and now is now considered an architectural monument. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 13.    An anachronism: a traditional thatched-roof Kanto-area style farmhouse--built in the late 19th century, in a corner of a suburban area of Tokyo. An elderly owner or relative sits on the engawa, looking into the house. (Kanto is the original name of the sea-side plain and bay region that includes the Tokyo metropolitan complex.) Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 14.    The entrance gate to a prewar upper income private home in the Denen Chofu district of Tokyo. The streets of many early suburban areas were usually bordered by stone walls, as seen here. The style of the gateeway is reminiscent of temple architecture. The yardman is entering for his daily work in the garden. This is the suburb in which we lived. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 15.    Marunouchi: The old commercial district, much of which was untouched by the fire-bombing. (However, large masonry buildings like these, constructed in the 1920s, were resistant to the fires that took thousands of flimsy wooden structures.) This street remains the heart of the district, but the new bank buildings are much larger, made of glass and steel. Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 16.    The Rice ration--or haikyu--in a suburban neighborhood (Nishi Ogikubo). Rice rationing persisted for several years after the surrender, since production of the staple food had been disturbed as a result of wartime activities. The women are the neighborhood housewives, using the wait for the ration as an opportunity to chat. Accompanying one of the ladies is her toddler ina basket-type perambulator. The woman on the far right is wearing the standard wartime heavy winter costume, including the baggy pants called monpe. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 17.    A wounded World War II army veteran, begging in the Ueno Park area, against a backdrop of ceremonial old-style sake kegs, used as holiday decorations during the long New Year celebration period. Veterans were largely neglected during the Occupation and after, as symbols of the rejected militarism of the prewar period. Eventually the government created veteran's benefits and hospitals to address the needs of these people. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 18.    "Honey buckets"--containers full of human waste collected in early morning from the local floor-toilets in an outlying residential district. The Occupationaires didn't like the odor--but recognized that fertilization was vital to produce crops in a period when many Japanese were close to serious malnutrition. Japan continued to use human excrement as fertilizer through the Occupation, phasing out the practice in the 1950s, when chemical fertilizers became universally available. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 19.    Building a middle-income private house in a Tokyo suburb. This shows the tradtional methods--now displaced by prefabriacated materials along Western lines. Note that in this traditional method of construction, the roof was put on immediately after the basic skeleton frame was erected and a small domestic Shinto shrine placed in the rafters. Then the walls are filled in. They are made of woven bamboo, later covered with layers of plaster or stucco. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 20.    A closer view of the house under construction. The men are starting to prepare the plaster clay coating. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 21.    Children sketching houses and trees in an Azabu residential neighborhood near the middle of Tokyo. The Japanese schools underwent considerable change in the Occupation period, with the old nationalistic and militaristic elements in the curriculum removed, and American-style education aspects introduced. Outdoor sketching classes might have been part of these reforms, but on the other hand, art instruction existed in Japanese elementary schools from the turn of the century, as part of the Japanese love of crafts. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 22.    A goldfish seller. The facial expressions of the young people working in or just hanging around this sidewalk shop seem to show the anxiety or depression felt by many young people in the latter days of the Occupation. The economy was opening up, but risks were high, and unemployment still serious. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 23.    This scene is in the heart of Tokyo, near the American embassy. The neighborhood shrine by the late 1940s had become surrounded by new commercial establishments. The CALTEX gasoline station visible opposite the shrine's torii was the first American-owned gasoline agency to open in the Occupation. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 24.    This view is of the commercial center of the Meguro district in Tokyo. This area was completely destroyed in the fire-bombing during the war. By 1948, it was covered with temporary commercial establishments. By the 1970s and 1980s these temporary structures were completely replaced by large permanent buildings. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 25.    Another bombed-out street in Tokyo with new temporary shops. The shop in the foreground just opened as indicated by the circular garland made with imitation flowers out in front. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 26.    A neighborhood grocery and fish store in a temporary structure while reconstruction of larger buildings proceeds on both sides. In the big cities that were extensively bombed, the earliest intensive reconstruction took place on the shopping streets rather than in the residential neighborhoods. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 27.    The extended family of the owner (on the right, behind the two boys) gathers to dedicate the opening of a new retail establishment. The large, brilliantly colored false-flower medallions are typical. The older men wear the formal montsuki hakama dress; the older women wear formal dark-crested kimonos. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 28.    An older commercial area in the Shibuya district, with a mix of stores, restaurants, etc. This area was not destroyed in the fire bombing, although somewhat damaged and showing a lack of maintenance during the war. By 1999 Shibuya was a major, upscale commercial area, with multistory buildings and few of these small, traditional establishments. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 29.    The shoppers wear the wartime period heavy winter garments. The seated lady is selling lottery tickets, a device encouraged by the Occupation as a stimulus to the domestic economy. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 30.    This shopping area, in western outlying Tokyo, was completely destroyed in the fire-bombing. New shops with temporary construction were built with flimsy street lights, public telephones (small box-like structure in the middleground), and a post box placed temporarily on the raw dirt! Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 31.    More of the tentative reconstruction--and the garish advertising typical of these districts, representative of the intensity of the commercial revival. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 32.    To the left is a neighborhood ice cream and refreshment parlor, with typically tentative, postwar jerry-built construction. To the right is a toy and novelty store. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 33.    Another shopping scene. Note the youth facing the camera: he is wearing the standard public secondary school uniform. The stall is selling children's books and toys including toy samurai swords. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 34.    Shopping at the sidewalk stalls in front of Matsuya on the Ginza (at the time the big store was temporarily the Tokyo PX_. These stalls were mostly operated by organized gangs and often sold illegal merchandise. They lined both sides of the Ginza for blocks, but they were all gone by the 1960s, due to new municipal regulations, and opposition from the reviving big, elegant Ginza stores. The man whose back faces the camera is wearing his Japanese army officer's boots. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 35.    This picture was taken in Atami--a resort and vacation coastal town on the Izu peninsula south of Tokyo. Atami was not firebombed--but like most of the older recreational and resort areas, was entering a period of economic boom. The picture shows women doing heavy labor, a hangover from the wartime period, when women workers replaced men in many home-front activities. Here they are erecting a new building-- actually a bar or tearoom--and they are performing like a crane--pulling ropes on pulleys to lift the cornices. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 36.    The Beginnings of the Postwar Japanese Automobile Industry! Well, not quite--actually contracts with the Occupation during the Korean War for the construction of jeeps and trucks, plus the repair of the American military vehicles of all kinds, had a bigger impact. However, this particular type of rebuilding and repairing castoff military jeeps and other Occupation vehicles, which were sold to Occupation people as personal vehicles, was an important training ground for young men in the neighborhoods, who could then get jobs in the rebuilt and modernized automobile factories. The prewar Japanese automobile industry was characterized by a plethora of small, alley garages, where new cars were assembled by self-trained mechanics. The site shown here was almost certainly occupied at one time by a samurai mansion--as indicated by the kura or treasure storehouse, now part of the office and shop. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 37.    The clothing black market in action, in the famous Asakusa district (entertainment complexes). Immediately after the war, the Japanese military began dispersing some of the stores of clothing and other things, letting them enter the retail black market. Some Occupation personnel and U.S. military were implicated in the scheme, and were eventually tried and convicted. Not all the garments on sale here came from the military stores, and the black marketers were careful to mix black goods with legitimate stocks. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 38.    Motion picture entertainment in the early 1950s often reflected wartime themes--both U.S. and Japanese. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 39.    A Japanese movie crew filming a private-eye drama in a suburban neighborhood in the early 1950s. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 40.    Family photography in a small park operated by a department store in an outlying area of Tokyo. The photography explosion that took place in the late Occupation period first hit Japan; then the new cameras with their superb lenses went into export market. This picture, in fact, was taken with my new Nikon Model S camera--the same camera and lens that David Douglas Duncan used somewhat later to photograph the Korean War. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 41.    The entrance styles at the Tamagawa Children's amusement park, near Tamagawa River, in the west end of the metropolitan Tokyo region. Note papa carrying his son on his shoulders: and mama with her baby on her back under her neneko banten, a special short coat designed to protect the baby. After the war, many Japanese urban fathers responded to "demokurashii" and gender equality to cease their erring and wandering ways, and become family men. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 42.    Here the young son is allowed to negotiate the purchase of a ticket on his own, while his aunt stands aside and carefully watches (amusement park in Tamagawa district). Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 43.    Another peddler-entertainer, with puppet dolls representing well-known figures in folk-comedy skits. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 44.    The GIs, their teen-age girl friend, and her little brother barely seen below, at left, in the amusement park. Note both men are sergeants--higher ranking enlisted men usually had the best girls, and many of them became fixtures in the girls' families, providing them with cigarettes, snacks, cosmetics etc., all purchased at the Tokyo PX. American GIs, while paid very little, nevertheless were rich men in a society that was still very impoverished. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 45.    This may be the audience coming out of the Yurakuza theater. The movie showing was Haha Koibashi. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 46.    A residential area on the outskirts of Tokyo: one kind of place from which many of the amateur teen-age prostitutes---shown in a moment---came from in the 1940s. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 47.    A view of a residential neighborhood. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 48.    Teenage prostitutes, familiarly called "pom pom"or "pan pan" girls. They solicited American soldiers in particular, because these men had more money than the military personnel of other Allied forces. These photos were taken by an Army photographer with me as guide and director, one long night in 1948. Some forms of prostitution--in particular the pan pan teenage amateurs--were the direct result of the presence of GIs as sources of income and images of liberation. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 49.    More teenage prostitutes, or "pan pan" girls. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 50.    Prostitutes soliciting Japanese men from the doorways of bars. These women were older than the pan pan, and represented the first step into professional prostitution. Many of the pan pan girls played the game for only a year or so, until they found a better means of livelihood, which might include professional prostitution. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 51.    Prostitutes in the lower level of the profession--the cheaper, less elaborate houses. Some of them might have started out as amateur pan pan girls. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 52.    The real thing; that is, one of the old professional houses of prostitution in the Yoshiwara district of Tokyo. This district was for many years the major center of the trade. These women are all in their twenties or thirties. There is a sign that reads "Off Limits VD" on the wall put there by the Army Military Police, designed to warn off military and civilian members of the Occupation. Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 53.    Professional prostitutes in the areaway of one of the big professional houses. Note the uniform kimonos. The women are made up to somewhat resemble geisha. Geisha were and are not prostitutes, but more like what Europeans used to call courtesans. However, many prostitutes, especially those with a little more education than the norm, might behave marginally like geisha--that is, as entertainers and intellectual companions. And then some geisha houses, undergoing deterioration, could make the transition to prostitution--the term "daruma geisha" or "geisha that would tip over easily" was used sometimes (daruma is a figure in Japanese Buddhist folklore--a monk who contemplated so intensely that he lost his arms and legs as well as his ego). Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 54.    The famous Yoshiwara Hospital, established in the 1930s by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to examine and treat prostitutes of the Yoshiwara district. By Occupation times, it was pretty dilapidated. Some of the patients can be seen at the windows. Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 55.    Situated in Kudanshita, in Tokyo, is a massive shrine--Yasukuni Jinja--dedicated to the fallen heros of Japan's wars--something more or less comparable to America's Arlington Cemetery. It is thought that here the spirits of the dead soldiers reside. This is the great door of the shrine, with an enormous metal chryanthemum--the crest or insignia of the Imperial Household--that is, the Emperor. This shrine was a controversial issue in the Occupation and for a time the annual ceremonies at the shrine were banned as reminiscent of Japan's militarism and aggression. In 1986, Prime Minister Nakarone Yasuhiro visited the shrine in his official capacity--the first such official visit by a prime minister since the war--a controversial action because some of the spirits in the shrine here are famous war criminals. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 56.    The stairway up to the Narita shrine, in Chiba. At the entrance down below you can see the line of marketing stalls where souvenirs and devotional mementos were sold. The picture was taken in 1949; Later, Narita became the location of the new International Airport, constructed in the 1970s and 1980s. No doubt the landscape was very different by the 1990s. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 57.    This picture illustrates the organized, processional quality that characterizes the public decorum of many groups in Japanese society. These girls were in their school costumes, assembled in the courtyard of a college building, preparing to take a tour of the premises. The pigeons seem to sense the occasion. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 58.    Another troupe of medicant Buddhists, led by a man who beats on his paddledrum to call attention to their needs. More interesting, perhaps, is the stack of wooden baskets on the curb: these are full of human waste--"night soil"--culled from the toilets of the vicinity, and waiting for the "honey wagon" to come by and pick up the contents. This odiferous task was still in effect in most cities during the Occupation, and the material was used all over Japan as fertilizer for garden crops and rice fields. The custom eventually ceased in the 1950s as chemical fertilizers took over. While the Occupationaires condemned the practice, and tried to prevent their compatriots from eating vegetables and fruit from the local markets, the Japanese managed to handle the material with a good deal of care and sanitation. However, it was a good thing the practice ceased. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 59.    Opening ceremonies at the annual Keio University (private)--Tokyo University (national, public) baseball game in the Tokyo Olympic stadium. At the time, the game was considered by Japanese to be their "World Series." But since then, professional teams compete for the prize. Anyway--the two teams would line up before the game for elaborate bowing rituals. Related rituals appear in U.S. sports, for that matter. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 60.    A shop selling home Buddhist altars (on the right) and Shinto (on the left). This religious paraphenalia shop was located in a district of Tokyo that was not fire bombed. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 61.    Waseda University Students during a Student Strike. The sign at left proclaims a German language speech contest Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 62.    Sakuma-san the Farmer and Potter in his Yard Note his homespun working gown. He is stirring one of his clay pits. Totaro Sakuma (1900-1976) was known at the time as the number two folk potter in the village of Mashiko, northwest of Tokyo, and the home of elite folk craft potters. Number one was, of course, Shoji Hamada (1894-1977). This photo, taken by the author, was used as the frontispiece for the SCAP publication, The Japanese Village in Transition, or more familiarly the "Raper Study," since Arthur Raper, of the National Resources Section, and the author of the Japanese Land Reform, directed it, with PO&SR; personnel doing the fieldwork and the data analysis. The fieldwork was completed about the time I arrived. One of my first field trips was to Mashiko to take the pictures of the Sakuma establishment in this portfolio. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 63.    The workyard of the potter and farmer, Totaro Sakuma. The archaic treatment of the buildings--thatch on the house roof; ceramic tiles on the storage shed--were quite deliberate: Sakuma, like other rural craftsmen who also farmed for a living and for own food use, liked to preserve the old handmade ways. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 64.    Sakuma's Clay Wells. Taken by John Bennett in 1948-51.
Picture 65.    Some farm children from Mashiko, visiting Sakuma's establishment. Note the chapped cheeks of the girls-- resulting from living in virtually unheated houses in the winter--especially in the war and Occupation period, before economic recovery. The children are wearing geta--wooden clogs--because of the mud. Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 66.    A farmer and his bullock cart, near Lake Kawaguchi, with a cornfield and garden plots. Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 67.    This is a farm establishment in Chiba Prefecture. The architectural details, like the tiled roof, would probably have been replaced by prefabricated, industrial shingles. Taken by John Bennett on 1948-51.
Picture 68.    Marunochi, business centre of Tokyo. A ca. 1950 aerial view of Marunouchi, looking northeast toward Tokyo Station. In this image, the remains of Londontown, Mitsubishi's turn-of-the-century business development that first replaced the Imperial parade ground, can be plainly seen at center shaded red. However, by the mid-1960s, Londontown would be no more. The colonnaded building at lower center is the Dai-Ichi Seimei building, used from 1945 as the headquarters of the Allied Occupation of Japan. The rebuilt Tokyo Central Station is at upper center in red.