Japan's Infatuations with the West

Japan had two great infatuations with the West: in the 1870s and during the American occupation of 1945-52. Forsaking traditional isolationism, Japan welcomed Western ideas and customs with open arms, and according to Jean-Pierre Lehmann, what resulted was not an ersatz Western culture but one that retained a distinct national identity

On August 6th, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima; two days later a similar tragedy was inflicted on Nagasaki. As cruelly paradoxical as it may be, this particular holocaust did not inflame Japanese chauvinism, rather it brought it to an end. Shortly afterwards the Japanese government accepted the terms of the Potsdam declaration and surrendered. The Japanese government, it is true, had little choice in the matter: with the Soviet Union having recently declared war on Japan and the American B-52s able to operate from the island of Okinawa, it was to be either surrender or total annihilation. In the years of the American Occupation of Japan, from 1945 to 1952, the warmth, indeed near adoration, with which the Japanese people greeted the Americans was truly astonishing. I cannot think of any comparable phenomenon elsewhere in which the victors were received by the vanquished with such adulation. In terms of Japanese history, however, certain parallels do come to mind which perhaps make the Japanese response of the years 1945 to 1952 more comprehensible.

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