National Geographic : 1950 May
Japan Tries Freedom's Road BY FREDERICK G. VOSBURGII Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts " E are engaged in a great crusade here." S In his businesslike office in Tokyo's Dai Ichi (Number One) insurance company building, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, talked with us about what he is trying to do in Japan. "My hope is that a thousand years from now the history of this period will contain at least a footnote saying that in this era the nobility of the American concept of life brought to the Far East two great pillars of civilization-democracy and Christianity." Even though China is now in the hands of Communists, General MacArthur said he be lieves that in time our ideals will be accepted throughout the Orient and will transform the lives of roughly half of the earth's people. The General mechanically lighted his pipe, but was so absorbed he failed to smoke it. Now 70, he looks a decade younger. "There's a saying here," he reminded us, " 'As goes Japan, so goes the Orient.' " Roaming through Japan today, even one lacking General MacArthur's acute sense of history sees that here is a unique endeavor, an attempt to turn 82,000,000 heirs of serfdom into self-reliant, free citizens. "How long will it take?" I asked many people, Japanese and Occidental. Answers ranged from ten years to three generations. Nearly everyone felt it could be done if given enough time. Less Bowing Before the Palace Now Symbolic of the weight of tradition is the Imperial Palace directly across the street from General MacArthur's modern Western-style headquarters. Emperor Hirohito's labyrin thine home is surrounded by a vast park and a granite-walled moat built by a 17th-century Japanese shogun. People passing the palace of the "Son of Heaven" used to bow low. Now, because of something vaguely understood as "demo krashi," this is not fashionable. Most people go straight on by-office workers in leather shoes, poorer people in wooden clogs that click-clack like a ping-pong game, laborers and farmers in cloven boots that resemble the hoofs of cattle or of Pan. Some even fish in the imperial moat, ignor ing such polite Japanese "No Fishing" signs as one that reads simply, "Love the fish." The Emperor, his people understand, is a friend of this "demo-krashi." Every few months he calls on General MacArthur "Makassa Gensui," to the Japanese. The Emperor has publicly disclaimed divinity. Even the humblest may look upon him when he goes forth among his people (page 595). They may even look down upon him from windows or roofs without punishment now.* Though the Son of Heaven has come down to earth, his hold upon his people still is strong. The wild excitement that greets his public appearances surpasses even that ac corded a Japanese baseball hero or the world record-breaking swimmer, Hironoshin Furu hashi. The Emperor-man and institution still symbolizes and unifies the nation. "The Emperor shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the sovereign will of the people," says Japan's new Constitution, prompted by the Occupation. Lest there be any mistake, it adds that "sovereignty resides in the people." The Constitution renounces all war and preparation for war. "Family and Friends All Look Forward" In Japan's sumptuous war-spared capitol, the National Diet Building, we talked with the Japanese elder statesman who had been Minister of State when the new Constitution was adopted in 1946. Formerly Baron Kijuro Shidehara, he is now plain Shidehara-san (Mr.), because that document abolished titles of nobility. His present post is Speaker of the House of Representatives. "A great democratization movement is going on," said this grandfatherly little man, a pre war diplomat and onetime ambassador to the United States. "But educating the people is necessary. Full understanding of democracy will take much time, certainly many years. "Japan is not like person suffering from disease. Our country's pangs are those of childbirth. New Japan is being born." His wise old eyes crinkled at the corners. "Though I have never been woman in my whole life," he added, "I understand travail is painful. But at such time family and friends all look forward to bright future." Outside, the streets teemed with people * See "Tokyo Today," by William R. Castle, Jr., NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, February, 1932.