National Geographic : 1946 Jun
Sunset in the East BY BLAIR A. WALLISER * T HE thin gray dust that lies over Japan today like powder in the sun is more than the dust of Hiroshima and Naga saki, Tokyo and Osaka; more than the dust of blasted factories and shattered homes. It is the fine dry dust into which the mills of the gods slowly ground a dream of empire. Across the land the dust is worried and stirred by the wind, the rain, the treads of American tires, and the patient feet of the Japanese who trudge toward new goals down old paths. Perhaps never before in history has any fighting people accepted so humbly and obe diently the will of a conqueror. And the an swer to this is the deep, insatiate desire of the Japanese to be better then he is. When our war fleets furrowed the warm September haze and took attentive stations in the harbors of Japan, the country and its peo ple were still much of a mystery. Warned against treachery, guarding against sudden attack, American forces studied the sheer hills and rocky beaches and silently offered thanks that here were no bloody beach heads to be won and no nights of dark horror to be endured beneath the bombs and scream ing dives of kamikazes. Hope for Peace, but Poised for Action When we first went ashore and rode down the quiet streets in our jeeps, with helmets on and side arms poised, we knew less what to expect than we would have known in a full invasion. We scanned the timid, smiling faces-hum ble old people, diffident girls, and kids who actually saluted and cheered as we passed. Our grim fear of treachery virtually van ished when we stopped to examine a block of bombed-out houses and a shy little girl came up and offered us an orange. This was the amazing Japan that most Americans first discovered, a Japan in which the Emperor's edict, "We must not hate our enemies," was obeyed implicitly. Yet that very quality of obedience which thus far has made the occupation so simple is the one quality that will make the democrati zation of Japan profoundly complex. To the docile, defeated Japanese, America represents Power-the Power of B-29's and Corsairs, atomic bombs and battleships, sub marines and flame throwers. Though he had great faith in the force that was Nippon, he saw it overwhelmed by the Power of America. His conclusion, simple and direct, was that the American way must be a better way; therefore he will accept American authority, obey American will, and exert every effort to learn and adapt himself to this better way. In this sense, democracy is regarded as an end in itself rather than as a means toward an end. Japanese eagerness to co-operate was made easier by the apparently real liking that Ameri cans in uniform inspired. So little liquor was available that the unpleasant incidents usually associated with shore liberty in foreign ports were almost wholly lacking. Americans were such contrasts to the beastly monsters the Japanese had been taught to expect that they were quickly accepted by many as friends and liberators. Characteristic were three words the two races soon employed in common: "singaretto," "chokoretto," and "shabon." The soldiers and sailors represented a windfall of smokable tobacco, palatable sweets, and fragrant soap. During the first weeks, until the services were paid in yen, these products were the sole medium of exchange. Plenty of Money; Little to Buy To the American, the sight of a small boy or a ragged old man with a fistful of paper money eagerly offering anything from 66 cents to $2 for a pack of cigarettes (costing 6 cents at the PX) was an almost unexplainable mys tery. Granted that 15 yen looked like so much stage money, you could still take it back to the PX and buy a dollar's worth of mer chandise. What the American mainly did not under stand was the peculiar economy which has made most Japanese comparatively wealthy in spite of defeat. To civilians at home it is the very familiar story of expansion of purchasing power beyond the available supply of consumer goods. In Japan this reached almost the ultimate in simple economics. Under the Americans, unskilled workers re ceived 8 yen (530) a day; skilled workers, 12 yen. But before the arrival of the Ameri cans, a skilled workman such as a carpenter received only 7 yen a day. The normal ration, including clothing, food, fuel, and housing did not permit expenditure of more than 200 yen a month. * The author, a Chicago newspaperman and radio director, became a Commander in the United States Coast Guard during the war and commanded a flotilla in Japanese waters for nearly a year. He has now returned to civilian life.