National Geographic : 1950 May
Japan Tries Freedom's Road that Japanese say they are "like forehead of cat." * Now, for the first time in history, millions of Japan's farmers own the land they till. For centuries most of them rented their farms, paying rentals averaging half the crop. Some landlords charged ingenious extras, such as a fee for the essential privilege of walking on the footpaths between flooded rice fields. Today these landlords have been bought out by the farmers at low, long-term rates, under the land reform law passed by the Diet at the instance of the Occupation. By creat ing millions of capitalists, and thus giving them a stake in the capitalist system, SCAP officials say a strong bulwark has been erected against Communism. I expected to find farmers wild with joy, but those I talked with weren't. One said, "I can feel easy at present, but I don't know in the future." He feared that the wealthier, better-educated landlords might sometime suc ceed in reversing the law. Another farmer complained of his taxes, the cost of fertilizer, and the trouble of mar keting his crop, all details formerly taken care of by the landlord. He hadn't done the neces sary arithmetic to know whether he was better off. More intelligent and articulate farmers write letters of thanks to the Japanese Govern ment and to SCAP. Landlords voice such complaints as this: "I am a 62-year-old Japanese. . . . About 12 years ago I bought some rice fields . . . to makemyoldagesecure. ...Idonotthink it is the intention of the American people to deprive an innocent Japanese of the provi sions made by him for his declining years...." More Radios and Permanent Waves Government-encouraged cooperatives help farmers handle their new responsibilities, and a SCAP agricultural expert reports that the new farm policies have improved their lot. Revisiting farm areas after 18 months, he reported more farmers in positions of leader ship, better health, fewer people on relief, more livestock, farm machinery, radios, and "more Western clothes and permanent waves." Similar laws have been passed to free fisher men from exploitation by boat and net owners. General MacArthur asserts the conviction that Communism will not win out in Japan, partly because of such measures as these, and partly because Japanese suspect anything that comes from their old enemy, Russia, or from the Chinese, whom they like but consider a bit inferior to themselves. At Maizuru, on the north coast of Honshu, we saw hundreds of Japanese prisoners of war being returned to their homeland at last after years in Soviet hands (page 604). As the Japanese ship entered the hill-girt harbor, its decks were a mass of brown-clad young men waving arms with clenched fists in unison and shouting a Communist "peace" song about uniting the youth of the world against the "bourgeoisie" who "again kindle the torch of war." Crammed with Communist propaganda, they said they had been told that the reason for the long delay in bringing them home was that the Americans and "the reactionary Japa nese Government" wouldn't send the necessary ships. But in the harbor they saw the repa triation fleet, with steam up day and night, constantly ready to sail for Russia as soon as the Soviets gave the word. Many said they were brought three or four times to a Siberian port, shown an empty har bor, and told, "See, the Americans didn't send the ships! "-an ingenious form of torture to soldiers aching to be home. Thousands of Russian-captured Japanese are still missing in this fifth year after the end of the war. City of Hope and Tears As we watched this shipload come ashore and file silently past waiting civilians, we saw many women mopping their eyes. Maizuru, once a big naval base, is a city of hope and tears. Families move here from afar to wait for long-missing loved ones. One family had bought a little "ice-candy" store on the street up which the repatriates pass on their way to the station-hoping that one day they might see again the husband and father. One woman died of what the Japanese call "heartsickness" after moving here and waiting for years for the man who never came. After being dusted with DDT, the repa triates stripped and flocked to steaming baths, unabashed by the presence of Japanese nurses, who looked on with equal lack of embarrass ment. Transformed, the prisoners lost their stony faced sullenness and joked as they dipped from deep concrete tubs, scrubbed each other's backs in unison for photographers, then en joyed a good old up-to-the-neck Japanese soak in all-but-boiling water. All except one, who was thin and bruised, were bronzed and healthy looking. Clean clothes and a little Government * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Backwoods Japan During American Occupation," by M. A. Huberman, April, 1947; "Some Aspects of Rural Japan," September, 1922 ; and "Geography of Japan," July, 1921, both by Walter Weston.