Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation, 1945–1952
A Map of the East
Re-Made In Japan: Everyday Life and Consumer Taste in a Changing Society
How to Work for a Japanese Boss
A most unusual advertisement appeared in the International Herald Tribune the other day. It was an ad for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. The Imperial always was a good hotel. It was also one of the most handsome, until Frank Lloyd Wright’s original building was replaced by a glossy high-rise in the 1960s. The advertisement went like this:
Tokyo, September 1945. The US Occupation had begun, and soldiers were all over the famed Imperial Hotel. They even ran our kitchen like an army mess hall, serving up army fare like potatoes and frankfurters. But in the process, they also taught us the highest standards of orderliness and good management. We learned to keep our facilities ship-shape. And to pay scrupulous attention to our guests’ every need, big or small…. Today, the Imperial is still one of the grandest hotels in Asia. For this, we owe much to US officers who stayed with us nearly 50 years ago—and to all the VIPs and executives who have stayed with us since. All, without exception, have kept us on our toes. They made us what we are. And we love them for it.
Exquisite Oriental irony? A ritual form of self-abasement? Or simply an attempt to flatter Americans in their age of “decline”? Whatever the intention, there is a strong whiff of the past in this advertisement. It conjures up visions of crisp uniforms, patent leather shoes, deep bows, lipstick smiles, and filthy urchins shouting “chewingu gummu pureesu.”
Ah yes, those were the days, when GI Joe was Number One, the biggest, the richest, the strongest. America, shipshape, efficient, set the tune to which lesser nations danced. MacArthur was the Shogun, aviator shades, corncob pipe, and squashed cap were his regalia. And Japan lay at his feet, ready to learn and eager to please. But the Americans were not just the biggest and the best, they were also the most generous. Instead of exacting the punishment which was the victor’s due, Uncle Sam would remake Japan more or less in his own image. Out with samurai, feudalism, militarism, chauvinism, racialism—welcome Glenn Miller, baseball, chocolate, boogie-woogie, demokurashee!
Politically, Shogun MacArthur famously said, the Japanese were twelve-year-olds. But SCAP (Supreme Commander, Allied Powers) was there to set this straight. The Japanese would have to learn everything from scratch. The process would be supported by the so-called Three S’s: Screen, Sex, and Sports. The revival of baseball, was to be encouraged (hardly necessary, in fact), because it was healthy, American, and democratic. A certain amount of physical affection, within bounds, was healthy too, among your own kind, of course. The Japanese should at least learn to kiss their girls in public, just like us. And the movie screen was best of all, to show the way to the yellow brick road, strewn with healthy, democratic, American values.
It is easy, in retrospect, to be facetious about America’s finest hour, just as it is easy to forget that the Americans really were the most…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only – subscribe at this low introductory rate for immediate access!
Unlock this article, and thousands more from our complete 55+ year archive, by subscribing at the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue — that’s 10 digital issues plus six months of full archive access plus the NYR App for just $10.